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A Picture Paints 1900 Words: Cowboys and Dragons
Inspired by a picture created by Cris Advincula.
The interview began as reporter Molly Hensen sat on the porch with, Jack "Bones"Miller, a one hundred and two year old cowboy. The big red Wyoming sky was casting a soft light on the bronze, wrinkled face of a man who had lived a hard and wonderful life. His bright blue eyes were like a light of peace with a thousand wars behind them. Jack didn't look at all like the movie cowboys, which slightly disappointed Molly. He was wearing a blue baseball cap, a white T-Shirt and red plaid pants. He wasn't even wearing cowboy boots. Green and white sneakers were on his feet.
Molly was wearing an ankle length yellow dress with white lace at the bottom and sleeves. She was very pretty with long swirling brown hair. She reminded him a little of a beautiful woman from his past. He thought of Miss Millie, a saloon girl back in the mid1890s.
The interview began.
Molly asked, "Mr. Miller, How long were you a cowboy?"
Jack smiled as he took a hand wrapped cigar from his rusty smoking stand, lit it, took two puffs and said, "You can call me, Jack, little lady and the answer is, I was born a cowboy and I'll die a cowboy."
Molly frowned at his term, "Little lady" and quickly remarked, "I don't think anyone is born something."
Jack poured himself a half glass of whiskey and offered Molly a drink but she shook her head, "no". He took a sip of whiskey and said, "My father was a cowboy and my mother ran the kitchen wagon. The day I was born, she was cookin' beans and bones. Being a Sioux Indian, she named me Jack Bones Miller." Jack smiled wide and said, "I was just a few hours old when my father gave me my first horse ride. He told me I would cry when he stopped riding. Yes sweetheart, I was born a cowboy."
Molly didn't care much for her assignment to interview Jack. She thought much of history was boring except for fashion and romance. She really didn't like how Jack's eyes focused more on her ankles and white high heels than her face. Molly cleared her throat and squirmed in the cane bottom chair a little as she said,"I've been told that you met Teddy Roosevelt?"
Jack blew out a puff of smoke, coughed a little and said, "Yes, it's true. He was visiting a ranch I worked on. Scrappy little fellow. He was a fine horseman. I didn't care much for his attitude though."
Molly asked, "His attitude? What do you mean."
Jack answered, "He was arrogant. Thought he was some kind a hero and he pulled his pistol on me."
Molly looked up from writing, gasped and said, "Oh my, the president pointed a gun at you?"
Jack chuckled and said, "He wasn't president when I met him. He aimed right at my heart and I walked straight up to him." Jack laughed out loud and said, "Old Teddy just grinned and let the hammer down easy. He told me that he don't shoot real men and what I said, I had the freedom to say."
Molly's eyes opened wide as she asked," Oh my lord, what did you say?"
Jack grinned and said, "I worked up a big loud fart, let it loose and told him that's what I thought of his ideas about progress." Jack, formed a serious look on his face and went on, "I told him that you cain't barb wire a man's heart with sharp educated words. Freedom don't have a damned thing to do with politics. Freedom is the love a good woman, the loyalty of a good horse and enough range to enjoy them both."
Molly grumbled beneath her breath, "Oh lord yet another manly filled man."
Jack could sense her disappointment until he said, "A woman's heart is the last frontier for any man. The world is just a skip across a creek compared to it."
Molly tilted her head and asked,"How so?"
Jack became a little misty eyed as he said, "I've only really ever loved one woman. I didn't even know her last name for a time. Miss Millie I called her. She was a saloon girl. I visited her every time we came through Cody." He coughed, sipped his whiskey and went on," The High Horse saloon had quite a few ladies of the evening. Millie was my favorite. She was my only."
Jack took a bigger sip of whiskey and went on saying, "The last time I went to visit her, she told me that she had a cancer in her blood. She stood about ten feet away from me and took all her clothing off. She had never done that before." Jack wiped a small tear and went on, "I had no idea that a woman could be so beautiful. She walked towards me as if I had lassoed a wild angel. She loved me with her soul that evening."
Jack looked out at the pink morning sky and said, "I had saved almost three thousand and five hundred dollars back then. I was going to buy myself a spread and become my own boss. Millie changed that. I proposed marriage to her and we spent the last few months of her life and my savings on medicines, train trips and motel rooms. Once I had an artist do a painting of her. He charged me ten dollars at first, then gave it back to me for some unexplained reason. I wanted her to be happy and she was."
Molly sat back in her chair, wiped her tears away and said, "That is so beautiful."
Whatever bad feelings Molly had about Jack were gone now. She began to understand that he was a very unique man and his heart was wonderfully in the right place.
Molly quickly finished making notes and noticed some marks just above Jack's shirt collar. She asked, "What is that on your chest? It looks like horns. Is it a bull?"
Jack chuckled loud and said, "No, no, I cant stand cattle. They're stubborn and they stink." He raised his shirt to reveal a large tattoo. He said, "It's a dragon. When I was a child, I met a Chinese man in Colorado near a place they were building train tracks. He had books and scrolls of flying dragon pictures. He told me that dragons represent purpose and pain." Jack grinned wide and went on, "Since then, I have always dreamed of dragons. I chase them. They chase me. I rope them sometimes and they light my cigars. They have sips of whiskey with me and tell me of greater dragons that will come my way."
Molly was mezmerized as he continued, "Life isn't about good and evil. It's about cowboys and dragons. Are we brave enough to face what comes our way? Are we intelligent enough to understand? Our souls rope dragons every day. Sometimes the dragons pull us off our horses and rake us over hills of hell but oh darlin' those hills are still beautiful if we only care to see.
Jack brushed a small tear went on, "I have lived a hundred and two years. Drank a river of whiskey and smoked a field of tobacco. I've rode fast in the dust of God's rage and have been cradled by the love of a wonderful woman. I ain't long for this earth now. I can feel the old dragons tugging at my toes. A few more sunsets and I'll be with my pretty Millie."
Molly gave him a sad smile, patted him on the leg and said, "You have had some kind of life, Jack Bones Miller. Why do you think you've lived so long?"
Jack thought for a moment and said, "Well, it damn sure aint healthy living. A human being comes into this world naked. We are just like the dragons. They don't wear clothing ya know. Anyhow, I think I've lived this long because my heart is free. Back when I was a younger man, not long after Millie died, I was riding through a meadow. I was crying. I jumped off of my horse and ripped all of my clothing away and screamed at the sky, "I am free and I am not ashamed and I will fight and I will love every dragon you send! I am, Jack Bones Miller! You made me and you have to deal with that damn fact!"
As Molly looked astonished, Jack grinned and said, "That moment changed me completely. I think I have had a long life because I make God smile from time to time."
Jack took his cap off and put it back on while saying,"Young lady, don't ever let them put barbed wire around your heart. Me and dragons hate barbed wire. Keep your body, mind and spirit free. Only then you are worthy to battle and drink with the dragons."
The wind picked up as Molly smiled, closing her note pad. She stared at Jack who was staring at her hands. She soflty said, "You must miss Millie terribly. You said that you changed. How so?"
Jack took a puff from his cigar, a sip of whiskey and said, "I realized that getting married to a prostitute was the most beautiful dragon of all. I realized that Teddy Roosevelt was a man who had enough heart to battle his own dragons. I realized that those few of us who fight and drink with the strongest dragons amaze the angels. I realized that my soul would eternally lasso dragons to teach me. I realized that mankind's greatest shame is shame itself."
Molly stood up, pushed her chair back a little and asked, "So, screaming at God while naked made you see those things?"
Jack nodded his head and said, "Yip, you should try it sometime."
Molly leaned over and gave Jack a kiss on the cheek. She stepped off of the porch and walked towards her brand new, white 1955 Chevrolet. About halfway to the car, she stopped and turned to see Jack smiling. She dropped her note pad and pencil on the ground. The pages flipped in the warm wind.
She unbuttoned her dress, pulled it over her shoulders and flipped it away in the wind. She did the same with her undergarments. She pulled her high heels off and dropped each one behind her. She dug her toes into the tall grass, blushed, looked at Jack and shouted, "Freedom!" She began to spin while shouting,"Freedom" over and over, louder and louder! Molly stopped twirling and screamed at the sky,"Send me your dragons!"
Jack stood up, leaned on the porch railing and took in an eternal moment of her breathtaking beauty. Molly playfully danced around, picking her things up, laughing with joy and finally walking to her car. She got in her car, still naked and drove it around the driveway to speak to Jack. She smiled and shouted, "Thank you, Jack Bones Miller! I will never forget you!"
Jack watched her drive down his long, dusty lane. He tapped the ashes from his cigar, grinned and said,"The dragons are going to love her."