CHRISTMAS TEXAS 1996
CHRISTMAS AT THE LOG CABIN
The briskness of the night air couldn't reach me. It wasn't really cold but it was a long way from the 80 degrees it had been just a few days before. The cot I was lying on wasn't bad but it wasn't great either. Inside this old cabin I felt safe. 'Me logs reflected the light from the homemade woodstove, and the interior of the room had that warm homey Christmas glow. Slight drafts of cold air tried to snake their way in around the open eves in the ceiling, but the ravenous hunger of the stove kept the unwelcome chill out. It had been a long time since I'd spent a night in the building Rusty and I had erected back in 1977. The cite had enjoyed many parties, poker games and had often been a sanctuary of escape. The bottom logs were starting to look pretty bad and leaks in the roof were rotting the floor, but in the stovelight it looked pretty good. In fact if there was one place I was happy to be, it was right here. There is only one way in to this refuge, and the gravel on the hill a half-mile away would sound the alert of any intruders. If need be I could be well back into the brush by the time a visitor arrived. For some reason I felt secure here. This oak log cabin represents a part of me that will never change. It represents a past that I sometimes miss, but mostly it lets me be the person I like to be.
I dozed along, and finally came partially awake. The embers in the stove were getting low so I got up. Warily I got a few logs from the woodpile outside. Careful to shake each chunk to rid it of scorpions or copperheads before I brought it inside. Clanging and banging around with the stove I thought I heard a strange sound from far off. Listening intently I stuck my head back out the door. For long moments I waited nothing. Quickly I rebuilt the fire and surveyed my abode. Satisfied that I was ready for company I ducked back out the door and headed through the trees to the small opening in front of the cabin.
The night was cool with a certain amount of crispness to the air, it was our first good cold front. The moon was full but high clouds kept a bounty of stars from showing their full radiance. Instead the earth was bathed in an incandescent light. Tall grass wavered in sparse clumps, and far off a chorus of coyotes wailed their allegiance to the sky. A slight breeze rustled the fallen leaves of the Post Oak trees, and in the brush an armadillo rustled them more, in his never ending search for bugs. Nearby I heard the chirping chatter of what I guessed to be a coon, but couldn't figure for the life of me what he had to talk about. Through all this racket I tried to detect the original sound that I thought I heard .... and there it was, faintly far off to the North I heard it. Watching and listening I stood on my tiptoes in anticipation as if that would help. My mouth hung open and I practically cried when suddenly I could see him. My emotions pretty much got away from me and I was all choked up as he went blasting past. It had been a long year since I'd seen my old Pard and I'd sorely missed him. There was a million things I wanted to tell him, and just as many that I wanted his sage advice on. With wild eyed anticipation I watched him cut a wide circle over the prairie and then go ripping off back to the North. In a moment he was gone. Now... what in thunder was he doing?
Patiently, I stood there waiting. After a while I got a dip of snuff and looked around the opening. This sure was a peculiar way to behave. After awhile I moseyed back to the trees and was fixing to go check the fire when I heard it again. Here he come, his team going hell bent for leather and cutting another wide arch around that opening. This time he had the leader's heads cranked half-way back around their sides and was talking to'em with some mighty blue language. They circled the landing spot three times till he got them under control enough to try to come down. It looked more Re afalling than it did a landing. In an awkward pile they hit the dirt at the South end headed North. Just as they began to straighten out and slow their erratic behavior the runners hit a patch of gravel. A shower of sparks glared up with a hideous hiss, and the team was suddenly at full bolt. Unfortunately, the driver had started to relax and the renewed racing of the team rocked him back in his seat as he completely lost the reins. In a mad effort he was tried to gather them up as the runaway headed into the brush, following the trace of a pasture road. As I began to run I heard the wreck.
Well, now this was a pileup. I hadn't seen a wreck like this in quite a while. Reminded me of a whole string of mules that got away from a buddy of mine one time when he was on a hay run. Them reindeer were twisted up in their harnesses, and all over the tops of each other with legs sticking out everywhere. Running up I sorted out the mess. The sleigh was completely upside down, so grabbing it I lifted the edge to free any prisoner underneath. There was no one there. Slowly I back tracked the skid, then a little ways off in the brush I spotted a mound on the ground. Easing towards him I found most of his clothes hanging in the briars that inhabit the same areas as the yaupon bushes. In a fright I suddenly realized he was lying on his stomach with his head stuck most of the way down an armadillo hole. Grabbing him by his boots I hauled backwards, and slid him through the leaves back to the road. Then rolling him over I inspected his injuries. He had a big bloody knot on his head and the briars had claimed their part of his hide, but it all looked pretty superficial. The main thing was: he was moaning and groaning and seemed to only have rung his old bell pretty good. I nervously checked his face worried that a copperhead had got him down in that hole, but I found nothing. Finally I hauled on his arms and got him to sit up. However; all he would talk was jibberish. Patting him on the cheek I tried to revive the old rascal, but he refused to become coherent. Then I began to try to lift him to his feet. This he seemed to understand and in a wobbly attempt he got an arm over my shoulder and we limped towards the cabin. Progress was painfully slow, and in a short distance he tripped me up and we both went down. Once more I got him up, but this time with a different plan. As he went to put his arm over me I ducked down grabbing his leg and raised him off the ground in the Fireman's lift. For a moment I wavered, my gosh this old buzzard was heavy. 'Me weight was unbelievable, and with determination I started back for the cabin. With every step my endurance was waning. The blood was pounding behind my eyes and in my forehead. The slight incline I'd never noticed before now seemed to be a formidable hill. Within ten feet of the wall I collapsed; the great weight on top of me. Now, I was stuck .... then I heard a giggle. Ile giggle turned into a chuckle and finally a boisterous roar. Slowly he rolled off me and lay flat out, and then slowly, as I watched him his laughter turned into snores.
Sitting up I knew my buddy was hurt, and I needed to get him inside. His mirth had merely been a reaction that tough folks use against bad consequences. Hauling him once more to his feet we lurched through the narrow door of the shack with me behind, holding him up by the suspenders. Once inside I got him seated on a chair close to the stove, where he could keep his back against the wall. Then I began to restoke the stove. 'Me noise seemed to bring a certain amount of coherence back to his rattled brain, and vaguely he began to peer at his surroundings. "You alright?"
"Hell no I ain't alright,'' was the low moaning reply. He lifted a big hand to rub his tosseled head. Getting a thermos of water I soaked a bandana and handed it to him. "Knocked my durn head against one of yall's post oaks." Deliberately he wiped his face with the damp rag, and then painfully tried to reach for the top of his head. His wince ended with a great release of breath, and he dropped his hand. Taking the cloth from him I re-wet it and cleaned the blood and bark out of his hair.
" I can't see, I've got to light a lamp." Turning from him I lit each of the two lamps and set them in their perspective windows. The new light filled the room and it seemed even friendlier than it did before. When I turned around my good friend was sitting straight, up with his back against the wall, gazing at me. "You feeling better?"
"Little bit, thanks for cleaning that up for me," he was still wiping his face with the moist cloth.
"You don't look so good though. "
"Yeah, well you ain't gonna win no beauty contest no time soon neither. What's a guy got to do to get a drink around here?"
" What do you want, water, coffee, or the house well drink?"
"I'll have whatever you've been having." Going to the table I poured a small amount of the swirling clear liquid into a glass and turned handing it to him. With no forethought he threw down the drink, and then spitting and sputtering tried to gag it back up. "What in thunder is that poison?"
"Coyote Tequila," I answered, "if you wouldn' t guzzle it; it's pretty good stuff." As I poured him ,mother short shot he let his eyes search out the inside of the cabin.
"You know this is the first time I've been in this little palace of yours. You and your compadres did a pretty nice job. Rusty and Hoelscher doing alright?"
"Yeah they're doing fine. I'm not sure how Kansteiner is doing but I guess the revenuers ain't ate him yet."
Suspiciously he gazed about and through narrowed eyes he asked, "You ain't still got that rattler living under the floor of this place do you?"
"No, he got too brave and I had to eliminate him: he sure was good rat control though."
Relaxing, back against the wall of logs his demeanor seemed to lighten and he smiled lightly. "You had a big year this year. Got quite a lot accomplished."
"Like what? I don't remember doing so much." I frowned.
"Well you got all that legal foolishness over your daughter settled for one thing. Then I guess going back to school counts for something."
Seeing my mood darken as my busy activity about the cabin slowed, the old man gazed at me questioningly. My reply shocked him," Going back to school is about like falling off a log. When you're as dumb as me it just don't matter. It's keeping everybody else fooled is all that counts. I didn't get nothing settled as far as Sam is concerned either. Hell I still lost a family, now I've got this pseudo situation where I get to be a Dad every other weekend. In the meantime I just get to worry about her. Then I'll tell you another thing about this school business: its a sorry sight to see a lost critter like me wandering around trying to fit in with people. Do you know how bad I wanted to be back in the hills this fall? People my age ain't supposed to be still trying to find where they belong. For Christ sakes they should of done fit in somewhere."
"Well dad blame it, you better just be happy whenever you win a little battle. You're mighty hard to please, and you may not believe it but nobody is as hard on you, as you are on yourself. You sure find the worst way to look at things. You got all kinds of family, and Sam's doing real good. There's plenty of folks keeping an eye on that situation, durn you're a crank."
"Yeah, well I'm sorry. Shoot I try to keep a good attitude, but it gets mighty hard sometimes. About the time I crater on a school test, some hunter calls or sends me a letter, and I'm just wishing I was back in camp. It's mighty hard keeping your sights on a long range goal when there are easier things to accomplish close at hand. Especially if you're not sure of what that long range goal even is."
The old rascal set there and thought for a few minutes, then finally looked up , "Son, what'd you do with that book I give you last year?" Glancing around sorely he half muttered to himself "dummy probably fed it to your horse." With that little remark he downed the rest of his second shot of medicine and began to make a choking, coughing, wheezing sort of a noise, then through watering eyes he croaked, "better put that coffee pot on."
Easing around the small room I took out the makings, and made a fresh batch. I always enjoy making coffee and the activity seemed to brighten my countenance. Finally I was able to look at him and smile. "You know I've read the Bible. Problem is, damn few folks try to live by it, but that't neither here nor there to me. Hell I ain't no judge. The main thing is what you make of yourself."
"Then why are you always such a sour-puss? You got the best friends in the world, and it looks like you're accumulating more of them every day. You've got a general game plan going in your favor, and ain't nobody hassling you."
Looking around and shuffling my toe on the floor I answered," I hassle myself. I'm really starting to let this age thing get to me. I'm tired of Rodeoing and being broke, and I want to be the kind of provider for my kid that my folks was for me. I'm in a jam cause I can't much stand crowds for a long period of time, but that's where it seems like I gotta be. Especially since I got this mission of going back to school and making something of myself."
Quietly my buddy peered at his boot toe, then softly asked," Pard, when you pray, who do you pray for?"
Without much hesitation I resoutly answered, "For them that needs it, mostly I ask the Good Lord to watch out for Sam."
"You ever ask for help for yourself?"
"What for, I'm full growed! I'll handle the problems that come up on me."
"You reckon you handled the ones you've had so far all by yourself.? You reckon you got as far as you've gotten all by yourself?"
The reply that was on the tip of my tongue made me stop and figure for a second. Seems like me and this old bird had discussed this once before. Of course I'd had help. There had never been a time when I didn't know that, but asking for it had always seemed wrong. For some reason I could always accept help, but never ask for it. Eventually my visitor continued his lecture," You know son, you're just short on patience. Which don't make sense, I've seen you wait ten years to tell somebody I told you so, but you've got no patience with yourself. Pushing forty is not a sin, and if you just let the Good Lord help you, maybe everything that's been going on for the last twenty years won't go to waste. The main thing is maybe you need to think about asking for help ever once in a while, and knowing that it's alright to ask for it."
The coffee had boiled, so I poured a few cups of cold water in the pot to settle the grounds. Then without saying anything I blowed the dust out of a cup and handed it to the old sky pilot. "You know I've tried to slow down on my drinking and cussing." Automatically the seriousness of the moment was broken and his shoulders shook as he laughed.
" You better try harder, I hadn't noticed any particular difference." We sat drinking our coffee and discussing his new team that he was trying to break
"You know, maybe next year we could meet on a beach down in Mexico."
"Well it would probably be a better landing, but I'd just as soon meet back up in Montana." After the second cup we both hobbled outside only to find it was starting to get light in the East. "Damn son, I got to go! " But as he began to walk he stumbled and pitched forward holding his head.
Catching him I glared at him attentively, "You're still hurt."
"I am mighty dizzy, everything is blurry... but I got to go."
"How are you going to fly that thing home?"
In an instant I saw the twinkle come back in his eyes," I'm not; you are!"
Horrified I stammered "Do what? Me?" At once I was scared and excited at the prospect. Backing away from him I left him leaning against a small live oak and ran to lead the reindeer out of the brush and back out into the opening. With a firm hold I led them back over to Santa and helped him on to the seat.
"Now, hop in Son and I'll show you how this business is done." Under his direction we pulled out into the center of the grassy prairie. Then gathering speed we began circling the edge of the brush. The wind whistled in my ears and burned my eyes, then leaning over he hollered, "Pull'em back around and head'em. right down the middle, then throw the leaders their head." Straining I managed to do as I was told. The team just kept accelerating and through the blaring wind I heard the old Christmas Legend laughing with that full roaring laugh that all cowboys enjoy. Then pulling himself semi-erect his arm waved and I saw the whip whir over our heads. As it cracked like a rifle the leaders suddenly jumped from the ground. With four more lunges the whole rig lifted from the ground, just in time, as the bottom of the snow buggy brushed through the top limbs of the oak trees. "Pull'em around and circle once more!" he bellowed.
Slowly I got them to circle around to the South, and then as they came around and faced back to the North, I heard that familiar yell and again the crack of the whip. Then in a blink we were GONE.
TILL NEXT TIME TAKE CARE
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM
THE LOS T RIDER OF YAUPON CREEK