Friday, September 2, 2011

At a Loss

I saw him almost every weekend. The young man usually sat a row or two behind Ed and me at church. He took up offerings almost every week and he took care of the offering envelopes. Sometimes he would read the Scripture reading before the sermon, if it was a short one. When our pastor had to be out of town, and I spoke at church a few weeks ago, he read the Scripture reading. He was single and he was painfully shy and socially awkward. When we talked to him, he would duck his head, briefly maintain eye contact and haltingly answer whatever question we asked. He did not initiate the conversation. Some time ago, he gave me and other members at church notes he had written. I could tell they were supposed to be encouraging, but they didn't make sense. There were words all right, but they weren't poetry or prose. They just didn't make sense. It made me wonder if my friend suffered from some form of autism. Then a couple of weeks ago, he wasn't at church. I didn't notice. Then the next week he wasn't at church, and then I did notice. It wasn't like him to miss church, certainly not two weeks in a row. I asked about him, but no one seemed to know why he wasn't there. Maybe he was visiting his family, but why didn't he let someone know, we questioned. Now we know why. He took his own life. I'm at a loss.

Cowboy Stories

Our farrier Kirk is a big guy, always smiling and always has a story to tell, or two or three. Ed had already gotten the animals up when I got out to the barn. Kirk had one of my quarter horse gelding’s back legs between his knees, clipping away on King’s hoof. I whistled and called out so he would know I was around, and so would King. I didn’t want to startle either. The temperature was in the high 90s. Kirk’s grey shirt with his company name on it was already soaked and sweat was running down his face. He put King’s leg down and after slapping at a couple of horseflies making bloody spots on the horse, continued working on another hoof. “Damn flies,” he said. I’m sure he would have said worse if I hadn’t been there. Kirk has a portable stand that’s magnetic to hold his farrier tools. He wears a well-worn, divided leather apron that covers the lower half of his torso and his legs. When he finished with King, he grabbed Sugar’s lead rope and tied the donkey up to the corral post.
It had been a while since I’d seen Kirk so I asked how he’d been. Been on any trail rides, I asked? Kirk hires out to accompany trail riders to take care of any problems with their horses. That was all Kirk needed. He leaned on the corral gate, and told me he had just returned from a trail ride in Idaho. On the way up, he had a flat on his horse trailer but found a place where they lent him a heavy jack and aired up his spare. “That spare’s still aired up,” he said.
On these trips, at night he stops at rodeo grounds along the way and unloads his appaloosa gelding into one of the pens. After supper, he spreads out his cowboy tarp, sleeping bag inside, near his horse and spends the night. In the morning he finds a café and has his breakfast. “I just love sleepin’ out, looking up at the stars, and then getting up in the morning and having breakfast at some little café. I just love it!” he said again, with a big smile. “Kirk, you’re a cowboy, all right,” I said. Even up in the mountains when the dew is a little icy in the mornings, he said he sleeps “warm as toast” in his bed roll. “That cowboy tarp--best money I ever spent,” he said.
He went on describing the trail ride, and how his old truck probably wouldn’t make another trip like that pulling a load. “I’ve got more than 200,000 miles on it, but I won’t quit driving it. I’ll get me another used truck, but I’ll keep driving this one too.” Finally, after several more stories, I looked at Sugar, who was patiently waiting, and decided I’d better leave or that donkey’s patience might run out. And Kirk still had her sister Missy’s hooves to do. So, soon as I got an opening, we figured out the next appointment, I wished Kirk the best and retreated to my truck, still enjoying, vicariously, Kirk’s cowboy experiences. I love living in Texas!