It is strange, the old memories that my brain delivers up at odd times. A recollection of a dusty old cowpoke I met in a hospital in the middle of the night repeats from time to time, and I cannot say that I have ever fully understood why.
It would have been sometime in the 1960s. I was married with small children. My husband and I owned a house in Arlington, only blocks away from my parents. Suddenly an emergency: my mother had a life-threatening aneurism and was transferred to a Ft. Worth hospital, and our lives suspended for days.
As her condition improved slightly, Mom was assigned to a woman’s ward, which prohibited Dad’s presence at night. I was the designated substitute, caring for my young family during the day and Mom at night. The nurses allowed me periodic bed checks, and in between, I paced the waiting room, shivering from the cold night air conditioning, or sat in a stiff naugahyde chair and fretted – about Mom, of course, but also my family, my fatigue.
Into this fraught scene walked a small wizened man, clearly a cowpoke in faded jeans and boots worn down at the heels to accommodate his bowed legs. Hat in hand, he asked to sit nearby, then settled into a long silence. “Quiet in here, ain’t it,” he finally said, and offered up his own story.
Over the evening, in between my checks on Mom, his story spooled out. The man was a cowboy in every sense of the word. He had spent a lifetime working ranches in the Panhandle, with little to show for it except a horse and a 25-year-old pickup truck. When he had gotten word of his own mother’s critical illness, he had driven straight from Amarillo to Ft. Worth.
We talked for hours, two people of such different worlds. I was a twenty-something young wife and mother, educated, sophisticated, a city girl. He was a sixty-something sun-burnt cowpoke, lacking education and polish, who normally took to horses and cattle easier than people.
Still, our common fear, our ties to family, bound us for the evening and we talked of many things. He even flirted a bit, saying that he wished he had known me in his younger days. He said he would have taken me honky-tonking and we could have “gotten it on,” and I could not be insulted for this was meant as a supreme compliment.
There were all sorts of lessons from this odd encounter including the commonality of all humans, but the most potent was the realization that this dusty shambles of man was an exemplar of sacrifice. He had risked his ranch job, lost wages, pushed his battered truck to its limits. He had nothing to give his mother but his presence and nothing else mattered.
— Jonnie Martin