Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson 



     Be careful what you pray for.  You just might get it.  Happened to me several times.  Now when I really want something, I recoil just a bit.  “Better watch wantin’ that thing so bad,” my self says to me, “you just might get it.”  Problem is when we really want something badly we forget that when we get it, so much more comes with it.  Everything we really want has a good deal of fine print attached, and we always fail to read it.  So it was with the Oklahoma Kid.
     Ten years ago, I returned to the world of roping.  I approached things quite differently this time.  In my youth I chased them down the pen – the more the better – and listening to anyone was the last thing on my mind.
     This time - at age forty-five – my first purchase was an older paint head horse who knew far more than me.  The next step was to find masters and mentors who would school me well.  For the first time in my life, I listened.  I didn’t ask many questions.  I listened.  Most importantly, I did what they said for an extended period of time.  And I failed and failed.
     My skills were gone.  My body was far from being in shape, and my muscles were sore for weeks.  None of that mattered.  I knew.  I knew if I worked after an extended period of time - the good would come.  Years passed - and the good came.  The good came in Abilene – and brought so much fine print with it.
     I rode Shine at that roping.  The big gray had been so frightened when we began, and so was I.  After all this time, he was calmer now and could run like the wind in a spring storm.  My roping had improved and so had he.  The Abilene roping was cursed with cattle that ran so fast the hounds couldn’t catch’em, and they ran where the rabbits couldn’t go.  When they threw their tail up and ran, I wondered if those tails might catch on fire from sheer friction.  But they were no match for the Shine-Man, and they were no match for the Oklahoma Kid.
     His name was Bubba – naturally – and he could rope.  At twenty-three, the Oklahoma Kid could throw a dart through a swingin’ tire hanging in a tree fifty yards away.  And he was the most gracious, unassuming young man you ever met.  But of course, the key question is not about character, now is it?  The question is…can a man or woman heel?  Bubba could heel. 
     We drew three runners, and Bubba hammered each and every one by both feet.  When the dust settled, we had not only made the finals, we had the best time of six hundred teams.  All we had to do was catch one more steer to win the prize - and what a prize it was.  That’s when I started reading the fine print.
     It hit me about six o’clock in the evening on the night before the Finals.  As I prepared dinner for Shine and Blue, and mine as well, the realization came that some twenty-four hours from now, I would ride Shine in the box to catch that last steer.  At the other end of the arena, there would be two trailers, two saddles, and a suitcase containing 10,000 dollars!  Suddenly, there came a knot in my stomach that I knew was the tightest one I ever felt.  I was wrong.  The knot would become much tighter.
     I couldn’t eat my dinner.  Couldn’t sit down and couldn’t walk around.  I knew sleep would not come on that night, and sure enough, it was nowhere to be found.  Tossed and turned ‘til four in the morning.  Finally tried to eat a little breakfast, and could only manage coffee.  At 9 a.m. sharp Sunday morning I had a visitor.  Bubba’s dad.
     “STRATEGY!” he boomed.  “We need a strategy!”  Like all coaches, Bubba’s dad said everything really loud, and always said it twice.  “There’s only one unknown variable here, Miguel,” he yelled.  “Only one unknown variable.”
     “One unknown variable?” I repeated, just ‘cause it seemed like fun.
     “Only one unknown variable, son.  Only one.  I think we all know that my boy – well, he don’t miss!  Oh, he missed once, but that was in the nineties when he was just a kid.  My boy don’t miss, Miguel, and the only unknown variable here is…whether you gon’ catch that steer’s head or not?”   He hissed when he said it.
     “Thanks for telling me that Charley.  I hadn’t even thought of it.”
     “WELL, YOU NEED TO THINK ABOUT THAT, SON!” he thundered.  “And don’t you dare – I’m talking ‘bout don’t you dare let people come by here today and put the ‘willies’ on you.”
     “The ‘willies’?”
     “I’m talking ‘bout the ‘willies,’ son.  Don’t let a bunch of people come by this trailer today and tell you the list of reasons why it’s impossible for you to win.  Like that you’re too old – that you’ve never been in this situation before – anybody under this much pressure would fold up like a house of cards – and on and on.  Just don’t even let those things come into your mind.  Can ‘ya hear me, son?  Are you listnin’ to me here today?”
     “Don’t even let them come into…”
     “NO SIR!  The only thing you need to think about is catchin’ that steer, son, ‘cause my boy, he don’t miss.  I love that boy, and even if he couldn’t rope so dang good, I still would…”
     He paused for a moment.  “And I’m not ashamed to tell you one other thing, Miguel,” he said, lowering his voice for the only time in his life.  “It ain’t rained in sixty-six days where we live.  We ain’t got no wheat, and we don’t have any hay.”  He leaned over close to me, and I could smell the beer.  “Miguel, we need that money,”  he whispered.  “And there’s only one unknown variable…only one.  You hear what I’m telling you, son?”
     After Charley left, the knot in my stomach was the same one they use on the gold door at Fort Knox.  The Finals would begin at 6 p.m.  Eight hours to go.  Time slowed down, then stopped – then began to go backwards.
      At one minute after six on that night, I rode the big gray in the head box.  Bubba was staring a hole in me from over on his side with his rope coiled and ready to go.  I looked at the steer in the chute and my heart sank.  His horns went straight up in the air and were just perfect to split. We had drawn the devil himself.  I nodded. 
     Something seemed to be wrong with the gates – they opened so slowly.  The steer bolted, but in slow motion.  I squeezed Shine, and felt the big train move.  I could feel his muscles constricting and his big powerful heart beating.  Lord, how I loved him at that moment.  I could hear his breathing, and the sound of his feet hitting the arena floor like distant thunder.  Everything slowed down, and I had all the time in the world.  With a mind of it’s own, my rope spun twice with powerful revolutions, and then made a completely independent decision to fly.
     I watched as the right side of the loop hit the right horn, and the left cleared the other horn by a foot.  Then the tip of the rope began a slow, leisurely crawl over the steer’s withers.  Snapped my slack in slow motion, and the devil himself had been caught in the first quarter of the pen.  We were less than four seconds.  Bubba fired…and the rope never touched any
part of his body.
     The Oklahoma Kid had missed.
     For once in his life, the Oklahoma Kid had thrown a blank.
     Time blistered back to reality, and Shine and I were once again in the same world where everyone else lives.  I felt the disappointment coming like a huge wave, and a voice inside me said, “Be careful what you pray for!  Be careful what you pray for!  You never prayed to win.  You prayed for your horse not to be afraid.  Look at him!”
I looked down at Shine.  The big gelding I loved so was calm.  The thing I had worked for so long and wanted so deeply had come.  The gray was not afraid.  The disappointment turned to joy and gratitude.  We rode out the back of the arena.
     Bubba slid down the side of his horse, and eased down on his hands and knees.  I knew he was going to be sick.  The other cowboys standing close by turned and slowly walked away to avoid embarrassing him.
     After wiping his hand across the back of his mouth in a voice I could barely hear he said,
     “I’m so sorry, Mr. Mike.”
     Normally, I hate it when they call me that, but this time I didn’t mind at all.
     “It’s okay, Bubba,” I said.  “We wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you.”
     “You know it’s not okay,” he said.  “And I’d like to apologize to that ‘stick’ you’re ridin’.”
     “What did he call me?” Shine asked.
     “A ‘stick,’” I said.  “It means you’re a good one.”
     “Oh,” said Shine.  “Okay then.”
     “I need to be by myself for a while,” said the Oklahoma Kid.
     “Sure, Bubba.  Sure.” 

     I rode out the back of the coliseum, and some 100 yards away, I turned the corner of a building.  Bubba’s dad almost knocked me down.
     “I thought the Finals started at 7:00!” he shouted.  “We didn’t see you rope.  Did you catch?”
     “I SAID ‘DID YOU CATCH?’” screaming now.
     “Yes, Charley.  I caught.”
     He tore away and as he disappeared around the corner, I heard him yelling, “MILDRED, MILDRED!  Honey, we done won $10,000 dollars!”
     I didn’t have the heart to trail after him and tell him what happened.  Besides, he would have just found a way to blame me…and I understood that.  He loved that boy.


Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

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