One slow summer afternoon I was down at the calving shed near the river. For two months each spring it was like salmon spawning at rush hour! Hundreds of heifers, covies of calves, never ending nights, dozens of days, aches, dings, scratches, sutures, sleeves, scours, shots, dry eyes, chapped hands and sticky stuff in the hair on your arms. But that was last spring.
Now I was puttering around in the quiet barn. I was picking up empty bottles and trash, straightening the corner room with its heater and cot. The sun’s ray sliced through the cracks in the wall and spotlighted dust motes floating around.
I was trying to free up the tailgate on the squeeze chute when Dale’s shadow filled the door.
“What’s up, Doc?” he asked, not for the first time in my life. “I was passin’ by and saw yer pickup. Need some help?”
Dale was a good cowboy who ran one of the outer ranch operations. My friend, but one of those fellers who is plagued by the angel of Bad Luck, Saint Misfortune. Gremlins followed him around dropping rocks on his toe, slipping ropes underneath his horse’s tail, and laying banana peels in his path.
He strode over my way and walked right into a tight wire we had stretched, hat high, across the barn. It knocked his sombrero in the dirt! He reached up and grabbed the wire. “What the (expletive deleted) is this doin’ here!” He pulled on it a couple times like he was trying to stop a train.
It was #9 wire. It was wound around two 16 penny nails we’d drove in the rafter plates. It took fencing pliers to twist it. Stout wire.
“We use it to hang IV jugs and paper towels and stuff when we’re calvin’,” I explained.
“Well, by gosh, ya don’t need it now!” he said, “It’s dangerous!” He gave it a jerk. The south side nail came loose from the plate like a vindictive hornet! It whipped around on the end of the wire like a ten-foot bullwhip and went right through his upper lip!
I heard him cry. It was not the first time. He was standing frozen to the floor. The nail quivered in place and the wire hummed like a dial tone!
I gently pried his mouth open with a stick. There was a little blood on his mustache but it had broken his front tooth in half.
He went to the Doctor. I saw him that night at the big Game Feed. He was pretty well anesthetized and I joined him. We told the story for hours! I even built him a prosthetic tooth from a white ear tag. It worked good ‘till the straight pin broke.
Baxter Black is a cowboy poet, former large animal veterinarian and entertainer of the agricultural masses. As he puts it, “he has a narrow following, but it’s deep!” He resides in Benson, Arizona. Additional information about him can be found at baxterblack.com.