Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore
July 25, 2009
It’s still there, the old bunkhouse, and I bet it hasn’t changed much inside, either. It doesn’t matter, since I’m probably the last of the Elkhorn Ranch crew to ever set foot there. My dad bought the two-story log structure from Al Barbier, who lived a mile or so down the road, and had it towed to our place using Johnny Hyrups’ D-7 Cat, and set it up right next to the apple orchard.
In the movies, cowboys always live in the bunkhouse, and ours was no different, but the first summer, before any cowpokes lived there (due to ongoing construction), it became my unofficial fort and other uses for it couldn’t be helped.
For instance, there were the two visiting girls, nieces of one of the married ranch hands and his wife, who at the time were living in my grandfather’s house. A buddy and I figured we could talk the younger of the two (she was still older than we were) into having sex with us in the deserted bunkhouse, but her rebuff was quite positive, in a powerfully negative sense.
Then, for whatever reasons, there came the day I thought that leading my horse, Snicker, around the inside of the house was a stellar idea. Snicker didn’t mind, and actually seemed to enjoy the episode, but when I bragged to my dad about my newly-developed astuteness in horse showmanship, I came very close to getting my hide tanned.
I didn’t mean to leave you hanging about the girls like that, but it seems like somebody always gets left in the lurch, doesn’t it? The older one came back the next summer, alone, and remembering the focus of my juvenile mind the previous year and evidently feeling her own hormonal quirkiness, took to spending precious time with me in an abandoned 1935 Oldsmobile. The hot sun and mice had destroyed the upholstery and the uncovered springs were a little uncomfortable, but it didn’t really matter since we never seemed to get past a lot of sloppy kissing. We’d have used the bunkhouse, but it was being lived in by a couple of hired hands.
The girl left, even though I was madly in love with her (we were all of 11 and 14, it seems), Snicker got treated as a valuable cow horse should, and life settled down in the Woody Creek Canyon. But then that winter, beginning with a couple of off-chance visits, came the odyssey of my serious bunkhouse days. I’d saunter down that way, usually after dinner, on the pretext of taking a walk and get educated about a different side of life than what I was used to.
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Cowhands living there always seemed to have a pot of coffee on and multiple decks of cards lying around. They’d pour me a cup, deal me a hand, and as we played one of three or four different versions of gin rummy or poker, using matchsticks for money, we’d start telling the yarns of the day. “Didja see the buck in that sumbitch – showed him how a real cowboy rides,” or “Geezus, I swear that lightning hit right next to me – knocked my hat in the ditch,” or “I’m sick to here of feedin’ cows. When the hell does spring show its face?”
By then, I’d have enough nerve to ask for a cigarette, which came one of two ways: They’d hand me the fixins’, usually papers and a bag of Bull Durham, or a pack of Camels, unfiltered. Either way, the first drag hurt like hell and made me cough, but after that I could suck up smoke, play cards and bullshit with the best of ’em.
I don’t know if it counts for much, but those ol’ boys always treated me as a man, never teased me about being a kid, and were always there to lend their wisdom when the real work was being done.