It all started out as a practical joke I was going to play on my husband. Our good friend and Bear’s deer hunting buddy at that time, Dodge City’s Marshal Allen Bailey had dropped by the farm to show Barry his latest and greatest bow he just purchased in anticipation of the upcoming season. These two guys were like little school boys when it came to hunting. They would disappear on end scoping out deer trails along the river or target practicing into hay bales or deer silhouettes propped up in the back forty. I literally would have to tell Allen to have Barry home at a certain time so he could eat supper with the family. That was usually met with a half-hearted “okay” and a whoop and holler as they bounded out the door.
“Hello? Anybody home?” Allen’s familiar voice hollered from the back porch one fall Saturday morning as he stepped into our house.
“Sure! Come on in here!” I responded as I got up from my recliner where I had been reading my at-that-moment-favorite book.
“Where’s Bear?” He asked with his typical squint of one eye and a slight upward tilt of his head to clear the front of his cowboy hat. He always reminded of Baxter Black when he did that gesture.
“He left early this morning to post some ‘NO HUNTING WITHOUT PERMISSION’ signs up on our ground since today is opening day of pheasant season.
“Oh yeah, that’s right. I almost forgot what day it was . . . say, I got something for you. Let me go get it out of the truck.” He said with a slight grin on his face as he turned around to go back outside.
I remained standing at the kitchen counter while I thought to myself, “what in the world does he want to show me? It couldn’t be anything to do with hunting as I don’t know the difference between a sling shot or a crossbow.”
But instead of a hunting weapon in his hands, I see a large picture he is carrying into the house. Obviously, It is one of his incredibly beautiful original paintings that he has been given the God-given talent to create.
But it turns out that this one is especially of interest to me.
“Here ya’ go Vic. This one is for you” He smiles as he hands me a handsomely framed oil painting depicting a cowboy and his horse lost in a blueish night blizzard of snow and wind. It is Allen’s interpretation of one of my all-time beloved songs “The Blizzard’ made so famous by the late Jim Reeves.
“OH MY GOSH ALLEN! IT’S BEAUTIFUL!” I squeal as I grab our friend and give him a hug of appreciation for this remarkable gift. I notice a faint whiff of mint on him as I pull away and place the painting on top of the bar so I can show Bear immediately upon his return.
“Ah, your welcome, kid”, He says using a nickname for a friend that he still uses to this day for his close acquaintances.
“What’s that mint smell on you? I ask as I cross my arms in curiosity and give him a slight furrow of my brows.
“Oh that. That this new-fangled stuff I have been chewing lately.”
“SAY WHAT?! You don’t chew tobacco Allen. Or is this a new bad habit you’ve started?”
“No, no, it ain’t real tobacco. It’s actually mint leaves ground up like chewing tobacco, but completely harmless.” He explains as he pulls out his right cheek to show me a green pile of cud between his bottom teeth and his cheek. I hadn’t even noticed he had anything in his mouth when he was talking to me earlier.
“YUCK!” I grimace and recoil at the sight.
“No, it’s kinda refreshing for your mouth. Really, you outta try it Vic before you pass judgement on something you have never tried.
“Well, I can guarantee you that cow poop stinks and I bet it taste the same and I don’t have to try it to know that!”
“Oh c’mon. Here take a pinch” He offers me some of the concoction from a round canister tin resembling Skoal or Copenhagen.
Just at that moment, I catch movement outside of the living room window.
“Wait, I hear a truck pulling into the driveway! It must be Bear! I just got an idea! I’m going to play a joke on him. Give me a big ol’ clump and I’ll pretend that it’s tobacco!”
The back door bell rang.
I grabbed a large amount of the shredded emerald foliage.
“Why in the heck is he ringing the doorbell?” I wondered as I squeezed it prominently in the very front of my teeth making my lower lip protrude due to the mass I had in there as I scurried to the backdoor.
It wasn’t Bear.
It was a group of six pheasant hunters looking for Barry. Two of them were standing on the back porch near the door with the others gathered on the ground near the steps.
“Oh, hello! You must be Victoria, Barry’s wife! He has told us so much about you! I’m Kevin Phillips from Albuquerque.” He offered his hand as he stared at my puckered mouth trying to hide the growing compost inside of it.
I try to open my mouth only a little bit to say hello back as I extended my hand and weakly shake his.
“Uh, is Barry here?” He asks as he and his quiet friend beside him in unison slowly take a step back down off of the porch.
I keep my mouth shut this time as I shake my head in a negative manner. I didn’t dare try to speak. My eyes were pleading them to go just away and come back in a few minutes!
However, they wait for a verbal explanation as to where Barry might be or when they could expect him. They were not leaving without some information as to my husband’s whereabouts.
I reach up and physically rearrange the clump of minty moss from the front of my teeth to a pocket between my right lower mowers and cheek.
“Bear should be back any minute. You are welcome to wait for him out at the big shed . . .” I point to the west as a little green drool slips from the corner of my clenched teeth.
“OKAY! That’s great! Thank you! Nice meeting you!” Kevin, the group spokesman’s says as they all spin around quickly and almost run to their truck, trying to muffle snickers so they wouldn’t be rude to the landowner’s wife they had just met for the first time.
I escape back into the house and grab the closest trash can. After spitting out the glob, I then rinse my mouth out at the kitchen sink. Allen doesn’t say a word until I was finished gagging and spewing mild obscenities.
“Well, kid. They soon won’t forget you!” He begins as I cut him off.
“OH, ALLEN!” I wailed. “They are going to think that Bear married a backwoods-chewin’-tobacco-hillbilly!”
“I know! I know! That is what makes it so perfect!” He is doubled over laughing. “Oh, man! If I hadn’t witnessed the whole thing I wouldn’t have believed it!”
I kick him out.
He can just wait out at the big shed with the other stupid hunters.