Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

                   A TIME FOR ALL THINGS… 

     That’s what it says in Ecclesiastes – to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.  A time to be born, a time to die, a time to plant and to pick that which is planted.  A time to heal, and a time to build up.  A time to laugh, and a time to dance.  Always liked those laughing and dancing parts.  Those are my favorite parts.  I was always good at those. 

     I was having dinner once long ago.  My host was a Catholic priest, just him and me, and I was in awe of this man.  A graduate of Notre Dame, he held a doctorate in Canon law from the Vatican, and he was a fellow doctoral candidate at Texas A&M, Commerce in our student days.  We had decided to take a break from the daily grind of studying, and over glasses of wine in his small apartment, I watched as he prepared our meal.  His father owned the world renowned Jamail’s in Houston, and his daddy’s son could cook.  During the course of our conversation and the wonderful meal, I noticed a large painting behind his kitchen table.  The word’s said, “Thank you Lord, for all the good…and all the bad.”  I stared at the words for some time.
     “What does that mean?” I asked.
      He turned to the painting and after a moment of silence, he said, “You don’t know?”
     “No,” I said, “I don’t understand that.”
     “You will,” he said, “you will.”    

     On December 31st of 2004, I was doing well.  For the first time in forever, my roping pen was dry enough to chase a few.  The boys, Shine and Blue, were happy, and so was I.  They were bored stiff standing in the mud for days, and were tired of watching me rope the dummy. We were all ready for the ground to be dry enough to rope, and finally the day was here.  And that wasn’t all.   

     Rebecca had said we could rope until about dark, and then unsaddle because we had an evening planned with our neighbors and best friends, the Buzans, Darrell and Sharon.  Several members of our Redland, Oklahoma community planned to converge on Carla Mitchell’s house shortly after sundown for Christmas cheer, eggnog and snacks, and to listen to Sharon’s brother, Donnie McLaughlin, and his partner, Harvey play and sing.  Waylon and Willie ain’t got nothing on these two, and I’m not kidding.  I let another steer out, and he ran straight as a string.  “A good day this is,” I thought.  Then, I saw her coming.  Rebecca came from the back door striding purposefully.  All men who have cattle and horses know this particular walk farm women have… 

     It’s when you see them coming across the pasture, and you know they are not bringing you iced tea.  You don’t know how you know, but you know.  They have their head down just a bit, and there is something in their stride that says the news isn’t good.  So it was on this day.  “Millie’s sick,” she said.  Instantly, I knew we wouldn’t be going to the party.  I knew we would be spending the night in the Buzan barn with Millie, and the awareness came immediately there was no place that my better two-thirds and I would rather be.  Millie was a friend of ours. 

     Millie was Darrell and Sharon’s three-year old filly.  A granddaughter of Kid Clue, Millie was a deep dark blue-gray with a head that looked like Walt Disney drew her on his best day when he was young and in his prime.  At sixteen hands, with a gaskin that took your breath away, the four of us always agreed, she was the most beautiful female horse we had ever seen.  “Unsaddle the horses,” Rebecca said quietly.  “We need to go now.” 

     I had smoked a turkey and a ham for the party, planning to have plenty for a festive group.  Rebecca had done her carving and now just enough for four rested between us on the console of the truck, and with big Poochie dog sniffin’ the foil covered bowls from his normal back seat position, we sped to the Buzan farm.  Once we arrived, we headed straight to the barn for Millie, and to our joy, she didn’t look too bad. 

     She was up, and perked her ears at Rebecca.  Instantly, ‘Becca was in her stall rubbing and talking.  “What’s wrong?” I asked Sharon.
     “Maybe colic,” she said, her face betraying concern.  “We’re not sure.  She’s been off her feed a couple of days, and wanting to lie down.  Dr. Pratt just left, and he gave her some mineral oil and medicine.  And…” she hesitated, “he said if she wasn’t better in the morning, we should take her to OSU for surgery.”  I looked at Rebecca, and she turned her eyes away from mine.  Those were the words we didn’t want to hear. 

     Don’t get me wrong.  If you have to take a loved one to the emergency room at OSU, there is no place on earth you will be treated better and with more loving care than the Large Animal Clinic at Oklahoma State University.  But as nice as they are, and as much as we admire them, neither of us wanted to meet the other on New Year’s Day. 

     We walked her most of the night.  The rest of the time we made small talk, and munched on snacks.  I knew Sharon was sick at heart, but as always her main concern seemed to be if we were getting enough to eat.  At midnight, we began to make plans for sunrise.
     “If she’s not better, you call me,” I said.
     “I will,” said Sharon.  “I hate to ask you, but Darrell’s been up for 24 hours.”
     “Don’t say that again,” I said.  “I love her like you do.”
     “I know you do,” she said.  “If we have to, we’ll call you.”    

     The phone rang at seven a.m.  I was in the shower, and when Rebecca handed me the phone she looked away, and I knew.  “Ready?” said Sharon.  In that moment, I thought a lot about that woman.  A person everybody likes, Sharon is also blessed with a keen intellect.  She’s charming and polished, but in that moment I thought about how so very tough farm women can be.  Even though dawn brought heartbreak because Millie was worse, Sharon’s voice betrayed no emotion.  Rather a strong and steady, “Are you ready?”
     “Ready,” I said with water dripping down my nose, trying to sound like her. 

     They were waiting on me when I arrived.  Darrell in the passenger seat, Sharon holding the door for me.  I quit the Dooley like a roping horse, and slid into the pilot seat of his.  “Careful,” she said, “you’re all tired.”
    “Yes, I will be,” I said.
     The tower said we were clear, and we had lift-off.  Two old tired friends with a sick friend in the trailer.  With silent prayers, we hit the Indian Nation Turnpike with the cruise set on 80.  “If he stops us,” I told Darrell, “when we tell him why, he’ll let us go.”
     “Yes,” Darrell said with his hat over his eyes.  “He will.” 

     We made the 300 miles in a better time than I ever dreamed.  The OSU emergency staff had us unloaded and were examining Millie in four minutes after our arrival.  The thought struck me that even if we had brought a child, we would never be treated with such care and concern at a hospital for human beings, and ain’t that a shame that the best and the brightest in our society have lost sight of that one thing. 

     Dr. Jinger Doe said, “Help me, Michael, hold her halter while I draw some blood.”  Darrel was outside on the cell phone with Sharon telling her surgery was necessary, and about the cost.  “We have to decide,” I heard him say to Sharon.  In less than one second, I heard him call to Dr. Jinger, “Go!”  And I had the strangest thought… 

     I wondered what Pamela Anderson and her PETA friends had done on New Year’s Eve.  I say this with no malice or feelings of superiority; I just wondered what they did on that night.  Surely as much as they claim to love animals, and talk about how awful the rest of us are, surely they didn’t attend some gala function, but rather sat up all night in a barn, don’t you think?  I wondered if they sat up all New Year’s Eve asking the Lord for one of His creatures to have a little…just a small bowel movement.  And I wondered if the next day, did they spend the day driving and praying for a family member to be well? 

     My musings stopped as the surgeon walked in.  Dr. Wooten greeted us like horse people do, and all good vets who never seem to forget the healing power of manners, and after introducing himself said, “Let’s get her into surgery now.” Dr. Doe turned to lead the horse to surgery and we felt the thing called hope, and Millie took two steps, and then she fell - and our beautiful Millie was gone. 

     It was the only time I saw Darrell give way to emotion.  He looked up at the ceiling and just for a moment, he spread his hands, and without words, I heard him ask the question we all ask - “Why?”  He dropped his head, and then, quickly turned to the vets.  “You did all you could,” he said.  Just like Darrell.  No matter what’s going on in his life, he’s still taking care of other people.  “You did all you could,” he repeated. 

     They talked for a time.  And when no one was looking, I walked over to the prettiest filly I had ever seen laying on the floor.  I leaned down and rubbed her cheek, and told her I much I appreciated her being so beautiful while she was with us.  And since there is a time for all things, the time had come for us to head home. 

     As we made our way to the truck, Darrell said, “Here comes the hard part,” and he dialed Sharon and Rebecca to tell them we had lost not only the battle, but the war as well. At that moment, I remembered he was tougher than me, ‘cause I thought the whole thing was hard. 

     Dr. Doe caught us just in time.  “I wish I could have done more,” she said, handing Darrell something.  He opened his hands, and therein lay a small piece of Millie’s mane, braided lovingly by one of those special people picked to care for the Lord’s creatures.  Some might have thought such a gesture silly.  In our unspoken grief, Darrell and I would not have been two of those.  Staring at the act of love, how I wished the surgeon who told me my little Momma was dead had done the same.  What it would have meant to me had he said, “I wish I could have done more,” and handed me a lock of her hair like Dr. Doe did for us.  Instead he said, “You’ll have to make arrangements to get the body out of the hospital,” and he turned and walked away.  How I wanted to hit him at that moment, and at this moment…
how I wish I had. 

     And two old cowboys helped each other in the truck, and we headed for home.   We didn’t talk much.  Just a little now and then.  And I thought about the priest, and the lines, “Thank you Lord, for the good…and the bad.”  He was right.  Now I know what the lines mean.  While it was a bad day, there was no place I would have rather been than in that truck with my friend who has helped me so much in life.  It was rough coming home.  But there were some things that helped… 

     We called Rebecca and Sharon.  “We love you,” they said.  That helped.  And there was something else.  I looked at it from time to time.  Darrell finally fell into an exhausted sleep, and I had only myself and sorrow to keep me company.  Then, I realized I wasn’t alone.  Over on the dash, resting - like Millie now - reminding me there is a time for all things was a gift of love.  There is a time to laugh and a time to dance, and a time to weep and mourn.  We have done both with our friends, and we are all better for it.  Over on the dash, a reminder there is a time for all things…it kept me company all the way home while my old friend rested.  Over on the dash braided with love rested Millie’s mane.  

Michael's latest release, Reflections Of A Cowboy, is currently available in audio book form. The two volume set consists of articles, essays and excerpts from radio performances about good people and good horses in the life of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately 8 hours in length. Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form is scheduled for release in the summer of 2005.

Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

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