The Last and Loneliest Ride

He didn’t ask for much. Five minutes (people had things to do and places to go), a pair of 501 Levis, some Bob Wills music, a pine box and an old pickup to haul it in. He meant it, too.

As one of his best friends said afterward, you either knew him well or you didn’t know him at all—meaning, of course, that you can’t judge the interior by the exterior.

Some would say he was old-fashioned, certainly stubborn. He didn’t try to conceal his less endearing traits, but his word was always good. He had strong opinions and didn’t care too much about being politically correct. His good deeds were many, but done quietly, usually anonymously, and always unselfishly.

At a local restaurant the night before, he had been the main topic of discussion for a small group. “Most unselfish person I have ever known,” said one lifelong friend.

“Yes, if he was here tonight, we would have to watch him to keep him from paying the bill for all of us and sneaking out before we knew it,” said another.

“Most people don’t realize a tenth of the good deeds this good man has done.”

Where had they all come from?  Miles could be driven without seeing a house, much less a person.  Eyes which have seen Texas only through fiction would have nodded approvingly at the sea of black and silver-belly hats. Wranglers and Levis topped boots of oil-soaked cowhide and full-quill ostrich.

A lonesome pair of spurs played a tinkling, sporadic tune when their owner shifted his boots in the cold wind. No time to remove the spurs when he left work or no time to put them back on before returning? More likely, just part of the daily uniform.

Being there was important … dressing up was not.  An occasional tie or pair of shoes interrupted the Panhandle dress code, but not enough to notice.

A look at the faces and their expressions confirmed that these were not just characters in a movie or a book – they were real Texans. Many had come from the North Country, some from Germany and other countries, but all had passed the test.

They were Texans to the core – only one or two generations removed from the pioneers who came to this one-time desert to tame it with livestock and crops. Most did not live in town, but the closest town is named for a breed of cattle.

The seventh year of a more or less continuous series of droughts showed that Mother Nature does not tame easily. The continuous struggle had etched deep lines in some faces, but cold determination and persistence were evident in their eyes. Today, those eyes and faces showed pain and respect for one of their own.

The temperature hovered in the thirties with a matching wind speed. The sun was out, but they would have preferred standing in a downpour.  They knew that he would have wanted it to rain on his special day.

Some were kin by blood; most were kin by shared hardships, grief, and occasional victories. Hardy stock—the people kind. They stood reverently as a close friend gave the best kind of eulogy, one spoken in plain words—from the heart—and from close kinship.

Afterward, they broke into small groups to share stories of the man’s life, his sense of humor, his jokes and stories, his infectious laugh, his generosity, of how he would be remembered.

Without benefit of topcoats or gloves, they stayed in the cold wind until their turn to speak to the family came. A sentence spoken at a time like this does not do justice to a life well-lived, but a hug and a look convey more than words can say.

They made their way across the brittle grass, kept alive by irrigation, to their waiting trucks, leaving the pine box alone on the prairie. They would continue their struggles without him

His worry about rain and crops was over for now. Was he watching? Was he pleased? It took longer than five minutes, and the pickup had not been practical for hauling the box, but he had his Levis, a tin of snuff was in his pocket, grandchildren had left him remembrances, and Bob Wills music had been played. It was good … it was honorable … befitting a good and honorable man.

Now he was alone on his beloved prairie and snow was in the forecast.  Maybe a good crop was in the offing for his family and friends. He would surely want it to be.

Arliss Edwards’ great and generous heart stopped beating on Christmas Eve, 2001, in the office of his farm shop on the High Plains of Texas where he had lived and worked all his life.

 

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