Posted by Skook on 14 November, 2010 at 8:15 am. 27 comments already!


I’d left Wyoming a few days earlier, I wound up in Bossier Parrish, Louisiana. I don’t know why, it just happened.

It was ten PM and I was riding my Triumph down the “Strip” of Bossier City. The area that kept the uncivilized out of the “nicer” area of town. I spotted a diner that seemed to have a good crowd; it stood to reason, they might have decent food, so I pulled my bike in to the parking lot and walked in hoping for a decent meal.

The reason it had such a big crowd was that it was actually a bar and a rodeo had just ended. I walked in and the place became deathly quiet. Everyone was staring at me like I had walked in naked.

I was left with two choices; I could turn around and walk out or I could sit at the bar and order a meal. I walked up to the bar and sat at one of the few empty seats. I asked the bartender for a menu and he told me they only served red beans and rice at this time of night.

I told him that would be fine with me and soon the conversation resumed in the bar and people forgot about me. The guy on my left was small but had a presence that suggested he was a bull rider. He had dirt and green manure on the back of his shirt; It was a safe bet that he had ridden tonight in the rodeo.

His conversation with the two hundred pounder sitting to his left was becoming heated and soon had deteriorated into an argument. It was none of my concern, I just wanted to eat my beans and rice before I continued my journey to nowhere in particular.

Soon, I heard the smaller one next to me say, “Yea, well you are a damned bald faced liar.”

Uh oh! calling a man a liar, even if he is a liar, is an insult that few men will endure. They both stood up with the bigger guy towering over the smaller guy; suddenly the big one pushed the little guy and he stumbled back into me and I dropped a large spoonful of red beans and rice in my lap. Now, I was aggravated, it is hard enough to look presentable after riding a bike with all the bugs and road grime on you and your clothes, but now I had red beans and rice on my jeans. I looked at the pair and they were oblivious to my problem, they were an instant away from fighting. The big one was trying to intimidate the smaller one by poking him in the chest with his index finger and yelling at him. Big mistake, bull riders have a death wish and they jump on 1800 pound bulls just to see if they will die on any particular night; a 200 pound man isn’t even considered a worthy opponent for most of these guys.

The big guy pulled back his finger and got ready to launch into another tirade, when he looked to the side for an instant, as liars always do, “whack” the bullrider’s fist smashed his nose. The fight was gone from him, the blood poured from his nose and the tears ran down his cheeks as he sank to one knee. Suddenly, two of his over sized friends stepped in front of him and put their hands up to test the steel of the bullrider at two to one. Now these boys didn’t have the look of real country boys that are hardened from honest work that city boys would never even consider doing; they didn’t really want to fight, all they wanted to do was to make a show, like a fear biting dog. They were still dangerous because of their willingness to pile on a 130 pounder two at a time.

I don’t like it when people are taken advantage of, so I stood up with my back to the bullrider and looked at the two over sized buffoons and said, “The fight is over, your friend lost.”

They seemed to be glad to hear about the results and know that the fight was over, because they just wandered back into the crowd. I sat back down to my bowl of beans and rice and started to eat. when the bullrider said, “Thanks friend, I would have beat the Hell out of those two, but thanks anyway.”

I smiled and told him, “I know, but I am hungry and my dinner would have been cold by the time you were done.”

He laughed and put out a large calloused hand to shake, “I’m Possum Taters, glad to meet you.”

We shook hands and started a conversation. He was a good natured little guy, he looked you in the eye and got right up in your face to talk to you. Of course, he had a thick Cajun Patois accent that made it hard for me to understand him and I am sure my thick brogue from Northern Canada made it hard for him to understand me.

Eventually, he asked where I was from and when I told him British Columbia, I had to explain that it was in Canada and not part of South America. He wasn’t too sure about the idea of Canada and he wanted to know if Canada was a free country. I told him if you were a trapper and a professional hunter it was about as free as you could get. I later learned that these people, like many of the people back home had very limited horizons, since most of them have never been over a hundred miles from home. He wanted to know if I had been to the Calgary Stampede and when I said I had been a couple of times, he became very excited and wanted to hear all about the rodeo and the town. He had talked to several bull riders who had competed up there and he dreamed of one day going up there to rodeo. He was fascinated with the idea of trout streams coming through the mountains and flowing right through town. I told him that Calgary was the most beautiful city I had ever seen and with the mountains to the West it was about as good as it gets.

Possum was popular and several guys and gals came up to say hi and talk about the rodeo. He introduced me to all of them and before they would shake hands with me, they asked, if I was a Yankee. Possum would say, “Hell no! he’s from Canada.” He seemed proud of his new found knowledge of geography and culture. They would look dumfounded and shake my hand. It was obvious that most of them had never heard of Canada. He asked what I did for a living, and I said almost anything with a horse, but mainly I shoe and work with the teeth.

Possum let out one of those “Yeehaa” that rodeo cowboys use once in awhile and said, “Well you are in the right place now, this country has nothing but horses. Come on out to my place tonight and tomorrow I will introduce you around and get you some work.”

How could I refuse such an eloquent invitation.

Possum’s place was a bunk house on his dad’s race horse farm; although, it was much more than a race horse farm. Posum’s dog was a Pit dog, (yes, a real one) named Black Jack, he and I hit it off right away. His younger brother Gravy had fighting chickens and his older brother Irish was a horseshoer. His sister, Mercy was a blonde haired, blue eyed, bare foot beauty that was aways smiling and winking at me, she took care of the rodeo bulls, they loved her and followed her like pet dogs. We got in late that first night and were awakened by girls wanting to visit Possum, I don’t think they were wanting spiritual enlightenment, but Possum told both of them he was too tired and to come back some other time when he was feeling up to a good visit.

In the morning and every morning there after, we were awakened by Mercy, she opened the door and walked right in and told us to get up, get rid of any loose women, get presentable, and be ready for breakfast in ten minutes. There were eggs, bacon, pancakes, grits, and coffee for breakfast. Possum’s mother looked more like his sister than his mother, it was easy to see where Mercy got her looks.

It was a great breakfast except for Mercy rubbing her bare feet up and down my legs and flashing her white teeth and bright blue eyes at me. In another situation, I would have let nature take its course, but she was my friend’s sister. The Taters were a handsome family, Reel Taters, the sire of this family, was the only one that looked rough around the edges. He trained racing quarter horses and had that desperate cynical look of a race track trainer that had seen too much of the bad side of people.

There was plenty of food and it was excellent, after three days of truck stop food, my belly had been feelin a little uneasy.

Reel asked me what I did for a living. His eyes lit up when I told him I work on teeth. He told me he had a couple of two year olds that needed work and if I could help him with those two, he would get me all the business I could handle.

I smiled and told him we can do them after breakfast, if he was ready.

The whole family was in the yard to watch the show; sometimes, I think a group is waiting to see a rodeo or see me get stomped into the ground, not that it can’t happen or hasn’t happened in the past, but I can usually finesse a horse without causing a scene. Reel brought out a two year old that was extremely excited, Irish had a load of leather, chains, and several different twitches along with sedation and needles. I asked Irish what all that stuff was for and he told me, to float the horses. I told him I didn’t need all that equipment and his dad was incredulous, “These are salty horses, I’d like to know how you plan to work on them.”

I could see they were nervous and suspicious, “I’ll probably work on them like any other horse, just give me a chance and we will see how it goes. Here let me have that lead shank.” I held the horse for a couple of minutes and looked in a different direction. The colt looked at me and was puzzled; he had ever had any one ignore him while holding a lead shank. He reached out and sniffed my arm and I moved a few inches closer while he was trying to figure out what I was about. After he started sniffing up and down my arm, I moved closer in an indirect manner without looking at him directly. I touched his shoulder and moved my fingers along the base of his mane. He liked the feel and began to relax.
I touched one side of his mouth and then touched the other side, he accepted the touch and I put my right thumb in his mouth. I found a wolf tooth: I checked the other side and found he had a matched team of wolf teeth. I slipped my hand inside the mouth and checked the molars, “he has two wolf teeth and a couple of impacted molar caps (baby teeth or milk teeth).” This family of animal keepers and competitors were looking at me like I was an alien from outer space. I gripped hard and brought out a molar cap with my fingers. The Taters moved in for a closer look. They were spellbound. I used a curved knife to cut out the wolf teeth and again, they looked at me as if I were a ghost. The horse was easy to work with, so I was having a grand time with these adults who were acting like children.

Reel brought out another youngster and assured me “You wont be able to work on this one without restraint or help: I just smiled and worked on the horse as if it were the most natural thing in the world. After seven young race horses, Reel brought out a seven year old mare and told me that no one can touch her head or get a bridle on her and not to touch her ears or she would be in Texas before we could get off the ground.

I laughed and proceeded to float the horse as if she were a kid’s horse. While I was working on her and taking the ‘steak knife like’ sharp edges off her molars, I’d reach up and pet her on the forehead occasionally; eventually, I put my hand between her ears and moved it back and forth touching both ears lightly as I continued to grind the teeth and making the mare’s mouth more comfortable. By the time I was done, I was wrapping my hands around each ear and the horse was willing to let me hold the ears. I saw the potential and walked around behind the mare’s head when I was done. I grabbed both ears and made motorcycle noises while running along side the mare and using the ears as my handlebars.

The Taters looked at me as if they should call the state hospital and have the guys with white coats and butterfly nets come out to pick me up; when I had finished showing off and brought the mare back to Reel, he turned to his family and said, “The only guy I ever saw that could do that sort of thing with a horse, was tetched in the head.”

I let go of the mare’s ears and said, “I been tetched in the head; a bull tetched my head at the Hudson’s Hope Rodeo with a hind hoof while I was flying through the air. Since then, I can’t memorize poetry, bible verse or hardly anything and I can’t tell you whether something happened yesterday or a year ago.”

The whole family started laughing at me like I was Bob Hope; I always seem to get the best laughs when I am not trying to be funny. They took the time to explain why they thought I was so funny: none of them had ever seen the need to memorize bible verses or poetry, so what difference did it make and anything important needs to be written down, so basically my problems were all in my head. Now, that was logic right from Aristotle.

They were a very logical family. While they were laughing at me, I was lifted off the ground by something poking me in the butt region. I came down in a highly agitated frame of mind and I was ready to knock someone out for doing such a nasty trick. I turned around to look into the face of an 1800 pound rodeo bull. I yelled out “Sweet Jesus”, and brought on more laughter.

Mercy had turned the bull loose because he was dog gentle away from the rodeo and I became the “butt” of yet another joke. Those bulls loved Mercy and were like innocent children in her hands, but I had a healthy respect for bulls and didn’t see the humor in being accosted by 1800 pounds of bull.

Reel gave me a hundred dollar bill and said, “If you stick around, there will be more work than you can do for the rest of your life.”

I smiled and told him I’d be here for a while and would appreciate help getting some work.

Reel walked away and said, “Don’t worry about work, just be ready to work in the morning.”

Gravy asked if I wanted to see his fighting chickens, how do you refuse an offer like that? For the next two hours he showed me hundreds of chickens; he explained the colors and the names of the different types, the bloodlines and how he crosses different lines to come up with different fighting techniques. It was overwhelming, I had no idea the depth and science of breeding that was involved with fighting chickens.

I told him I had raised Leghorns for meat and he thought that was hilarious, these Cajuns are not shy about laughing. Actually, I kept chickens alive way past the normal time, I liked them and hated to butcher them, but once they were the size of small turkeys, they would start breaking their legs from the excess weight and it was time to slaughter them. Gravy handled his chickens with affection, but I knew that he had seen thousands die in the pits and I wondered at the conflict of love and violent death and how he rationalized the problem for he was a man who seemed to love his chickens.

I made up my mind that I would never watch a dog fight or a chicken fight, it’s just not in my make-up to watch such competition. Seeing my pitbulls and Catahoulas fight at home over food and insults was bad enough, I didn’t need to watch animals that were trained to fight.

The Taters told me we were going wild cattle hunting and to help them load panels on the flat deck. After loading the panels and about a dozen Black Mouth Cur and Pit Bull crosses we headed out to the back country. The dogs jumped off the truck before we were stopped and disappeared, we made a circular enclosure with one quarter of the circle open and facing the timber. We were waiting there about twenty minutes; suddenly, the dogs were sounding out with some beautiful baying; right about then, Mercy pulls up driving a five ton truck with a huge stock trailer. We removed a panel and Mercy backed into the spot like a professional truck driver. This family and its surprises never seems to slow down.

In a few minutes, a large brindle dog came out of the bush leading a wild Short Horn cross cow by the nose, every time it stopped another dog ran up behind her and bit her on a hind fetlock, she was coming, but not of her own free will. The back of the circle was opened up and Mercy backed in the stock trailer, as accurately as any professional truck driver. The dogs forced the cow inside the stock trailer and took off to look for more. The dogs caught four more that day and they said that was a good hunt. The cattle had blood and mud over most of their bodies and I would guess the cattle headed to a swampy area and made their stand to fight for their freedom. It would have been nearly impossible to follow the dogs in that country on horseback to watch the proceedings, but it was fun to watch the dogs work the cattle into the corral and on into the trailer..

The Taters would keep the odd good looking heifer for their own herd, but otherwise, the cattle went straight to the stockyards to be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

The next morning I drove to another place and worked on some more race horses, they had been well handled and the jobs went fast and easy. When I arrived back at the Tater Ranch, Possum and I took off in his dad’s Cadillac for a rodeo in Texas. Possum drew a bad bull, he had hurt several bull riders, but if he could ride the bull for eight seconds, he would win all the money. He had me on the rail next to him while he was adjusting his rope, the bull was known for flipping over and trying to crush the cowboy in the chute, it was my job to pull him out of there if something went wrong. He was just about ready when a cowboy appeared at the bull’s head smoking a cigarette and said, “Are you ready Possum? Possum’s eyes were opened to at least twice their normal size and his face was flushed, he said, “Hell yes,” and the cowboy with the cigarette took a deep drag and dropped the cigarette into the bull’s ear and Possum shook his head for them to open the gate. The bull’s hooves were seven foot off the ground on the first jump out of the chute and the crowd was on their feet roaring so loud you could feel the vibration in your chest. He rode that bull like he owned him and jumped off to land on his feet with his hands and western hat in the air. The crowd went insane. He won the bull riding that night, it wasn’t even close.

A couple of days later, Possum and I were going to a match race with one of Reel’s Quarter Horses. While driving down a two lane black top a County Sheriff pulled us over. he walked up to Possum’s window and said, “You got a tail Light busted out on the trailer, Possum. Let me see your license.”

Possum reached in his pocket and brought out something that looked like rolled up tissue paper. I looked over in disbelief as the officer unrolled the piece of scrap and tried to read the license. “Possum, this ain’t gonna do. If you show this to one of them Texas Rangers, he’s gonna impound your truck and make you walk home. What happened to your license anyway.”

“Mercy washed it with my jeans.”

“You must have made her really mad, to do something like that.”

“She said it wasn’t her responsibility to empty my pockets, besides, she said she’s afraid of what she might find”

“I can understand her reasoning on that. Who is your friend?”

“This is Skook Via Lobos from the British Columbia in Canada. He’s down here looking for a home and sparking Mercy, she likes him anyways but he’s so backward it’s hard to tell where he’s headed. He’s a hell’uva hand with a horse, but other than that he don’t hardly know a damn thing.”

“You sparkin Mercy? Damn boy, you better tread lightly. Reel or one of his boys will cut your throat and put a bullet through your skull before you die, if you miss a lead change there with Mercy. If Possum says you’re a good hand, you must be a damn good hand. My Missus has family in Manitoba, you know the Thomas family?”

“No, I never ran into them.”

Possum asked if he was going to show up at the match races that afternoon. “No damn it, I got to work, looking for rounders like you on the road. I better get back to work. Don’t let things get out of control over there. I don’t need anymore shootings, causes way too much paperwork.”

“I’ll keep that in mind, oh Gravy is fighting his spotted rooster Friday night against one of Hazleton’s from Phoenix. You gonna show up.”

“Damn right, has Gravy got his bird ready?”

“You know Gravy, ain’t nothing else matters to him but birds and family, in that order.”

The deputy laughed and told us not to be hanging out at any whore houses tonight.

Possum told him that was the least of our worries; besides if Mercy heard about it, she’d castrate both of us. We drove away and I wondered just how deep I wanted to be involved with the Taters.

At the match race, almost everyone strapped on a revolver but me. Damn, these guys were serious about match racing.

The gambling was done over an old green army blanket, if you didn’t lay your money down, there wasn’t a bet. They asked me to use a polaroid at the finish line, since I was the only one not gambling. They asked Possum why I didn’t gamble and he simply replied that I had “Religion” and they shook their heads as if I had a fatal disease.

Possum won the race by a length and a quarter, so my photography skills weren’t really needed. He gathered up over eight hundred dollars in winnings and we left for home.

It’s too bad Possum was too big to ride at the real pari-mutual races, he’d have been a jockey that would have been hard to beat; he had that unusual ability that allows a human to gauge distance, stride, his horse’s stamina and the timing to position a horse and rate his speed to get the most out of a horse for every ride.

On the way home, I asked what the deal was with Mercy. Possum told me that she was saving herself for just the right man, most Cajun women wanted to try every man who showed interest, Mercy was different. She was way different, blonde hair and blue eyes were rare in Cajun culture, but she had a face and a figure that would put 99.9% of the women in the world to shame: men would be waiting at the gate if it wasn’t for the Taters’ men. If you had a serious argument with the Taters, you would probably disappear one night, at least that was what the backwoods people believed. Possum told me that Mercy came in every morning to wake us up, just to see if I had any alley cats from the Bossier City Strip; so far I had shown her the kind of morales she has been looking for. Now, I had to make up my mind if I wanted to join the Taters’ Clan or move on, because Mercy was becoming more and more hopeful that I was the one she had been waiting for.

I did some deep concentration for an hour or so and then started the conversation once again. “Possum, I just turned eighteen.”

Possum looked at me and said that was no problem, Mercy was only twenty one.

“Possum you have many girl friends.”

“That’s for damn sure, I don’t even pretend to know how many.”

“I’m not sure, I want to settle down. I never saw many girls except for a few times while I was growing up.”

“I can see your point, but you will need to leave, you know that don’t you, Mercy thinks you’re pretty fancy and I don’t want to think of what will happen if things go wrong.”

Don’t worry, things will be square with me, I swear.”

I worked for another couple of weeks and was preparing to head out, where? I had no idea.

I stopped in at the bar where I had first met Possum to take advantage of the sour kraut and sausage night special, after a hard day’s work. I sat at the bar and ordered the sour kraut and sausage when Possum sat down next to me. He was roaring drunk and making a fool of himself by standing on his barstool and talking to guys clear across the bar.

Now, at that time and another time a few years later, I was chewing Red Man tobacco. I am not proud of the habit, but it is the only vice that could have become an habitual habit in my life. I like cigars from a distance and since my mother died from one of the smoking cancers at a young age, I didn’t have a desire to smoke but the chewing tobaccos from Owensboro Kentucky tasted delicious to me. On this particular evening, I was hoping to eat in peace and have a couple of beers with my dinner, but Possum had his tongue over the bit and was nearly out of control. While he was standing on his bar stool for the second time, I took a couple ounces of Red Man from the pouch and started to put it in my mouth when all of a sudden I had an epiphany. I put the chewing tobacco in with Possum’s sour kraut and mixed it up, I was so tickled with myself, I couldn’t stop laughing.

Eventually, Possum sat down to eat and wolfed down the saur kraut without noticing that it was half chewing tobacco. I was laughing hysterically and Possum looked at me as if I was tetched, for who would pass up the attentions of Mercy to travel around the country on a motorcycle. Possum seemed to like the Red Man and sour kraut, so I put some some more Red Man on his plate without the sour kraut; he didn’t slow down, he just ate the chewing tobacco. It didn’t seem to have deleterious effects, so when I stopped laughing, I left for home.

When I finished work the next day, Mercy came to me and said Possum was acting strangely, he wouldn’t get on any horses and said he had given up riding bulls and horses. In other families, people might be overjoyed to hear such news, but Mercy was worried and I wondered what was wrong myself.

I found him on hs bunk with his clothes on, staring at the ceiling. “What’s wrong, Possum?”

“Nothins wrong, I just don’t care anymore.”

“Well, Possum, something has made you feel that way, Mercy is worried about you and asked me to come in here and help you. Now we have shared everything together and neither one of us has never let the other guy down, so tell me what’s going on and we’ll see what can be done.”

“I’ve got the cancer!”

“You’ve got the cancer! How do you know that? Have you been to the doctor?”

“No, I ain’t been to no doctors, you know how I hate doctors.”

“Well, how do you know you have cancer then?”

“I ain’t likely got long to live Skook.”

“Okay, how come you know, you don’t have long to live.”

“It’s my stomach, I’ve got stomach cancer, just like Ol’ Harvey Bowles. He died in two weeks after he found out.”

“Now, how do you know you have stomach cancer?”

“Last night, I drank a half dozen beers, nothin’ unusual about that for me, but when I got home, I started throwing up. I never get sick, you know that. There was sausage and sauer kraut in the mess, but there was also pieces of my stomach.”

“Pieces of your stomach! What makes you think there was pieces of your stomach in the mess?”

“They were thin strips and they black and slimy, just like Ol’ Harvey Whitner had, just before he died.”

This sounded really bad. I was just about to suggest we drive into town to see a doctor, when it dawned on me, “Possum that ain’t the cancer, it’s Red Man Chewin Tobacco.”


“Yea, you were drunk and standin up to yell at people so I mixed in a half pouch of Red Man with your sour kraut, you ate it like it was delicious. I was laughin so hard, I couldn’t talk to tell you to stop. You ate the whole damn thing like it was chocolate cake.”

“What a relief! It was just chewin tobacco. That’s good news!”

He stood up and went out to the barn to gallop his dad’s race horses.

Now cowboy humor, may be a little rough for some of you, but taking the joke is as important as playing the joke. I left the Taters’ family ranch after a couple of months, the attraction between the beautiful Mercy was too strong and I knew I had to make a commitment or leave. We had kissed and embraced twice and the passion nearly overcame both of us in a matter of seconds, but I had only just turned eighteen and didn’t want to settle down permanently. The thought of being tied down to a 160 acre ranch when I was used to having thousands of acres of deeded land and millions of acres of government land to roam on, didn’t seem attractive. Besides, I knew I would need to hunt the elk and moose one day and the thought of never staring into the eyes of a grizzly again was depressing, so I left.

The Taters may seem extreme, but to me they were an example of real American diversity, like me they had never attended school and seemed as smart as anyone I had ever met. None of them had ever filled out a job application or gone to the government for assistance. They didn’t try to direct anyone else’s life and they were honest to a fault. They were fiercely independent, they paid cash for everything and owed no one a dime. To me, they were the classic model of an American family. Maybe I should have stayed in Bossier Parrish, with Mercy and the Taters.

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