by: Wes Ishmael

If you've ever hit your thumb square and hard while tacking up boards or driving staples, then attacked a post with the offending hammer in order to get even with it, while cussing the poor quality of nails and staples these days, you've got some idea of how rational Peetie Womack was at the moment.

“I said ‘Out!'” Peetie hollered. “Get up or you'll lose the whole bunch!”

“I'm fine, thanks!” Hooter shouted back, still crawling to the gate so he could use it to climb off the cold ground. He'd been where he needed to be with the gate. What he hadn't realized until it was too late was how badly the calf wanted to hit somebody.

If it would have been anyone else scolding him, Hooter would have crawled over the fence and gave him a thumping. He didn't, though, for three reasons.

First, this was the zillionth time he'd run the sorting gate for Peetie. He knew that his typically calm buddy was always wound tighter than a busted clock at times like this. He also knew how hard Peetie tried to contain himself and how lousy he'd feel later on about his failure.

Second, right then Hooter couldn't have stepped as high as a running board. That calf nailed him good.

Most of all, though, Hooter knew that helping Peetie this time of year was akin to flying a kite in a lightening storm. Peetie is one of those folks who get bluer than the Pacific during the holidays. It always started just before Thanksgiving and ended about the time the last whistle blew for the last bowl game on New Year's Day.

Hooter knew part of it was simply the fact that Peetie didn't appreciate the business disruptions that came with the holidays.

“I swear, if everyone spent as much time working as they do trying to figure out reasons not to, then there's no telling what this great nation could accomplish,” he'd grumble.

There was something else, though. Peetie's sadness was so deep at those times and the distance between him and his friends so vast that Hooter reckoned there was no way he'd ever be able to truly understand it.

“You know, he was born on Wednesday,” Aunt Pinky would say knowingly anytime Hooter ventured to visit with her about it.


“Wednesday's child, full of woe,” she'd say. “Some folks are born naturally happy and some are born naturally sad…and some are just born naturally goofy, like that old sow, Nelda Isselfrick. Did I ever tell you about the time she…”

Hooter was still finding his breath when he heard Peetie shout again: “Jig, you knot-headed flea bag, get away from there; you're as lazy as your daddy was.” Peetie's trusty Blue Heeler had made the mistake of grabbing a drink of water during the temporary break in the action.

“Any time would be fine,” Hooter shouted. “Daylight's burnin'.” He could never resist pushing a few of Peetie's buttons. Besides, Hooter had found that taking the fight to him was usually the best defense.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

“Mr. Peetie, are you ready for more?” came a tiny voice. It was Bugsy. She was atop old Blue, pushing calves into the mouth of the alley.

Bugsy was freckled, tow-headed and 8-years-old. She was most content sitting atop a horse. Though Hooter and Bugsy's Mom, Claire, hadn't yet tied the knot, Bugsy had become Hooter's baby girl, too. He loved having her with him when she was out of school. She had the makings of a top hand, too.

Hooter would have never suggested bringing Bugsy to help Peetie, but Peetie suggested it himself. “We can always use an extra,” Peetie had said. Hooter knew he didn't mean that, but he also knew Peetie thought the world of Bugsy, kind of the granddaughter he'd never had.

“You betcha', Bugs. Load us up if you think Hooter's done with his loafing.”

“Been waiting,” Hooter growled.

They heard Bugsy giggle as she and Blue worked their way quietly back into the group of calves.

After that, things went along smoothly. There was a miss-sort or two but Hooter was impressed that Peetie seemed to be holding himself in check.

Then it all came crashing down.

Jig got crossways with a calf in the far end of the “out” pen and lit into him. As one, calves in both pens surged quickly toward the gates. Hooter was trying to close the gate on one pen so he could get the gate on the other pen closed, too. Before he could get the first one shut, though, both groups blasted through, knocking Hooter elbows over Wrangler patch. All Hooter saw was feet, legs and dust. Then he heard Peetie cussing.

Hooter crawled beneath the bottom rail of one pen, satisfied to be in one piece, apparently. He shook himself off and hollered at Jig to come to the front. Soon enough, calves were back in the pens, albeit mixed up every which way from Sunday.

Peetie was still cussing. “I swear, you'd think we were driving them to Abilene for all the fuss,” he ranted. “Just a simple sort with an idiot dog and a half-wit running the sorting gate…” and on and on.

“Half-wit!” Hooter shouted. “Thanks for the help, by the way. Could have used a hand during all the commotion, but there you are cussing, just cussing and feeling sorry for yourself about Lord knows what.”

Peetie continued his rant. Hooter just stewed. He had a good mind to load Bugsy up and leave Peetie to figure it out for himself. As the dust settled and Peetie's blue streak began to lose some edge, Hooter's heart sunk into his boots. There was Bugsy riding Blue over toward Peetie. She didn't look happy, either.

Bugsy dismounted, holding on to the fenders of the saddle then letting go when she got to the stirrup. Old Blacky was that tall and Bugsy was still that short.

Bugsy marched over to Peetie who was beginning to look a mite bit sheepish, remembering that it wasn't just him and Hooter. Bugsy had a hand on one hip and motioned with the other for Peetie to lean down.

When he was close enough, Bugsy reached up and cradled his grizzled face in both hands, as if she was gently returning a baby bird to its nest. She kissed him on the cheek, looked him in the eye and said, “Mr. Peetie, do you reckon Jesus was ever that hard on the help?”

She marched back to Blackie, leaped to grab the fender so she could pull herself high enough to get a foot in the stirrup. She was whistling as she headed back to her post.

There was a single tear meandering down Peetie's face. He didn't try to hide it or brush it away. He looked over at Hooter. Hooter started to laugh, then Peetie joined in, the joyous, pure laughter of kids, laughing simply because life's supposed to be fun, too.

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