An old cowboy was sitting in a chair on his front porch, leanin’ back against the wall. Lying beside him was his faithful dog, Buster – licking himself. A stranger comes walking down the road and sees the dog licking himself, and says to the cowboy, “Boy, I wish I could do that.”
The cowboy looks at the stranger and says, “Well -- you probably ought’a pet him first.”
This was a Jeff joke. Jeff didn’t tell many jokes, but this one was typical. He told it to me back in 1994. I’d never heard it before or since, although I’ve told it quite a few times. Another one I recall was when we walked into a bar that had a sign reading “No Smoking in the restaurant area.” The establishment was one big room with the bar in the center, and Jeff remarked, “That’s like having a no peeing section in a swimming pool.” Jeff was a master at quiet, off-handed remarks like that.
In 1992 I was working as a wrangler at a ranch in Colorado and living in a two-room, log cabin bunkhouse with seven guys whose dads were younger than I. One of the guys was a sultry young cowboy from Texas named Mark who couldn’t handle a horse and was fired early in June. A week later he was replaced by a 19-year old kid right out of outfitters and packing school up in Montana. His name was Jeff and he bunked right across from me. He was from Indiana and, although he was only 19, I quickly learned that he was no kid. In many ways he was more mature than I was, and I had 32 years on him.
Jeff and I bunked together for several years while working as wranglers in Colorado. We had lots of wonderful trail rides in the mountains and lots of memorable experiences around the ranch and at the Parshall Inn, a local watering hole in Parshall, Colorado. In 1995 I bought a house in a relatively remote mountain area and Jeff came and helped me fence the property. He visited me there numerous times over the subsequent eight years and I kept his horse Sass there one summer. I also visited him whenever and where ever he moved, and we kept in regular touch by phone.
My sister referred to Jeff as her favorite redneck. He was definitely conservative about food, clothes, and people – preferring the simple, country life and detesting city life and hippies. A meat and potatoes kind of guy, he thought that any food you couldn’t pronounce wasn’t something to be eaten, and he was not comfortable or even familiar with the comforts of high society. I once treated him to dinner at a really small but elegant restaurant overlooking the Colorado River. The dining room only sat about 25 people at small linen-covered tables and there was classical baroque music playing. The obviously gay maitre de asked us where we would like to sit, and Jeff nervously replied, “No where romantic.”
In 1993 I bought my horse, BJ, from Sombrero Ranch in Colorado and needed to get her to the east coast. Jeff had an old truck and horse trailer and delivered her the 2000 miles. All he wanted was gas money. He had never been to the East coast, or even the West coast for that matter, so I took him to see the Atlantic Ocean, Atlantic City, and Philadelphia. He was horrified at what he saw on South Street in Philadelphia and thought they ought to nuke the place. I decided not to take him to Manhattan.
One of my favorite Jeff stories was one he told on himself from his high school days. He and his girlfriend were out one summer night and somehow his girlfriend ended up sitting, sans panties, on the fender of his car. The next day he arrived at a family function and happened to notice a perfect butt print on his car. He had to go to great lengths to keep family and friends from noticing it.
The last time I saw Jeff was a few weeks before he died. I was passing through Indiana on my way to Colorado and stopped to see him and his wife Traci and their 7-month old son Mason. We went a couple miles down the road from where they lived to have lunch at the Iron Kettle Restaurant in Sulphur Springs. Jeff referred to the Iron Kettle as the “Choke and Puke,” but he loved it. Most of the folks eating there were older local farmers, and most were wearing coveralls that failed to hide generous amounts of extra weight. Many of them knew Jeff.
Now, three months later, I was standing in front of Jeff’s grave and quietly reminiscing about all the good times we had had during the twelve years that we had been close friends. There were no bad times when we were together – just good memories of two best friends enjoying all that life had to offer. His dog Duellin, a German Shepard, was there with me. When we got out of the truck, Duellin went over and immediately peed on Jeff’s grave. Jeff would have had a good laugh over that.
I recalled three years earlier standing with Jeff outside a restaurant in Lake Tahoe where we were about to attend his wedding rehearsal dinner. An attractive but very skinny girl walked by and Jeff remarked, “Somewhere out there is a chicken with no legs.”
Now, somewhere out there, is a cowboy, dad and husband -- keeping an eye on things.