When he wasn’t ranching or farming or drinking coffee in Mack’s Cafe, this is where my father could normally be found. When he died, the only thing my young nephew wanted of his was these disreputable boots, which my nephew wore until the soles flapped. They are the only pair of work boots I ever remember my father wearing–wrinkled into creases by repeated wettings and dryings and pullings off and on.
Once the grass had grown waist-high,
some summer nights, my dad and I
accompanied by the shake and rattle
of his old truck, would go watch cattle.
In the twilight, barely light,
but not yet turning into night,
he’d drive the pickup over bumps
of gravel, rocks, and grassy clumps,
over dam grades, then he’d wait
as I opened each new gate,
and stretched the wire to wedge it closed,
as the cattle slowly nosed
nearer to see who we were,
curious and curiouser.
We’d park upon some grassy spot
where a herd of cattle was not,
open the doors to catch a breeze,
and I’d tell stories, and dad would tease
until at last the cattle came,
and dad would tell me each one’s name:
Bessie, Hazel, Hortense, Stella,
Annie, Rama, Bonnie, Bella.
Razzle-dazzle, Jumpin’ Jane.
Each new name grew more inane.
Yet I believed he knew them all,
and as they gathered, they formed a wall
that grew closer every minute
to that pickup with us in it.
Finally, with darkness falling,
and the night birds gently calling,
with cows so near they almost touched
the fender of the truck, Dad clutched
the light knob and then pulled it back
as the cows––the whole bunched pack
jumped back en masse with startled eyes
due to the headlights’ rude surprise.
Then he’d flick them off again,
with a chuckle and devilish grin.
As the cattle edged up once more—
the whole herd, curious to the core—
again, my dad would stage his fun.
Again, they’d jump back, every one.
He might do this three times or four,
then leave the lights on, close his door,
and gun the engine to drive on home
as stars lit up the heavenly dome
that cupped the prairie like a hand,
leaving the cattle to low and stand
empty in the summer nights
to reminisce about those lights—
miraculous to their curious eyes.
Each time a wondrous surprise.
Life was simpler way back then
and magical those evenings when
after his long day’s work was done,
laboring in the dust and sun,
after supper, tired and weary,
muscles sore and eyes gone bleary,
still when I would beg him to
do what we both loved to do,
he’d heave himself from rocking chair,
toss straw hat over thinning hair,
and make off for the pickup truck,
me giving thanks for my night’s luck.
These were the finest times I had––
these foolish nights spent with my dad.
The prompt word today is “jump.”