It was summer of my sixteenth year. We’d rounded up the mules. Our wranglers worked from dawn to dusk. One said, “We must be fools.”
Each wrangler had a job to do. He’d pack up every day, five mules and a saddle horse, and head out on his way.
It took a man who knew the job and someone who had guts. There was no time to dawdle and you couldn’t be a klutz.
Each year my father hired a dude, someone right out of town. “It’s a gamble, but I know we’ll win. No man has let us down.”
Well, Albert was the one he chose. He was the lucky guy. Had my father really picked him? You had to wonder why.
Now Albert was a timid guy. A cowboy should be bold. Did Albert have what it would take? He didn’t fit the mold.
Albert caught his horse one morn. Those times were very few. Another horse snuck up on him; he whirled and hollered, “Shoo!”
The wranglers saddled up his horse. Still, Albert was afraid. He never put his saddle on, so there his saddle laid.
Once a mule reached back at him and bit him on the butt. He jumped and yelled, “That mule’s gone mad.” He sounded like a nut.
These cowboys were a kinder breed. They helped him every morn. But kindness only goes so far. His welcome, he’d outworn.
Was Albert really headed home? He’d be one for the book. But then Dad said, “Jeb had to leave, and now we’re out a cook.”
Well, Albert’s eyes came right alive. “Hey! Cooking I can do. Give me a stove and frying pan. I’ll feed this hungry crew.”
Breakfast was at six a.m. Flapjacks, golden brown; hot syrup mixed with bacon grease; and coffee, slurping down.
The bacon filled a cast iron pan. It almost overflowed. Eggs, gathered fresh at sun up, before the rooster crowed.
One cowboy hollered, “Albert! Looks like we’ve found a cook. You showed you’re not a cowboy. I guess that’s what it took.”
My father’s years had proved him wise. He’d gambled and he’d won. That year I learned a lesson. There’s a place for everyone.
Bryce Angell has lived around horses all his entire life and is a retired registered nurse who still works part time at Ashton Living Center.