Thursday, January 24, 2013

An Old Roper and a Lost Thumb

Blood from his severed right thumb ran through the fingers of his left hand, dripped on his boots from the stump where the thumb used to be.  As the barrel-chested man walked his way through the riders in the waiting pen, the smell of blood and fear overpowered the thick haze of dust and the sweat of horses and nervous riders.  As a friend led the man’s horse out of the arena, a sense of foreboding traveled through the waiting ropers and our horses like molten lava. 

I stood in my stirrups to see inside the arena, deciphering reasons for the accident, assuring myself that such a wreck could never happen to me.  The thumbless rider's horse passed close enough for me to touch, the injured man’s eyes downcast as if praying for the clock to roll back so the thumb could reattach--so that he take back that split second mistake. 

My horse Rowdy and I were crammed into a too-small waiting pen outside the arena at Glen Rose, Texas, waiting to rope in the short go – the final round of competition, roping for a shot at a saddle or at least a trophy buckle and part of six thousand dollars in prize money.  The high point roper would also win a new Dodge dualie. 

My partner and I were fourteenth after three runs. That may not sound great, but it was terrific after two days of roping in two rounds with well over a thousand teams. I had learned that the guys in first place after two rounds almost never wound up winning a big roping like this one. So I knew we were in a good slot for some cash and a saddle. 

I didn’t have enough points to win the Dodge truck, but my partner was sitting pretty to win it, too.  I wanted the saddle more than the money or even the truck–something to pass on to my grandchildren –eternal evidence that their grandfather could handle a horse and rope.   

My partner, the heeler, was a stranger, drawn by lot.  I liked it that way, and I purposely stayed far away from him to avoid last minute coaching from a man good enough to rope for a Dodge truck.  Coaching was for practice, not during the real thing. 

As our time drew near to rope, we were soon able to count heads in the chute and see which steer would be ours, but I didn't want to know if he was fast, ducked, went left or set up.  Sounds strange, but I usually roped better not knowing. Knowing caused me to anticipate something that might or might not happen. Be ready for the unexpected was my philosophy.   

When we were third in line, I counted heads until I came to our steer.  I recognized him whether I wanted to or not. A pup – ran straight, good strong horns.

Once roped, he always followed the head horse like he wanted to nurse, and lifted his heels to be roped like an obedient puppy.  Luck was with us. The heeler grinned when he saw him.  “We got this thing won.”  I didn’t want to count our chickens before they hatched.

Rowdy, who really did not enjoy expending the energy to go from zero to about 30 MPH in a few seconds, surprised me by backing into the head box like a gentleman. We were in a short arena and that meant we had to get our business done quickly before we ran out of room. I nodded for the steer. 

The steer left, but Rowdy stayed put.  I spurred him lightly, but he still did not move. I slapped him on the butt with my rope and he exploded out of the box.  Caught off guard and off balance, I tried lifting my loop to swing, but it would not come up. The slap had hung a spur.  When it did come up, the loop was in a figure eight. No time to straighten it, so I threw it anyway and it bounced harmlessly off the steer’s horns.   

The little steer was so compliant that he turned left as if I had roped him and was pulling him. The heeler rode up behind him and easily roped his back feet. It was a useless gesture, of course, and one that heelers were not supposed to perform.

I supposed he did it to show his contempt for his header—me.  The gentle little steer mocked me as it trotted past me and entered the stripping chute.  The heeler rode by as I re-coiled my tangled rope. I nodded and said, “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it.  I didn’t need no Dodge truck.  Didn’t need no money or saddle, either.”  The heeler wasn’t smiling.

It wasn’t the first time I had come close and failed. I tried to blame my mistake on seeing that fellow lose his thumb, but that was just an excuse. I rode out of the arena and tried to console myself that at least I still had both thumbs.

This review is for Go Down Looking:
I thought it would be impossible for Jim to write another book that lived up to the standard he set with his Rivers trilogy, but I was wrong. This one is even better. It completes the story of the Rivers family; it makes you feel the music. J. A. Cross "jamx" -


Doc Turner said...

Brother Ainsworth, you were just having one of those days. A deputy sheriff in Lubbock County was in hot pursuit of a bad man on a faster horse. His only chance was to slow him down with with a lead weight. He drew down and thumbed back the hammer, timed the galloping of both horses and snapped off a shot. Yep. Shot his own damn horse dead in the head. He was havin' a bad day...

Charlotte Hilliard said...

Great story, my laugh for the day. Doctor Turner yours was almost as good.