The old cowboy rode along at a slow walk, he’d owned cars and trucks for more than 20 years, maybe time passed him by, he didn’t care, it was 1952 and he remembered a time before automobiles , a slower, gentler time and then the wars, two big ones, changed everything. Something in the wind moved him back to 1952 again. He tipped his nose toward the sky and sniffed. It was wood smoke. A half hour back, before the wind freshened, he thought he smelled smoke but passed it off, thinking if old people could start seeing things and hearing things maybe he started smelling things that were not there. But now he was sure, it was smoke.
But that couldn’t be, not in December, matter of fact it’s the 24th, Christmas Eve. Good memories started to fill his head but he pushed them away as quickly as they had come on. Christmas was just another day in December, nothing special, at least to him, not anymore.
People didn’t camp this high up in December, hunting season was long past and the only house, except for his five miles away, was the old Godfrey place. It was maybe three quarters of a mile over the ridge to the north. The smell of burning wood was coming with the north wind, but that place had been vacant for what, 20 years, at least 15?
Clark Banks pulled up to think, but only for a moment, he had to know, that was the kind of guy he was. The sun was setting, it would be late, long past dark, when he got home, but he tapped his heels in his gray gelding and loped north picking his way though flat rocks and yucca.
He always liked the old Godfrey place, isolated, but picture perfect, like a bank calendar picture. The place set in a natural mountain park surrounded by junipers and berry bushes. Years ago when he and Bette last visited the Godfrey’s they were old and frail and the place had been falling apart. Couldn’t be much of anything left now.
Another minute and Clark Banks reached the crest of the hill overlooking the long deserted place. Only three times in his 65 years had something left him speechless, the day he got married, when their only child was born and now as he looked down on the old Godfrey place.
It was spectacular, the Junipers were sparkling with thousands of multi-colored lights. The cabin he remembered in complete disrepair was larger, much larger, than he remembered. It was old but perfect, looked sound, complete with light showing through the windows and the smoke he’d smelled was wind angling north from the chimney in great black and white puffs. There was a large barn that hadn’t been there 20 years ago along with half a dozen out buildings and four large corrals.
Banks had not taken a drink of alcohol for years, right now he needed a drink, but he settled for a thorough rubbing of his eyes and another look at the scene below, a scene that did not change. He let the gray pick his way down the steep hillside, he had to see, he had to know, that’s just the kind of guy he was.
A thought crossed his mind as he neared the twinkling cabin, what if this place is full of outlaws, escaped convicts or crazy people. This could be his last minute on earth, then he smiled at the lights twinkling as dollar sized snowflakes started to fall. If this is his last minute to live it would not be too bad. He warmed as the snowflakes splattered his face, chuckled to himself, and then laughed aloud, “don’t think bad people decorate for Christmas,” he said to no one or to the snowflakes and cold.
The old cowboy tied his horse to the rail in front of the cabin, stepped on the porch and the door opened as if he were expected. A white bearded gentlemen in a red vest smiled and motioned him in. Banks felt rather young looking at the old fellow, thinking,“This guy has me by at least 20 years.”
“Can I get you something to warm ya up, Tea, Arbuckles’, whis”
“You have Arbuckles, real Arbuckles, haven’t tasted that since before I went off to France in the first war, love some.”
Banks watched the old man take a one pound bag of Arbuckles Ariosa Blend from the cabinet and make coffee on the massive wood stove in the kitchen part of the cabin. It was good, better than anything the old cowboy had tasted in years, but how did he do it, Arbuckles’ hadn’t made coffee, let alone Ariosa Blend for years.
The two men sat and talked for hours, talking about everything and chatting about nothing, like two old friends they talked into the dark of night.
When the old cowboy woke up he could not remember falling asleep. Now he was stretched out on the couch, his boots beside him on the floor. He was toasty warm as he rolled back the red and green feather comforter and turned to get up. He was all alone. He thought the old man must be outside. Slipping on his boots he walked out on the porch, half a foot of snow covered everything in sight, his horse was gone, but he knew it was in the barn. He also knew he was all alone, he could feel things, just the kind of guy he was.
Banks went back into the house, he was hungry and he wanted to taste that Arbuckles one more time. A skillet of bacon sat on the stove, beside a pot of mush and a fresh pot of coffee, and of course it would be Arbuckles, he thought. Funny but he was sure there was nothing on the stove when he stepped outside, must have failing vision along with everything else in his old age. Then he felt it, or didn’t feel it, he had no aches and pains, the ones that had been with him since his army days. The coffee was good but he wasn’t sure it had magical healing powers.
It was time to go home, he wished he could say goodbye to the old timer, thought he might ride back up here in the spring. But now it was time to leave, he had things to do, and he felt different, happy and healthy. Walking to the barn it seemed almost warm, Banks felt like he had stumbled upon the fountain of youth.
Tracks near the barn stopped him, some kind of sleigh tracks, but the animals pulling it were not horses, smaller like deer tracks, but larger, really big deer. He saddled the gelding and rode out of the barn right into the bright sunlight of his own place. How it happened he did not know, but he was home.
Was it a dream, did he have a stroke and die, was he in heaven now? Nope, he was pretty sure his place would not do for heaven. Didn’t matter, he had things to get done.
Clark Banks rode to town in a gallop; it was early, old man Tatum would open the store for him, especially after he told him he intended to buy a present for every kid in town.
He wasn’t sure why he had so much Christmas spirit, maybe it was just the kind of guy he was.