Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Old Men and the Boy

Lessons in Life
The Old Men and the Boy
Bridging the gap
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            I must confess I was addicted to Robert Ruark before I could legally drive.
            The interest wasn’t his mistress, Africa, or his propensity to Use Enough Gun as much as it was his memories and literary renditions of his boyhood. My own “what the little boy shot at” were the quail and dove of Ruark’s youth. His puppy drum and weakfish were my Gila River suckers or the clatter of various hooves across rocks.
            I’ll never get to his Spanish castle stage even if I wanted, but I’ll wager that any gap not filled by grandfatherly influence was his and not mine. His grandfather, so wonderfully chronicled as the “Old Man” in his Old Man and the Boy series was a seminal influence in his life. From the “Old Man”, Ruark’s foundation was shaped. He was taught many things not the least of which was not to overshoot a covey of quail and to avoid your grandmother if your neck was dirty enough to stain your collar.
            He had nothing over me. My influences didn’t come from one “Old Man”. Rather, I had two and their personalities and traits could not have been more divergent. They taught me many things.
Age has left an undertow of desire to thank them.
            The old Men and the Boy
            For sure, nothing could be more different than their traits and personalities. One was a consummate workaholic. There was little play in anything he did. He was stern and unbending. He expected more from himself than anybody around, and he could be unreasonably hard. Those memories are vivid. It was he who ripped a branch off a tree one day in anger and rode up to me and told me to use it on Champ and “stay up or go to the house”. The same thing played out when we were sorting some bulls in the horse trap. I was in the way more than I was helping and he had essentially run through me to head a particular screw worm infected bull.
            “Either get on the ball or go to the house!” he yelled at me.
            I never saw much affection from him, but it wasn’t just me. All the grandchildren saw the same thing. What we had, though, was great respect.
            The other Old Man would never knowingly put me in those situations. Some, including his daughter, said he was work brittle. There was play in most things he did. More often than not, he allowed conditions to multiply before they were dealt with and it often created chaos. I knew, though, where I stood with him. He loved to be with me as much as I loved to be with him. He made sure I had things that were unaffordable at home. He taught me to drive, to hunt and to fish.
            It was with him that two curves long before I had a driver’s license almost got us in trouble. He was awake for one and reached over and pushed my leg and foot on the brake and demanded I push on it “Now!” He was asleep during the other one and he never knew how close we came to buying the farm that day.
            Both Old Men were bright. One was a drinker. One was a tee toddler. One was a gambler. One could stretch a dollar into multiples. One looked like John Wayne. One looked like Ward Bond. One taught me to love a sunrise, and the other instilled in me the fascination of rain.
Both were smokers. One rolled his from Prince Albert makings while the other inhaled cartons of filtered smokes from Winston. One drove fast and the other was famously slow and held traffic up.
If I had to sum the experiences with each, one always displayed the immense importance of accomplishing something each and every day. The other demonstrated that, more often than not, I was often his focus. With all their differences, though, there were common traits. Both respected the land and they imprinted that in me. Both were products of pioneering families. One started with some generational wealth while the other made his wealth in the most meager of conditions. I learned to enjoy weather of all kinds from them, and both of them created opportunities that resulted in what I am today. One is buried at Cliff where he should be. The other is buried in Deming where he shouldn’t be.
I loved them both dearly.
            Bridging the Gap.
            My grandson rode with me yesterday.
            He is eight and I will claim any and all suggestions that he resembles me at that age. I find myself watching him with fascination. Of course there is grandfather bias, but he is a beautiful child. He is very athletic. He is also fearless. Like me, though, I found out he doesn’t like rattle snakes. We did sort a bull and put him through a gate into the pasture he was supposed to be and it was done with a degree of patience. It was only later when I snapped at him for delaying helping with unloading the horses did I realize I had crossed the line in metering demands over instruction. I’ll try to work at that and remember he is not just my grandson, but still a little boy.
            Sometime in the not so distant future I’ll rejoin the company of the Old Men and a passel of New Mexico pioneers who have all grown in admiration and respect as I have gained more perspective of them. It is my hope that this boy, who has the deep blue eyes of both Old Men, gains a special understanding of his own Old Man as well.
            We will work on that, and … its equal measure of reality and love.

            Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Indeed, this is about the boy and me.”

No comments: