. . . I went padding up to Slim, just as he was going through the gate. I was glad to see the old rascal, and as you might expect, he was delighted to see me.
“Hi Hankie, what do you think of this snow?” I jumped up on him and barked. He liked that. Things were definitely going my way, but just then a certain cat who had been loafing around on the front porch came streaking down the sidewalk.
I bristled and a growl began to rumble in my lower throat. “Scram, cat. This is my deal and you’re not invited.”
Would you believe it? Pete stuck out his tongue at me. “It’s a free country, Hankie, and I can go wherever I want.”
“And I want to say hello to Slim, and if you don’t like it, just go sit on a tack.”
“That’s cute, Pete, and speaking of tacks, you’re fixing to get yourself a full-scale attack that could land you in the hospital for about six months. In case you don’t remember me, I’m the guy who doesn’t take trash off the cats.”
As he passed in front of me, he flicked his stupid tail in such a way that it tickled the end of my nose, causing me to sneeze. That sneeze was all that saved his life. Had I not been seized by a sneeze at that precise moment, I would have . . . you can guess what I might have done, but I didn’t and couldn’t because I had to sneeze.
And by that time, the cat had prissed his way on down the sidewalk and had begun rubbing up against Slim’s legs. And purring. And grinning, just as though he and Slim were blossom buddies, which I happened to know they weren’t.
To his credit, Slim ignored the cat and said to me, “Guess what I brought for you, old pup.”
Oh ho! Yes sir, me and Slim had a good understanding and were the best of pals, and it was pretty clear by this time who was going to be the recipitant of that big lovely present.
He shouldn’t have done it. I mean, these cowboys don’t make much money, and any time they spend their hard-earned dollars on a gift, you know that they’ve made a sacrifice. And my opinion of Slim wouldn’t have changed one bit if he’d skipped the present and just given me a pat on the head.
I mean, friendship—the real thing, the genuine article—begins in the heart, not in the pocketbook, and even though you can pick a friend’s pocket, you can’t pick his heart.
That doesn’t make much sense.
On the other hand, the giving of gifts is a nice custom, especially when the receiver of the gift has proved that he deserves it, and if Slim wanted to reward me for a job well done, the least I could do was to accept it with grace. And humility.
Over the years, I have learned to accept good news as a legitimate part of life itself.
Slim set my package down in the snow and went back out the gate to his pickup, tripping over the cat on his first two steps. “Pete, get out of the way! You’re worse than a boa constrictor.”
Ho ho, hee hee, ha ha! I loved it. Slim was my kind of cowboy. Not only did he buy expensive presents for the Head of Ranch Security, but he didn’t like cats.
Well, there was my gift sitting right in front of me in the snow. Beautiful, gorgeous, red, shimmering, glistening paper, topped off with one of the biggest green bows I’d ever seen. Boy, was I honored and humbled!
Yeah, maybe he shouldn’t have done it, but dern it all, I couldn’t help believing in the warm deep cavities of my heart that he had put his money on a winner.
And just to be sure that Drover and Pete didn’t get any strange ideas about whose present this was, I figgered it might be a good idea for me to put my mark on it, which I did.
You know, I’d marked a zillion tires in my career, but this was the first time I’d ever been given the opportunity—nay, the honor—of putting my mark on a Christmas present.
Just then, High Loper came out of the house and down the sidewalk, and Slim returned from the pickup. Loper glanced down at the present.
Slim cracked a smile. “Oh, a little something for you.”
“Merry Christmas, pardner. It ain’t much, but for what you’re payin’ me, you don’t deserve a whole heck of a lot.” They both laughed at that. “And Hankie, here’s your Christmas present. Merry Christmas, old pup.”
And with that, Slim handed me a . . . AN OLD STEAK BONE? Surely there was some . . . I sniffed it, wagged my tail, gave him a look that I’m sure revealed the depths of my . . .
“Well, if you don’t want it, I’ll give it to Drover. Come here, Stub-tail, here’s your Christmas from old Slim.”
Do you think Mr. Greedy turned it down? No sir. He snatched it out of Slim’s fingers, darted a few feet away, turned his back on me, and began chewing and crunching and slurping and making other disgusting sounds.
Oh yes, and he even growled, as though he thought that I might lower myself to swagger over and take the bone away from him.
Which wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility, but it happened that I was still so shocked and hurt over this other deal . . . oh well.
“Well, by gollies,” said Loper, “I didn’t expect you to get me anything.” He picked up the present. “But since you did, I sure . . .”
He frowned, looked down at his hand, and wiped it on his jeans. “I appreciate it. Thanks.”
“You’re sure welcome.”
“Only now,” Loper said with a grin, “I guess you’ll expect me to buy you something.”
Slim rolled his eyes. “Well, that would be nice, and now that you mention it, I’ve been looking at that new A-fork saddle in Leonard’s Saddle Shop and . . .”
“Just keep lookin’ and maybe old Sandy Clothes will get it for you. I won’t, but he might.”
(Let me interrupt here to point out that this conversation, which appeared on the surface to be nothing but idle chatter between cowboys, gave me my first introduction to a certain character called “Sandy Clothes.” At the time, the name meant nothing to me, but as you will see . . . well, you will see when it’s time for you to see, and that’s all I can reveal at this time.)
Slim dug his hands into his pockets and looked up at the gray sky. “You reckon you could handle the feed run today so’s I can go into town and do a little last-minute shoppin’?”
“Oh . . . I guess. ’Tis the season to be jolly and so forth.”
Slim rocked up and down on his toes and kept looking up at the sky. “Well, that sure would be nice. It would be nicer yet if I had a little money to spend.”
“Yeah, that money sure helps.”
“Do you reckon . . . I thought maybe . . .”
Loper grinned. “Oh. You don’t want a paycheck or anything, do you?”
“Well . . .”
Loper stuck two fingers into his shirt pocket and pulled out a piece of green paper, folded in half. He handed it to Slim. “Don’t spend it all in one place.”
Just then, the front door opened and out came Little Alfred, Sally May and Loper’s four-year-old boy. He was all dressed up in his red chaps and vest to match, a big felt hat, and a new pair of four-buckle galoshes over his boots.
All at once Loper’s eyes lit up, and he turned back to Slim. “Say, I’ve got a deal for you, Slim. Why don’t you take that boy with you and let him see the Sandy Clothes parade?”
(There’s that name again.)
Old Slim’s mouth dropped a couple of inches. “Well uh . . .”
“He’s all dressed and ready to go. He won’t be any trouble.”
“Well uh . . .”
“He sure wants to go, but with me having to do all the feeding and everything . . .”
“Yeah, well . . .”
“I’d do your chores tonight, of course.”
“Well, that might . . .”
“And tomorrow, too.”
“Tomorrow too, huh?” “He sure had his heart set on seeing that parade.”
“I’ll bet he did. Oh, I reckon . . .”
“Good deal!” Loper turned to the boy. “Alfred, Slim’s volunteered to take you into town to see the big parade. What do you think of that?”
Alfred’s face blossomed into a smile and he let out a yell. Slim looked down at me and muttered, “This ain’t exactly what I had in mind for my day off.”
Little Alfred raced down the sidewalk, flew out the gate, and stood at the door of Slim’s pickup. The boy was ready to go to town.
Loper was all smiles. “Slim, you sure know how to make a boy happy.” “Yalp.” “Make him mind his manners.”
“See you around dark?”
“If we ain’t in jail by then.”
“Y’all have a big time.” Loper turned to go back into the house, but then he stopped and scowled into the palm of his hand. “How did this present get so wet?”
“Snow, most likely.”
Loper wiped his hand on his jeans and went back into the house.
Do you know what happens in this story? What's this about the mysterious "Sandy Clothes"? Find out what happens when Slim and Little Alfred go to town . . .
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