I was surprised and pleased when the invitation came to attend a birthday party for an old friend. I had not seen Larry in several years. We met on a trail-ride several years back. Conversation was easy with him from the start and I could see he was a good man with horses. And he was obviously more experienced than I with organized trail-rides.
As I recall, he told me he felt life passing him by when the Texas Sesquicentennial Wagon Train passed his dairy. So he made major changes to his life, saddled up and joined the train. As he related the story, I knew this cowboy was philosophical and serious about living a full life. I don’t remember exactly how many years ago that was, but it’s safe to say it was more than ten.
I learned that Larry and Dianna hauled a buckboard and two horses to Abilene every year to carry dignitaries in the Western Heritage Classic parades. They did the same thing for Cheyenne Frontier Days. That’s really a long haul and a serious commitment.
I ran into Larry a couple more times at Abilene and we stayed in touch sporadically over the years. From a pair of horseshoes and other metal, he made a roping cowboy complete with iron hat and gave it to me. The cowboy swings a loop made from copper wire. He also made a deer horn slide for my collection of wild rags. Both are favorites.
Larry became a preacher at Rimrock Cowboy Church and I got busier with writing and our paths did not cross for a few years—until the invitation. Jan and I had a minor conflict the night of the party, plans for the next day that told us to get to bed early, and were both dead tired from a busy Saturday. But we knew we should go, knew that we would regret it if we didn’t, would likely have a great time if we did.
We got lost once when GPS on Jan’s phone led us in a circle, but found our way easily to Woodland Ranch when we gave up on the phone and consulted the map that came with the invitation. The ranch headquarters sits on a hill near Alba, looks out on a nice lake and a groomed pasture with horses and cattle. An unusually beautiful setting, and the weather was nice, about as good as you get in summertime Texas.
The party was a secret, so Larry and Dianna were not there when we arrived. We visited with their son and two daughters and roamed around the ranch yard and kitchen. I always feel at home surrounded by people who wear boots and hats and there were plenty of those. When the guest of honor arrived, I think he was genuinely shocked.
We had great catfish and all the trimmings cooked by friends and family and good conversations with new friends. When a couple across from us learned that I am a writer, she told of how her father was an avid reader and in poor health. It was the day before Fathers’ Day, so Jan poked me and nodded toward the car, indicating I should give her one of my books for her father.
I can’t explain why, but I am sometimes uncomfortable giving a book to someone I just met. It’s like giving someone a pet that brings an obligation to care for it. Giving a book almost comes with an obligation to read it. But I did as Jan suggested and gave her a book autographed to her father. She cried, proving once again that Jan was right. I also gave Larry my latest book for his birthday.
I listened as people stood to give testimonials to Larry and the positive influence he had on their lives, including some who had been baptized by my old friend. Then we talked Larry into reciting some of his cowboy poems. As the day waned and the sun began to set across the lake and we listened to the sounds of cowboy poetry and laughter, Jan and I knew it was a night we would never forget.