Showing posts with label cowboys. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cowboys. Show all posts

19 March 2019

Sometimes The Big Sleep Comes Too Soon

This post will be a little different than the normal post for me.


My friend Anne Adams died in February, from breast cancer that had metastasized and for which the treatments had become ineffective. This is what she said in one of her last e-mails to me: “I’m feeling OK, but not doing well in terms of treatment. I’ve pretty much gotten to the end of anything that works for me. My doctor is looking for some trials, but unless something like that turns up, I’m looking at about 2 to 3 months before I’ll be doing The Big Sleep.”

Unfortunately, both she and the doctors turned out to be right.

She had been fighting this for years, and had better times and worse times. So it wasn’t a total shock on the one hand, but on the other it was. She was relatively young – not old enough for Medicare. I’ve known her for decades and at one time we were very close, though not as much lately. But we still kept in touch.

We initially got together through a buddy of mine she was seeing and when they came into town (L.A.) one time I met her. Then, when she moved here on her own and wanted to get into the film biz, I was one of the few people she “knew,” so we got together and became fast friends, initially bonding over our love of movies, both classic and contemporary (at least contemporary for when we met, not so much movies today). Since our schedules were fluid we often got together to go to screenings and for the movies we missed in the screenings we’d often go see at a matinee the day they opened. We loved movies, as well as Hollywood history. But our friendship expanded to much deeper levels as we got to know each other over time.

She encouraged my writing in the dark days before I’d had any success and she brought me up short if I whined too much about the business. She didn’t have any trouble getting established in the business, working mostly in post-production or as a producer. We saw a lot of each other in those days, traveled together, and just had a very close relationship that withstood the test of time, even if it wasn’t as close as it once was. So she was very intrinsically involved in my life.

In fact, without a push from Anne I might not have gotten together with my wife, Amy. I met Amy when another friend “roped” me into helping produce a live old time radio benefit for UNICEF (that’s a whole ’nother story…). A friend of Amy’s had also volunteered her to work on it. And we met there, but I didn’t think Amy would remember me after our brief encounter that first night. And I only knew her first name and sort of where she worked. So I was a little hesitant to call her. But Anne said, “Well, what do you have to lose? All she can do is say ‘no’.” So I called Amy and the rest – to make a long story short – is history. But I might not have followed through if not for Anne giving me that little prod, so I owe her much for that.

Anne was at my wedding and my bachelor party (which was not limited to guys, though Amy wasn’t there). In fact, she also sort of MC’d and “produced” our wedding.

Anne also did something else for me/us that I will always be grateful for – besides pushing me to call Amy – though it might seem superficial on the surface. Once she got established here she knew a lot of people. And one of them is one of the band members in Paul McCartney’s band. I am and forever will be the Ultimate Beatles Fan. And Anne got Amy and me backstage to see him. It was an amazing moment.

Amy, Anne, Paul

We had recently talked about getting together but it never happened as the disease progressed rapidly.
In one of our last correspondences, she said, “I’m getting tons of emails (but nobody wanting the stove, [an antique stove she was trying to place before she died] of course), so this text will be short. Let’s plan to talk after the holidays.” Well, we never did talk after the holidays. We never saw each other again. Her disease progressed and she passed on on 2/16/19. Here’s a link to her obit on Legacy . com:

Anne, McCartney drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr., Paul,
former Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda in blue shirt in background 

I’ll just finish that off by saying I miss her and will continue to do so.



Clyde Williams is another friend who died of cancer recently. I met him when I was looking for someone to do a voiceover for a promotional video. He had a great voice, very expressive. After we met on that project we became b

Clyde led an adventurous and exciting life. He served in Viet Nam. And said he had once been on a security detail or honor guard for JFK. He was even scouted by the Dodgers. But his true love was art and painting.

You would have thought we didn’t have all that much in common, but we really did. He was from Loosiana. A cowboy. An artist

I am none of those things. And if I could draw a decent stick figure it would be a major feat. Though I do live in cowboy country now, so we had that in common. And Clyde liked it up here, kept saying how much he’d like to move here.

In an article from the LA Times (“Black Cowboys Honored for Reel Contributions, 8/1/2000-LA Times: ), he said, “‘My grandfather had me herding cattle as a kid,’ Williams said. ‘I understand the cowboy and the body of the horse. I started sketching them when I was 6. It's a passion. That's why I'll always be a cowboy in my heart.’”

He painted western and cowboy art, black cowboys and Buffalo soldiers, African-Americans in the military, as well as Indians and other western scenes. His work was exhibited at the Autry Museum of the American West. He loved the whole cowboy culture and he loved to read western novels, particularly Louis L’Amour. He had almost every if not every one of his books in hardback and was very proud of that. I helped to fill out his collection and that made us both happy. He also liked all stripe of western/cowboy movies.

Clyde and I could and would talk for hours, about anything and everything. He liked to talk about the changing nature of his neighbored. About wanting to do more acting or voiceovers. And he’d always ask about my wife Amy, whom he was very fond of.

He’d also talk about the red tape and hassles at the VA. And in the last year or two that kind of talk and talk of his disease featured more and more in our conversations. And there’s certain things I’d like to add here but feel that I can’t for personal reasons.

I also hadn’t talked to him for a while. No particular reasons. That’s just how things go, as I’m sure you know. I found out he’d died when I sent him a Christmas card and it came back marked “Deceased.” That was quite a shock.

I didn’t know him as well nor as long as I’d known Anne, but we bonded quickly and became friends. Sometimes you just click with someone. He gave me several prints of his works and I treasure them, both for what they are and as a symbol of our friendship.

And I miss him, too.


As writers, I think a lot of us strive for some kind of immortality through our writing. We hope to be remembered after we’re gone. Some achieve that, most do not. The way most people remain “alive” is in our memories, as we think about them, reminisce, deal with our regrets. Anne and Clyde will remain alive as long as I’m living – I know I’ll think of them often.

So the moral of this piece is – if I can get a little preachy – every time something like this happens I vow to not let things go so long, vow to get together, go to dinner, etc. But they often don’t get acted on, because we’re human. So don’t put things off. You’ll regret it as I do now. And I’m telling that to myself again now – don’t put things off. And I know I’ll do it again as others will do it with me. That said, I have a date next week to see a friend I haven’t seen in ages, but someone I’ve known since forever, a friend and former writing partner. And I hope that nothing happens to get in the way of our connecting so I won’t have anymore regrets, at least not for a while.

And now for the usual BSP:

The third story in my Ghosts of Bunker Hill series, Fade Out on Bunker Hill, appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you like the movie Sunset Boulevard, I think you'll enjoy this story. In bookstores and on newstands now:

Please join me on Facebook: and check out my website

16 August 2012

In Search of Lost Books

A while back, a friend of mine was going through treatment, and I read the 20 questions they give you to see if you're an alcoholic.  I looked up at the end and said, "Well, if you replace the word alcohol with books, that's me."  I am a bookaholic.  I get up planning what I'm going to read that day.  I have books in every room, and a stack of books by every chair that I claim as mine.  I read new books, re-read old favorites, and I am still searching for a few books that I read as a child but either can't find or never did find out what they were. Proust can have his madeleines; I have books.
When I was a little girl, in first, maybe second grade, in Escondido, California, our teacher read a Western aloud to us.  I’ve been trying to find it ever since.  Our teacher was Hispanic, with lustrous black hair and eyes.  Her voice read steadily, with meaning and accents in all the right places.  It was about a cowboy who came down into what was then northern Mexico, and today is Southern California:  the Salinas Valley, perhaps, or Escondido, or one of many other valleys. 
He came down over the hills, I remember.  The description of the brown hills, that look so bare from a distance, but are covered with tall grass, yucca, sage, short cactus, poppies, and all the plants of the chaparral, the description was perfect.  They were the same hills behind our house, once you went over the main hill, the one on which a thin ribbon of a one-street suburb rose to lemon and orange groves, which in turn gave way to avocado groves, which in turn broke open under the blue sky to a mansion on a hill, a mansion with fir trees, a pool, and a view.  Those belonged to the grove's owners, and they also had peacocks, which wandered, crying in the afternoon for love or rain as the clouds piled high and purple behind the dark glossy green of the avocado trees. 

I walked my way through the groves, avoiding the mansion – they didn’t like trespassers, even or especially not children – and emerged on the crest of rolling hills that went on forever.  Scrubby, brown, endless; mottled with color, blazing with poppies – I don’t remember the cowboy’s name, but I knew where he had been, and could hardly wait to see where he would go.

He ended up with a Spanish wife, another woman with lustrous black hair and eyes, whose voice was accented and soft.  They had a son, and I still remember the scene where they decided what to name him.  They chose his first name, which I have totally forgotten.  What I do remember was when his wife said that only one name wouldn't do.  You named a child after everyone who was important to you:  grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, best friends, and acquaintances.  But our cowboy was all alone, and I think what impressed me was that it was the first time he realized how alone he was, because I felt much the same.  He could only think of one friend, Joe.  “d’Joe” she said, pronouncing the “j” as “h”…  And it became the son's middle name. 

I remember that.  And no more.  I asked the teacher, at the end of the year, what the name of the book was – and she couldn’t remember.  But I’ve wanted to read the rest of that book for a very long time.  I want to know what the rest of his - their - journey was.  Maybe some day I'll find it.  If it rings a bell with anybody, please let me know. 

04 May 2012

Cowboy Days

For a six-year old boy living in Ft. Worth during the late 40's, cowboys were the heroes of the day. Every Sunday noon on the black and white television, Hopalong Cassidy and his pal Lucky rounded up the boys and headed the bad guys off at the pass. Somehow, Lucky always got "winged" in an unimportant place, nothing serious, but "we" always won. That next year, I sent off in the mail for my official Hopalong Cassidy billfold and ID card. A big brimmed hat and pointed toe boots soon followed as my mark in fashion. After all, we did live in Texas, with New Mexico and Kansas just down the trail in my near future.
During high school in Kansas, my nicknames were Curly and Cowboy. The Curly part didn't work out in older age, but there must have been something prophetic about the Cowboy nickname, even if it did take a few decades to get there.

As the Spring of '96 rolled around, one of my neighbors across the street, who also owned a small ranch south of Rapid City, pressed me into service building a few miles of barb wire fence. Spring Creek had flooded that year along the Front Range of the Black Hills, and when it took a shortcut across one of his pastures, it took out a lot of fence, drowned two high dollar registered Black Angus and scattered the rest downstream. I soon learned the intracacies of fencing pliers, post hole diggers, spud bars and fence stretchers. For corner posts, we sometimes used a two-man, gas-operated, post hole digger. Problem was, if the drill bit hit a rock or tree root underground, then the drill bit screeched to a sudden halt while the rest of the machine decided to rotate. If the operators weren't firmly braced, they ran the risk of going around like helicopter blades. Fun work.

When a second neighbor across the street heard about my fence work, he invited me to go branding at his father-in-law's ranch down by Buffalo Gap. Well okay, I'd always wanted to be a cowboy. We drove down in his pickup. The calves from two herds were already rounded up and waiting in a huge corral. This next particular operation was called "tabling." We squeezed the calves, one at a time, into a narrow chute with a gate in front and a gate in back. A large metal contraption clamped the calf to one chute wall (similar to photo). A lever then rotated that wall into an operating table about waist high. If the calf was a bull, it lost its horns on one end and its Rocky Mountain Oysters on the other end. (I'm trying to be delicate here for the ladies.) All got ear tagged, vacinated and branded. Some brands required two hot irons to make the brand, thus the owner did his own branding and had to live with any mistakes that got made. At the end of the day, my wife hosed me down in the driveway and took my clothes to a commercial laundromat. For some reason, she refused to launder them in her own machines.

After a few of those types of brandings, I got invited to an old style roundup where all the ranch neighbors come together and help each other in turn. Riding horses, we herded the cattle into a corral at the high end corner of several sections of land, cut the momma cows out and turned them to pasture. Then the day's work commenced and age had its advantages. The 70 year old men rode horses into the corral, lassoed a calf by its two hind legs and dragged it out backwards to the wrestling crews. The 60 year olds got to do the ear tagging, cutting and vacinating. The owners branded and everyone else ended up wrestling calves as they came out of the corral. I can testify that wresting small cows at age 52 is damn hard work whether you do the tailing or heading.

As the calf came out backwards, the tailer grabbed the rope in one hand and the calf's tail in the other hand, depending upon which side needed to go up for the brand. He pulled toward himself and down on the tail while pulling up and pushing away on the rope. When the calf landed on its side, the tailer then dropped onto his rear end on the ground, planted one boot into the calf's rear (if he was smart, he trapped the calf's tail under the sole of his boot), grabbed the upside hind leg at the ankle, released the the lasso loop so the roper could go get another calf, pulled back on the upside leg and blocked the downside leg with his other boot. Some calves were stronger than others, but you knew if one got loose, you were in trouble. The header, for his part, dropped his weight on the calf's upside shoulder to pin him down and grabbed the calf's upside foreleg at the ankle, bending it in towards the body and up to keep him as still as possible, plus this way, the cutter didn't get kicked by a loose hoof. You'd best have a good grip when the branding iron hit.

In later years, I helped round up and trail cattle from Winter pasture on government land down by the Indian Reservation, along back country roads to the owner's sections of grass land nearer home and into the corral. This old cowboy used the Norfolk System, which I heartily recommend for us old guys. Here, the oldest cowboys still roped the calves and drug them out backwards, but now we didn't have to wrestle. There was a metal stake driven in the ground. Attached to the stake was a length of rope which was tied to an inner tube. Tied to the other side of the inner tube was another piece of rope which was attached to a large metal clamp. As the roped calf came by a cowboy, he clamped the contraption around the calf's head. When the ropes and inner tube came taut, the roper stopped his horse, which stretched the calf out for every operation needed done. Me, I got promoted to ear tagger. Not near as strenuous as wrestling. This ole boy's operation ran six lines of calves at the same time, plus an occasional line for those high school age cowboys who wanted a taste of the old ways. We ran about three hundred calves through that morning.

Seemed like everybody from that community and nearby small town turned out for his branding. One of the nice things about it was the hot lunch and cold beer the wives served us afterwards. It was a bonding of neighbors for a common cause, a feeling of belonging to something good. I'd definitely recommend helping out at a branding if you ever get the chance. Just know that you're gonna need a long bath afterwards.

You know, now that I think of it, I never did see Hoppy or Lucky do any work with calves or cattle. Them slackers.

PS~ me and Dix had a slight schedule swap due to technical difficulties (Google Chrome & Blogger Dashboard), but we should be back on track by Friday, May 25th