Thursday, November 13, 2014

A Knife and a Barn

As I followed the brother-in-law to Rocky’s house, I tried to recall the number of times I had seen Rocky and could only remember once, maybe twice, and he had been a small boy. But he, like his father, was famous in our family because of his cowboy prowess. Rocky had been a rodeo bronc rider and world champion steer roper and his grandmother (my aunt) told stories about his victories on the rodeo circuit often. He had followed a path I dreamed of as a boy.

I didn’t see how I could have passed by Rocky’s place without seeing it, but I had. It could not be seen from the farm road. The only evidence was a gate that looked like it led to a pasture, not a residence. When we entered the gate opening, the road sloped sharply down into a valley or meadow. I saw a barn with a carport on the front sitting on the incline. 

A small pickup and a dualie, both well-used, and a pickup hitched to a horse trailer sat out front. The horse inside the trailer nickered when I walked by. Two young boys about ten or twelve were roping a practice dummy in the yard. After all that glory, all that success, was this where the former world champion lived—in a barn? 

As the brother-in-law opened the front door without knocking, I hesitated. It was the middle of the afternoon, and I was a long-lost relative barging in, uninvited and unannounced. But I did have something to talk about. Henry Bascom Alexander, my great-grandfather, was Rocky’s great-great grandfather. I would begin with the story of finding his tombstone in nearby Antlers. It was a flimsy excuse, but I used it. The inside of the barn was not what I expected.

Rocky sat in an easy chair with his hat in his hand, son Cody sat at a kitchen bar. I was drawn to a beautiful stairway complemented and supported by a huge, finished tree trunk. A pair of Peet’s boots and his hat sat on top of the trunk.

The place was so cowboy I could smell saddle leather and horse sweat—right down to the bathroom mirrors and bunkhouse doors, interrupted only by an incongruent flat screen television that hung on the rock wall by the fireplace. 

The kitchen cabinets were also made of wood that matched the stairway and tall tree trunk. Late in life, Rocky discovered a talent for carpentry and finish work and had done all the work himself.

Upstairs and downstairs made about 4000 square feet of a beautiful, warm and rustic home.

Rocky showed me his trophy saddle and award for the national championship.  

Using photographs from actual competitions, renowned artist Jana Sol had painted images of Rocky riding a bronc and roping a steer on the head and foot boards of the master bedroom bed. 

Rocky’s wife Sharla arrived just as we came back down the stairs. 

We exchanged stories about Peet and Peet’s dad I had not heard before and I told a few of my own family stories. Sharla shared stories of her family. It had been her brother who guided me to their place. Both of her brothers had been rodeo cowboys, too. 

I learned Rocky and Sharla are raising two grandsons. When the boys came inside from roping practice, I noticed one was limping. Seems a horse had fallen on him that morning. His knee was swollen, but he tried to hide the pain because he did not want to miss a trip to Hugo where Cody was entered in a steer roping. His name was Pecos and his brother’s name was Colton. 

When I shook Pecos’s hand, he asked if I liked knives. I said, “Sure. Why?”

“You want one?”

I wasn’t sure how to answer, but I nodded. A few minutes later, he placed two knives in my hand. “Which one you like best?”

I figured it was some sort of prank, but I pointed at the one with images of ducks on the handle. He placed it in my hand.I was not sure how to react. “Are you selling these knives?”

“You said you wanted one. I’m giving you that one.”

I looked to Rocky and Sharla. They signaled for me to accept the knife saying, “He’s a good boy."

The men and boys left a few minutes later for the Hugo roping. I visited with Sharla about Mary Evelyn and Peet, her parents, and hers and Rocky’s history as childhood sweethearts. 

I left for Ada to find another ancestor’s grave and ran into another blind alley. Decided to head home and stop in Hugo to see if I could catch Cody roping. I arrived just as they called his name.

A few weeks later, my grandson Gray Boy was scheduled to have serious surgery on both legs. I took my pictures of Rocky and his family and their home and told the story to him just before the surgery. I told him about his distant cousin Pecos, showed him a family tree so he could connect the dots, and gave him the knife Pecos gave to me. 

So Pecos’s kind and generous gesture, his story, and his knife have traveled to Texas and are in the hands and mind of a boy about his age. Thanks, Pecos. A few weeks later, I sent both boys hoof picks with bone handles.