People ask me what inspires my writing. Okay. One person did ask. Alright, I myself sometimes wonder. Certainly not bad oats for breakfast. The answer covering most instances is that I observe people and take notes. Now and again, however, a dream will suggest a theme, plotline, or a snatch of humor. Maybe not a dream. Maybe insomnia. Same thing, really. Take a recent sleeptime aberration that laid-out a plot I noodled onto a scratchpad while my coffee brewed the next morning.
“Hey, aren’t you that writer? The one who writes about Canadian cowboys, ranches, rodeos and like that?” asked the older gent standing under a smart but well-sweated Stetson. He was probably about six feet and two inches in his prime, a rugged specimen then, but now a grandfatherly type less any paunch to speak of.
Idling on the fringes of the department store toy displays, I replied, “Well sir, I am. Being an equal-opportunity conversationalist, I kept the banter alive with, “I’m curious. How was it you recognized me?”
“Read your last one,’ the Stetson said. “Your picture was on the back. You look just like you. Passable read.”
Not knowing if I’d been told to look for other work or if that was a glowing recommendation, I let it go. I did ask a follow-up, “Why’d you read the book?”
“I’m in the business, you see.”
“Oh. Let me guess. You raise rodeo bulls.”
“No. I broker rodeo clowns.”
What the blazes was I supposed to do with that? Brokers rodeo clowns? I toyed with the idea the gent was messing with me. “You look to be a prosperous sort. Must be decent money.”
“You wouldn’t believe,” he shrugged. “You write western-themed stuff. So you love rodeos?” He asked that with genuine interest without looking the least that he be upset if I didn’t.
“No sir. Like them. Been around them a lot, writing about ranchers and cowboys you see. Don’t love the rodeo. Love my wife. Love my kids. I had a dog once I liked a lot.”
He chuckled. Decent looking sort and he had a sense of humor not embarrassed by philosophic innuendo. That was something I could work with. “Ah. Well, I love the rodeo,” he declared matter-of-factly.
“Made you what you are. Looks like you’ve done well and still keep a hand in it.” And it did, on both counts. I asked, “You clown before you became a broker, that what you called it?”
“Yeah. Good at it. Loved it. Fifty years ago. Bummed my leg and both knees early-on though. Had to make a living. Things just fell into place. Married the Missus, started the business that’s pretty much held me captive all these years. But I’ll retire soon. Turn the business over to a General Manager.” He closed one eye and squinted at me in the way of apologizing for being nosy. “And how’s cowboy book-writing?”
“Ah,” I admitted, “it’s a little thin at the moment. Not much interest in Canadian Cowboys just now.”
“Well,” he offered, “it’ll pick up.” He smiled a warm-your-heart smile that threatened to split his face in half.
As I prepared to ask what prompted an optimism I didn’t at present share, my youngest daughter rode up on one of those sit-on-top-and-ride kiddie cars.
“Lookit Daddy! It’s fits just perfect!”
“Sure looks it, Sweetie.” I said.
Right then, my daughter wasn’t interested in a long-term conversation. She and the demo U-Ride-It-Kiddiemobile took off, I presume to find Momma.
“Cute child,” said Mr. Rodeo Clown Broker.
“Thank you, sir,” I said. “We’re here picking out Midwinter Festival surprises, you know.”
“Well that’s one for the list,” offered Mr. Broker.
“Not enough slosh in the budget to cover that, I’m afraid. We’ll do with a dozen or so less-expensive items. That one probably needs a little over eighty more than I can shake loose right now. She’ll be happy come Festival Morning regardless.”
“Raised her right then. Still be happier if that car was there.”
“Yeah. But we’ll get over it.”
“How bout I cover the slack?”
“What? Beg pardon?” You know the word ‘incredulous’? I was. Am to this day.
He went on, “Yeah. I got some ‘slosh’ right now and it’d be my gift to a writer who put some chuckle in some of my drearier days. When, as a matter of fact, I sorely needed it.”
“Geeze. I mean…”
“I insist,” Mr. Broker interrupted. “Tell you what. You gimme the keys to your car, I’ll sneak it out for you. Keep it a big surprise.”
Purely flabbergasted, I profusely thanked Stan, which was how he introduced himself. We worked out the details with the store clerk, and I left to find my daughter and her Momma. When I came back, the clerk had my car keys, and Stan was gone. I asked after him. The clerk apologized but had no idea which direction he’d headed. I believed I’d met a saint. Or a tall elf. With a sweat-stained Stetson.
Midwinter Festival came. It was supremely enjoyed by my youngest daughter. A joy her much older siblings happily shared. What’d Stan say? “Raised her right.” Momma and I try. With all of them.
Mid spring, I was headed to my car in a store parking lot when I heard a robust voice call out, “Mr. Canadian Cowboy Writer!” I doubted that meant anybody but me. I turned around and leaning up against a big diesel pickup was Stan. He looked a little older, a little worn, had a hint of pain on his face and a new cream-colored Stetson.
“Well, hey, Stan. Good to see you!” I walked over and we shook hands like two politicians of the same party.
Stan said, “Thought that was your car. Glad I waited.”
“I am too.” I was. There was some score to even-up. “Forgive me, Stan, but you look a little pained. Everything alright?”
“Ah, well,” Stan said, and frowned. “We all get to deal with a little sorrow, some pain now and again. My turn, I suppose.”
Having no idea, no clues, but guessing, I didn’t like the possibilities. Stan interrupted the question I was working to spit out.
“I was hoping I’d run into you. About that car for your darling daughter…”
Again, I had no idea where that was going.
Stan picked-up, “I came back just five minutes after the clerk gave you your car keys. He dogged me down again not much later, while I was shopping the fly rods. He told me they’d just put that car on sale. Gave me a refund right there.”
“Still greatly obliged Stan… You cannot believe the joy that little lady gets from that car. Her Momma and I…”
“Not the deal,” Stan interrupted. “Deal is, after the refund, I owe you twenty bucks! Fancy that! Hold on. I got twenty dollars right here.” Stan reached for his hip pocket and his billfold. And screwed-up his face in pain.
“Why don’t you keep it Stan? The twenty bucks? Do something special.”
Stan winced a little less straightening out with his wallet in hand. He said, “Did. Right after the clerk ran me down and embarrassed me with the cash, I was so tickled, took the wife out for steak dinner. We’d not done that in a while, what with working to retire and other things. Wife said it was the best steak she could remember.”
“That’s swell, Stan.” My heart was breaking. My head was running through all the words of condolence never handy when you need them, figuring Stan was going to drop the news on me. I felt bad for him.
Just as I found my voice and a bit of pluck, he winced again. “I’m sorry, Stan. Listen…” I started with no idea how I was going to do what I had to do.
“Oh, that?” Stan chuckled. “That’s the leg and the knees acting-up again. Touch of Arthritis too. Been getting worse all the time.”
“No, Stan, I meant…”
Stan was good at timely interruption. “No!” He paused with a look of surprise. “You think I lost the Missus?” He grinned that big face-splitting grin of his. “Nah! She’s right as rain. Matter of fact we’re going to celebrate our anniversary tonight. Guess where she wants to go?”
“Stan, you keep that twenty. You and the Missus have a glass of wine tonight. On us.”
“Never surer Stan. Gonna ask one thing though.”
“Well sure. Ask away.”
“Scribble down your telephone number. New book comes out in a week. I want to bring you a copy. I mean if you’d like.”
Stan grinned. “Like nothing better.”