This is a little short that I wrote about my Grandfather. He would have liked it.
|“Jones, you gonna eat this?” grunted the tall, lean ghost of a Navajo they called Joe.
“Nah, you go ahead.” Kay whispered as the sparks of the popping embers skidded on to his blanket.
“You sure, ‘cause I don’t want you crying tomorrow that I eat all your food.”
Kay flicked the still-glowing spark with quiet agility and shook his head. “You need all you can get, Flaquito. There’s still some sheepherder’s stew left over, right?”
“Yeah, but you white men will eat anything.”
The Navajo smiled and began to devour the contents of the blackened can with great enthusiasm. Kay watched him for a few moments, but his thoughts soon returned to the stew steaming in the pot at his feet. He could smell the gaminess of the rabbit and the fresh pepper. He often joked with Joe that he could tell who had been in camp already just by the contents of the stew.
“Joe, when did Hoot get in? I thought he was stuck up on Wolf Creek Pass.”
Joe nodded at the slender shepherd. Jones was a quiet man, and in Joe’s estimation that was just fine. So many of the guys Joe had known over the years talked too much. They’d come in to camp and brag about their experiences down at Lucy’s, or they’d boast of the money they’d won playing poker. Joe knew it was just talk, but all the same, the stories tired him. He had been in camp for about six years and he’d heard every story, he’d even told a few himself, but the quiet, thoughtful silence of Jones was the best story he’d never heard. Perhaps that’s why he smiled as he glanced across the flames. He enjoyed the surprising banter.
“Okay, I’ll play,” retorted the big Navajo. “He got here about six. And how’d you know may I ask?”
Jones, too, looked across the flames to Joe’s stoic features and appreciated his friend’s genuine interest in his little game.
“How about Sweeney?”
“Just after Hoot.”
Jones winked before answering Joe’s furrowed brow. “Touch of honey.”
As the exercise continued, Jones successfully divined the entire comings and goings of the camps by looking at the stew. Jim Gaiter put in the carrots, Wallace Stack added the sweet onions, and Billy Stucke couldn’t help but throw in a couple of cloves of garlic. Joe again studied the suddenly quiet, pensive Jones across the flames. He was a tough one to figure out.
The silence continued for twenty minutes as Jones filled his bowl with the rabbit stew and began to eat. Joe wondered just what made Jones tick. He had a wife and two or three kids down in Pagosa. Hoot said he was a pretty decent father and, from what Joe had seen in his six years, the leathered and worn Welshman worked hard and knew the animals as well as anybody.
As he finished his savory meal, Jones again pondered the stew. He stirred the remaining contents of the pot and repositioned it in the smoldering coals. His eyes then narrowed into tiny slits and he hunkered down under his blanket. After a few minutes, he jumped to his feet and rushed to his horse. Joe watched as Jones dug through his saddlebag extracting bags and strings and knives. He appeared to be searching for something small, but Joe couldn’t make out what it was he was searching for. Before long he returned holding something in his hand. He twisted it and kneaded it and then threw it casually into the pot and stirred some more.
“What did you add to the pot, Jonesy?” called Joe with growing excitement.
“My mother’s special ingredient is all,” replied Jones before he climbed back under the blanket and quickly fell asleep.
Joe’s curiosity was piqued, but he wasn’t about to eat the stew to find out what Jones had added to it. Instead, he, too, curled up next to the fallen cottonwood and closed his eyes.
Charles Peterson stood about six feet four inches tall, weighed two hundred and sixty pounds and wore one of the ugliest scowls ever seen west of the Mississippi. When folks saw him coming, they’d quickly step into a store or bow their heads so low their noses would touch the toes of their boots. It wasn’t that he was mean, although he’d been known to get angry a time or two and punch a man in the nose just for looking at him cross-eyed, it was more the fact that his scowl frightened everyone.
His upper lip would arch slightly higher on the left side and cause his left eye to squint revealing a deep scar on his eyelid. Rumor had it that he got the scar fighting a Mexican in a bar in Santa Fe, but Chuck always said it was God’s way of humbling a man with a perfect face. The scar began directly above the center of the eye and fanned out to the corner of the eye. It then fell an inch and ended on the cheekbone in the shape of an anchor or an inverted J. The scar was ugly enough, but combined with the twisted lip and the gargantuan frame, it frightened women and children and made cowards of the toughest men in Pagosa.
As he lumbered into camp, he scanned the surroundings for anything that looked like it might be food. He saw the pot quickly and eyed it wondering if it still contained what he thought it might contain.
“Hey, Chief,” he started as he nudged the slumbering Indian. “Wake up, ol’ boy. This stew any good?”
“Yeah, Chuck, its fine. I think they saved you some.”
Joe peeked out of his tired eyes at the hulk of a man towering over the dwindling fire. He was a scary figure if there ever was one, thought Joe. He didn’t much care for Chuck. Nobody really did, but no one dared say anything to him. He never brought any food, and when they moved the camp every fall, Chuck always seemed to be otherwise employed. But what could they do, his father owned the sheep. They were stuck with him.
Without a thought, Chuck rushed across the camp and grabbed some utensils from his saddlebag, kicking up dust as he went. He then returned to the pot and looked voraciously at the simmering stew. It looked so good and smelled so good as well. Chuck hardly noticed the Indian watching his every move.
He said grace and before he plunged his fork into the pot, he licked his twisted lips. It would taste so good, he thought. He took a bite fit for a king and voraciously chewed the succulent meat. As Chuck continued with his first big bite, Joe could see that something was wrong. The big oaf’s lip not only twisted but it began to quiver. The quiver slowly but surely transformed into a full convulsion. His eyes began to water and his face turned a deep red. Even in the moonlight, Joe could see the redness of his face. It sounded like he was choking and he spat the rabbit into the fire, but he kept shaking. In fact, Joe could see the big man’s entire frame begin to quiver and shake from head to toe. Before long he was hopping madly from side to side swearing at the top of his lungs, threatening to kill everyone in sight.
This rare display ended as Chuck ran screaming down to Short Creek holding his throat and gasping for air.
Joe laughed and peered again across the former fire and just spotted the tiny narrow eyes of the Welshman under the blanket. They twinkled in the modest moonlight and then they shut tight as a drum.
He was a tough one to figure.