Monday, March 04, 2013

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

When the light fades to dust

by Julie Carter

They stood on the snow-covered ground in leather boots under tall pines while a whisper of wind moved the long needles into a rustling sound. Huddled against the chill of the morning, shoulder-to-shoulder, goodbyes were murmured and memories shared while hearts beat with the pain of loss. 

Tombstones that marked living and dying in two centuries peppered the hillside as a last testament to the early settlers and those that came after them. They too were silent reminders of the inevitability of life.

It was a simple ending for a man who lived life fully but with his feet firmly planted in the basics. His eulogy struggled to tell the story of a man who was legendary for his own brand of storytelling. 

Born in the 30s, the innocence of youth slipped away from him early. He was only 12 when his dad died suddenly and forced him to seek manhood in the footsteps of his four older brothers. Like many of that era, he went quickly from school classrooms to military boot camp, returning home with a hardened edge and a discipline that lasted a lifetime.

Back at home, he spotted the prettiest girl at a dance and married her. They danced for more than four decades until death cheated him once again and took her first.

He found humor in everything and delivered every one of his stories with his signature cuss words and a laugh that invited the same from those listening.

He was of pioneer stock as well as a soldier, cowboy, hunter, fisherman, mountain man, lawman, husband and father. He was a good neighbor and a kind benefactor. He did a lifetime of good deeds quietly and asked nothing in return. He gave honor to every title he wore.

You never had to wonder what he was thinking. He would tell you and it never took asking. If he was your friend, he was a friend for life. 

His youthful memories were highlighted by a three-day cattle drive he took part in where he was treated as an equal with the men. He experienced his first beers with the cowboys at the end of the trail. “When we headed back, Bill Ed and I had to ride in the back of the truck where we hung our saddles on the stock racks. We rode those saddles all the way home,” he recalled.   “It’s a wonder we didn’t fall off and kill ourselves.”

He was the kind of tough that men from that era often were. Tough in a fight, tough in his beliefs. “One of the worst times I was ever hurt was when I jumped out of the car at about 45 mph out on one of the back roads. I rolled and rolled and it hurt for days.” 

“Why did you do that?” I asked.

“Because my brother wouldn’t stop the car and I wanted out. So I got out.” And 60 years later he laughed about it like it happened yesterday.

He and his wife helped raise not just their own three kids but a bunch of strays that passed through their lives. I happened to be one of the latter. They were no-nonsense about the way things should be and yet could foster a friendship of love and respect from each that carried them into adulthood. 

This man was the beacon light from “home” for a generation of family that came after him. He was the constant in a life full of change and uncertainty. He stood in the gap between the family’s early pioneers and the far-flung lineage of today that has scattered to the world. 

As powerful in death as in life, his final breath brought them home. They vowed to pick up the mantle and not let the family legacy fade from the mountain valley that once held them all together. 

Perhaps his final purpose was not to leave a void in the tapestry of life, but to remind us of our duty to fill it.

Julie can be reached for comment at

No comments: