A Sampling of Rhonda's Poems . . .
A CHRISTMAS TO REMEMBER
It was chilly in the bunkhouse, but the cribbage game was hot . . .
Ol’ Cookie was in the kitchen stirrin’ somethin’ in a pot,
Follered by the beady eye of a packrat on the beam;
Now Duff an’ Stub was partners, Tom an’ Doc the challenge team,
A rivalry of long-standing – best man’d be hard to pick.
Earl sat on the foot of his bunk, jest ‘a whittlin’ on a stick . . .
Jesse’s finger follered words laboriously down a line,
On a greasy page of the Will James book he thought was so fine.
Stretched out upon his soogans with his tongue stuck out in thought,
The sight of him touched Cookie’s heart, an’ he wished now he had bought
That pair of spurs in Murphy’s store when last they’d rode to town . . .
The lad was young . . . should have some gifts . . . Cook’s forehead creased in frown.
He tidied up his domicile, polished the lamp chimney bright
‘Till one by one they stretched an’ yawned an’ turned in for the night.
Wasn’t long ‘till the boy was snorin’, ‘bout like a spotted hog,
Then cookie stealthily made the rounds, some memories to jog.
He beckoned ‘em out to the kitchen, an’ some’a them was mad;
But Cookie soothed their feathers an’ said, “It’s about the lad.
“Y’know, tomorra’s Christmas, an’ I think it’d be a crime
If he doesn’t have some presents ‘cuz we never spent a dime,
Nor turned a hand to make somethin’ to fill his heart with joy.
What can we do? Let’s make a plan . . . because, he is our boy….
His Ma is dead, his Pa run off, he works hard ever’ day;
A holiday with us old codgers can’t be very gay!”
Their minds a’stir they crept back to bed, but plans kept all awake . . .
Cookie decided he had the stuff to bake a chawklit cake;
Duff dug around in his warbag ‘till he fumbled out a book;
Tom remembered the pair ‘a spurs hung high up on a hook
Above the rafters out in the barn, unused since old Bart died.
Stub figgered he could give the kid that hackamore he’d tied,
‘An maybe if he’d do that Earl would part with his new reins . . .
Doc thought to gift his too-tight-boots would save his feet some pains.
With Jesse snorin’ in his bunk they rode early for a pine,
Tied all the presents on it, plus anything to add shine;
Each shaved an’ fetched a clean shirt, so’s to brighten up the scene.
Some boughs with cones an’ berries gave the table a touch of green
When Cookie served up the hearty stew, an’ toddies made with gin.
Young Jesse’s eyes was dancin’, his face was wreathed in a grin . . .
He said, “Fellers, ya’ took me by surprise . . . an’ I’ve no gifts to bring . . .
‘Cept somethin’ my momma taught me, a Christmas song to sing….”
An so he stood an’ filled the place with a joy that set things right
As with a pleasing voice he sang four verses of Silent Night.
Thus friends so dear shared Christmas cheer, and their holiday, with love . . .
An’ each was sure he felt a stir of blessing, from above….
©Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns 12-15-08
That’s what’s scratched on this headstone, just a plain ol’ rock of brown –
In a lonely cemetery, in a little Wyoming town . . .
As I stand here with these flowers, his face is fuzzy in my brain,
But, I can see his Rochelle Hills, forty miles distant through the rain,
When I lift my eyes and face the West. Yep, he loved those hills….
Shall I tell you, what I can, of this man they called 4W Bill?
His story starts down in Texas, what little of it that we know . . .
Him sittin’ a’straddle a wagon tongue, his young heart filled with woe.
‘Bout daylight, a feller come, in a rented rig from town,
An,’ spyin’ this here little lad, his forehead creased up in a frown.
“Hey, there young sprout – who the heck are you? An’ what’cha doin’ here?
Loiterin’ ‘round my wagon, prob’ly plund’rin’ through my gear?
Though the quiv’rin chin touched tiny chest, tears could still be seen,
A’ coursin’ down the boy’s lean cheeks, pushin dust ahead of their stream;
Then, with a determined shiver, he reared back an’ lifted his head.
As he fixed the man with his bravest stare, this is what he said:
“Mister, my name is Bill.” “Well, tell me, what’s yore other name?”,
Come back like a shot; this man had no time, to play a small boy’s game.
The child (who looked to be four or five), vowed that he didn’t have one –
“Just Bill,” he mumbled . . . stretching like a cat, warmed by the rising sun.
As Bill slid off the wagon tongue, it seemed he found his voice,
An’ told the man he’d been left by some cowboys, who gave him no choice….
“They found me, an’ then I lived with them, an’ I was mighty happy,
For a roundup home . . . an’ fam’ly . . . since I’d lost my Mam an’ Pappy.”
“But when we come here, they was upset. Said the outfit sold….
They went sep’rate ways, to search for jobs, ‘fore the winter comes on, cold.
They said someone bought this wagon, teams an’ harness, the cattle too;
They made me promise to wait here for him – Mister, would that be you?”
This busy man pushed back his hat, reached up to scratch his head . . .
What in the heck could he do with a boy, whose parents both were dead?
He was here to inspect the wagon, teams an’ harnesses an’ such –
Then get ‘em started trailin’ with the cattle . . . had to do so much….
Yet two bright eyes pinioned him . . . an’ the question hung on air….
He couldn’t leave an orphan behind . . . or . . . why should he really care?
Here he was in Texas, with an outfit to get to Wyoming . . .
Yet he couldn’t run from those big eyes, so hurting, and so homing
“I’ll tell ya’ boy,” he ventured, “I’m lookin’ to hire a hand,
A hand who’s always honest, one that’s willin’ to ride for the brand.
A hand that’s got some savvy, plenty of talent, plenty of tough;
One that won’t get soft an’ quit me, if things should get pretty rough.”
The lad at first just hung his head, then took a great big gulp,
He turned an’ looked the man in the eye. “Would ya’ beat me to a pulp?
If I was kind’a short on savvy, or on talent, like you say?
If I couldn’t stick your rankest bronc, or sometime got in the way?”
“’Cuz I can swear I’m honest, an’ I sure enough am tuff,
I know about ridin for the brand, an’ not quittin’ when it’s ruff.”
The busy 4W Ranch foreman couldn’t help but be impressed,
By this brave response from one small lad, so obviously distressed.
So he bade the boy come with him – on Texas turn his back –
And take the long trek to Wyoming, on that endless cattle track.
Bill reached the 4W Ranch on horseback, an’ came to love the place,
Became a horseman and a stockman, one who cast a loop with grace.
He was such a part of the ranch, the brand stuck to his name –
The way he rode horses in Johnson halters added to his fame.
4W Bill made pony tracks all up and down the Rochelle Hills,
Across the breaks both north and south of where the Cheyenne River spills.
Him, and most of the ones who knew him, passed on long ago;
From childhood, I vaguely remember him, an’ wish that I could know
The rest of his story – much more of his life! Yet, I feel some kin,
When I work for the 4W and ride the same trails . . . is it sin,
To feel a sense of brotherhood from ridin’ for that brand?
An sleepin’ in a bedroll upon the same Cheyenne River sand?
I hope you don’t mind, 4W Bill, as I leave these flowers here –
A token for you of how many folk, hold your memory dear.
© January 24, 2007 Rhonda Sedgwick Stearns