The coffeepot on the general store’s potbelly stove bubbled merrily, as if chuckling along with the knee-slapping men huddled around the stove’s warmth.
“That were a great story!” Roy exclaimed, tears streaming down his weathered cheeks.
“I wish I coulda seen John’s face when he seen that bear eatin’ turnips in his root cellar.” Billy shook his head.
“You got a gift for storytelling, Henry. You should write a book, yer memoirs, like,” suggested Roy. “All wrote down for yer grandkids.”
“I ain’t no writer,” said Henry modestly. “I can’t write no book.”
“Jus’ write what you tol’ us,” encouraged Billy.
Henry sipped his coffee. “I’ll give it a whirl, but I don’t figure it’ll be much. Like I said, I ain’t no writer.”
“Preten’ like yer talkin’ to us,” Roy coaxed.
While the men chatted about recent rainfall and the price of feed, Henry reckoned if he did what the men said, write as if he were storytelling by the glowing stove, he could do it.
On his way out of the general store that afternoon, Henry bought a tablet of paper and a bottle of ink. That night, by the light of his lantern, he penned, I were but fourteen years old when I shot my first wolf...
Each evening, Henry would write a few words about his homestead and his encounters with wildlife, livestock, and country folks with their eccentricities. The tablet filled up, line after line of spidery script, until he reached the last page of the tablet and the end of his adventures.
It were early summer after branding and cutting. The calves had growed big enough to trail into the summer pastures with their mamas. I had rode ahead and them cowboys was on the drag. Sudden-like, something shaked in the scrub and out come the biggest dang she-bear you ever seen. She jogged straight for them calves.
I hollered and spun my lariat, hoping she’d pull up before spooking them cattle. No, sir.
So, I throwed that loop...
“Mighty fine, Henry,” concurred the men beside the potbelly. “Jus’ like we was there. Now, go to the city and get it printed into a genuine book, maybe with some pretty pictures.”
“Naw, it’s jus’ everyday stories,” protested Henry sheepishly.
But, the men were persuasive, and after the crops were harvested, Henry put on his Sunday shirt, dusted his hat, spit-polished his boots, and oiled down his hair.
Billy took him to the train station in the buckboard, and when Henry got to the city, he roamed the paved streets, marveling at store windows bursting with fancy dresses, radio sets, and gleaming china.
The dapper man in the publisher’s office adjusted his spectacles with an ink-stained finger.
“May I help you?” he inquired, studying Henry from the worn soles of his boots to the warped brim of his hat.
“I wrote a book, sir.” Henry reddened and placed the tattered tablet on the counter.
The man skimmed a few pages. “Hmm. This won’t do. The grammar is atrocious.”
Henry turned his hat in his hands.
“And, unfortunately, the tales are crude and outlandish.”
“I said I weren’t no writer, but the boys were pushy-like. I wrote what I knowed.”
A glimmer of amusement appeared in the man’s eye, or perhaps it was compassion or even opportunistic eagerness.
“Look here. I’ll print it, but I must do some editing.” He smiled tightly, lifting the book with forefinger and thumb as if the book were indeed sullied by the vulgarities mentioned within. “I’ll send a copy when it’s printed.”
When the package arrived the following spring, Henry opened it at the general store. The men ran their fingers over the title, Critters, Cowboys, and Courage, engraved on the leather cover.
“Read a piece,” commanded Billy.
It was early summer, the delightful time when blossoms breathe their perfume into the sun-washed breezes. The gentlemen mounted their gleaming horses, conversing jovially. We rode through alpine meadows, the gentle bovines ambling serenely through the lush grass.
A bear strolled out from the greening shrubbery, and I cordially hailed her, “Hello! Fine day!”
“Whoa, that ain’t right,” roared Roy indignantly.
“It’s the sorriest piece of writin’ I ever heard,” agreed Billy.
Henry scratched his head, frowning.
While the men puzzled over why Henry’s fine stories had been swapped out for sissified hogwash, the book curled, then blazed brightly inside the potbelly stove. The coffeepot hummed a wordless tune of sympathy.
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