My wife says we need those.
Reminders, I mean. She says we need “reminders.” At first,
I didn’t know what she meant. Later, I would learn the
importance of the words. She says things like that. She
says little things about life. Little things like, “Don’t
influence the outcome negatively.” She’s always saying
that. I thought I knew what that one meant, but then I
would catch myself saying, “Well, this probably won’t turn
out right,” and my wife would say, “Don’t influence the
outcome negatively.” See? That’s a reminder. We need
reminders ‘cause sometimes, no matter how well intentioned
we are, we forget. I forgot something the other day – and I
I forgot about how badly at one time in my life I
wanted something so deeply. I wanted to earn my daily bread
doing what I loved. So I began. At first, I was afraid and
I wondered. Then, the days passed, one slipping into
another, and I found myself breaking even. Halleluiah!
Always told my business students, “If you break even, the
road goes on forever!” But I forgot how long the road was.
I forgot that every hotel in America is forbidden from
having any two light switches that turn on in the same way –
and no two hotels can have those switches located in the
same place on the wall. No two hotel showers in North
America can be turned on in the same way either. Must be
some federal law. No one told me about life on the road.
And this thing I so desired came into the world. I forgot
how once long ago I dreamed of having the thing I had now.
And sadly, I became a bit jaded – a bit accustomed to it
all. Then, Wanda came by. She brought something with her.
Wanda brought a reminder.
For a dozen years now, one of my regular stops on tour
has been the National Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, Texas,
held just after Labor Day each year. It’s quite an affair.
Thousands of people come to celebrate the life of the cowboy
– to see the chuck wagon cooks from the Four Sixes and the
Pitchfork, to hear singing and poetry, to learn how to help
your horse at clinics, and your working stock-dog. I see
old friends and make new ones. It’s always been quite a
time. And this year, I was tired.
Long road to get there. West Texas is big. Fuel
prices dig into my money sack like some poisonous snake; the
boxes of books get heavier every year, and the people… The
very thing I prayed for was beginning to wear on me –
people. That’s one thing I’ll never write in a column or
book, buddy. You can bet on that. I kept it in my secret
heart of hearts, but it was true that sometimes people would
come by to talk, and I wanted to go to the bathroom, or to
eat. I felt guilty about it, but…then Wanda came by. Wanda
always comes by.
She’s older and she’s alone. She comes by to talk and
she really talks – and she stays a long time. And when I
saw her coming – with a big smile on her face – I thought, “Uh
oh.” Don’t get me wrong; I really like her. It’s just
that I was tired or preoccupied maybe - had other things on
my mind, and in a hurry to get things done. Just didn’t
have a lot of time to talk.
“It’s so good to see you,” she said loudly. “Let me
hug your neck!”
“Good to see you too, Wanda,” I said, smiling. “How
have you been?” Glanced at my watch, wondering how long she
Trust me when I tell you – she told me how she had
This little West Texas woman took her own sweet time,
describing in detail most every moment that had occurred
since our last lengthy meeting a year ago. She covered
every coyote sighting, every new calf born to her small
herd, and every ailment each of her horses had experienced –
no matter how minor – during the last twelve months. Then,
suddenly she says…
“You know why I like you so much?”
“No, Wanda,” I said. “Why?”
“’Cause you always have time to listen,” she
said. “You never seem like you’re rushed. You’re always
grateful that people stop to talk to you. You never act
like you have something else to do, and you always have time
for me. You got time to listen! You have no idea
how important that is to someone like me,” she said.
“Well, I enjoy…”
“I’ll tell you why,” she interrupted. “’Cause my momma
lost her first child in 1921, that’s why.” Then, little
Wanda turned staring out the big plate glass wall-window in
the coliseum, and she spun me a tale. A tale of her life…
“My little momma lost her baby in 1921. It broke her.
Cracked her soul like you would break a wagon spoke. Then
she had me.” Staring now, not at me, but out at those flat
plains where she had spent her life alone. Memories in her
“Then she had me,” she continued. “Doctor told her,
‘This one is sick and spindly like your son was. Best not
to get too attached to this one either. She’s probably
gonna’ die too.” And Wanda turned to look at me…
“And you know what, Miguel?”
“What, Wanda?” I answered. And I felt something down
deep inside of me – I knew something was coming – and I
didn’t want to hear it.
And the noise in the crowded room drifted away –
silent stillness – just me and that little woman who comes
to see me every year in West Texas…and in just one moment, I
knew her in a new way. Now I understood why she came every
year, so desperate just to talk.
“She didn’t,” Wanda repeated. “She never got
attached to me.” Turning now again, looking away, she was
seeing yesterday. “My mother lived to be ninety-three, and
in all that time, she never touched me. She never told me
she loved me, and when I was a child, she never sat a plate
for me at the supper table.”
“I’m truly sorry, Wanda,” I said, as softly as I could.
“Don’t be sorry for me,” she snapped, turning her eyes
directly on me. “You ‘member that old line ‘bout ‘what
don’t kill you makes you stronger?’ ”
“I remember,” I said.
“Almost killed me…but it didn’t. Made me stronger.”
Then, she smiled. “Most people ain’t got time for an old
woman like me, but I got friends. Friends like you. You
talk to me every year – and most of all, you listen to me.
That’s why I like you, Miguel.”
“I like you too, Wanda,” I said. “I like you too.”
“I’ll be back next year,” she said. “We’ll remember
things together.” And she began to walk away.
“Wanda?” I called to her. “You be sure and come by
now, you hear me? Wanda?” I called again. But she was
Lord, I hope she heard me.
-- Michael Johnson
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. Order from