Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson


     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 was reminded.
     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 would stay.
      Trust me when I tell you – she told me how she had been.
      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 eyes…
     “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.
     “She didn’t.”
     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 gone.

     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 Michael's website.

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