In a small ranching community in the west there lived a man, his wife and four children. They were no different than their neighbors, they ran cows, built fence and did their part to keep their little town alive.

The children attended the local school. Students numbered less than a hundred. But the remoteness of the area instilled a strong interdependence among the ranchers, families and townies.

The man and his wife lived in his folks’ old house on the ranch. They planned to remodel someday but the vagaries of the cattle business, the demand for routine ranch improvements and the appetite of four teenagers combined to prevent any real home improvements.

When the youngest son began high school, the man dared to dream of the future. One where his wife could quit her town job and he could spend more time with her. For even after 20 years he never tired of her company.

Cancer, the assassin, drew down and shot out the light of his life.

His grief was deep. The community put their arms around this proud man and his family. They did what neighbors do. As the months passed, they were always there. Watching after his children while loneliness ground away at his broken heart. And watched over him, as well.

The fall that his youngest began his senior year the man sold his cowherd. The market was good and his interest in the ranch had waned.

One day I got a phone call from him. He introduced himself and invited me to speak at his son’s graduation. I didn’t recognize the name of the town. He said there were six in the graduating class.

Arrangements were made. He sponsored a big BBQ that afternoon. Four hundred attended. He took a few moments before my introduction at commencement that evening to address the crowd. I was unaware of his tragedy. He spoke simply but expressed his appreciation to his friends and neighbors. He never mentioned his loss. It was unnecessary. In a community like this, everyone knew.

Afterward, some of us gathered in his living room for a nightcap. A few friends, his four kids, him and me. It was comfortable. The new graduate opened his gifts and spoke of his plans with the conviction and anxiety of youth. Nobody asked the man about his plans, but you could hear the page turning in his life.

I guess the hand lettered sign hangin’ on his gate post out by the road said it all:

“YAHOO! The last one finally graduated!

Thanks friends.

RANCH FOR SALE

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.