I was reminded of Harry Johnson today. I’d been drivin’ down a long stretch of country road. The snow blowin’ up in the rearview mirror, a thermos of coffee in the seat, and the sun warmin’ the cab of the pickup.
I first met Harry in the feedlot. He was the cattle foreman. He was not happy there. He was an “outside” man. He’d spent his life workin’ on ranches. I don’t know if he ever owned one himself, but he was a cowboy. A cowboy’s cowboy. Which meant he took care of the cows like they were his own.
He lived in Bruneau, Idaho. Somewhere along the way, he married Iris. She was a schoolteacher in that little community, I think. Harry told me he learned a lot about his wife the day he got his first paycheck after they were married.
He was cowboyin’ for some outfit down there in Owyhee County. His check was for $163. He stopped at Angel’s to have a beer and cash his check. They had a card game goin’, and Harry got sucked in. By the time he realized his predicament, he had lost $162.
Harry said he went down the street to his house. He walked in the door with his hat in his hands and confessed to his new wife. She looked him over. She couldn’t believe he came home with $1. She suggested he might as well go back and try and lose it all. Well, he hiked back to Angel’s, hit a lucky streak and won it all back!
Harry retired in the ’70s. We had a party for him in Mountain Home. Harry got up and said, “Just like the shipwrecked sailor who found a woman on a deserted island, I didn’t come here to make a speech.” Then he sat down.
Harry didn’t take well to retirement. We’d make sure he got included in all the brandings and cow workings. He’d come to a few. But we couldn’t get him to help. He’d lean on the fence or sit in the cook trailer and visit. Matter of fact, he wore his bed slippers.
I used to think, “Gosh, he needs to keep busy.” He knew how to do everything better than all of us, but he never butted in.
I never figured out whether he had just decided to relax and soak up the sun after a lifetime of hard work or whether he put on his bed slippers and waited to die. He only lived eight more years after he retired.
Either way, he was my friend, and I think about him now and then. ’Specially on cold and crisp days like this when you can lay on the south side of a windbreak, peaceful-like, and sorta doze. PD