THE USUAL NOTE FROM LB: From the summer of 2002 to the spring of 2010, Gwen the Beautiful and I were the proud and often exhausted owners of a beautiful Ozarks property we called Cloud Creek Ranch.
In many ways, the ranch was paradise. But it was a paradise with a price that started going up before we even knew it existed. Here’s another Monday musing about our adventure and the lessons we learned.
Oh, and if y’all detect any irony, please believe me when I say it comes straight from the universe and not your kindly Uncle Larry B.
by Larry Brody
Several months ago, I used this space to eulogize my best friend, writer Bob Sabaroff. Bob’s death from leukemia hit me hard.
I missed the talks we used to have.
I missed the arguments.
I missed him.
But I got over it. Human beings do that. Pain eases. Grief subsides. We heal.
Even if we don’t want to, we heal.
So it went for yours truly, Larry B. There I was, all healed and moving on. Until a few days ago, when Ernest the Young Lakota Fireman (not to be confused with Uncle Ernie the King of the Local Good Ole Boys) the newish handyman from South Dakota who now lives in the Cloud Creek Annex and keeps our whole place going, told me about something that had happened that morning, while he was feeding the horses.
I was over by one of the sheds at the time, marveling at all the rusty old junk piled up behind it. I was thinking about whether to throw it away or try to put it in some kind of order. But—
E the YLF was calling out to me from the Annex door, in his soft-spoken way.
“What’s up?” I said.
E the YLF shrugged. “I saw somebody this morning,” he said.
I’ve known Ernest long enough to understand what he meant. He often sees things others don’t, and it was clear that this was one of those times.
E the YLF waved his hand toward the thick old walnut tree I think of as the Hay Tree. We’ve been feeding our horses from giant, eight-foot long, 900 pound bales of alfalfa.
To get the alfalfa onto the bed of my F150, the feed store folks use a forklift. To get the hay off the bed of my F150, I’ve got to back the truck up to the Hay Tree, tie the big bale to it, and then pull away.
If the rope holds (and sometimes it doesn’t), the bale drops onto a tarp on the ground in front of the tree, and I cover it with another tarp. Twice a day, either Ernest or I untie the tarps, put twenty pounds worth of flakes into a two-wheeled cart, and trek across the clearing to the corral to toss the hay in for Huck the Spotless Appaloosa and Huck’s gal, Rosie the Sweet Arabian.
“This morning,” Ernest said, “I loaded the cart, and when I turned I saw a man standing by the corral, petting Huck and Rosie.”
The man, he told me, was wearing a jacket and a baseball cap over graying hair. “He looked like he was in his late 60s, and he had gentle eyes. Wise and gentle. Everything about him was so peaceful.”
According to E the YLF, the man said, “Good morning,” and continued stroking the horses.
The E the YLF’s not a big talker. He watched the horses and the visitor silently for awhile, then carted the hay to the corral. That’s when the man turned to him again.
“Tell Larry he was right,” he said to Ernest. “Tell him there really is an afterlife. Tell him I’m doing just fine.”
The visitor smiled and went on. “Tell Laughing Eagle,’I love you, man.'”
“And then,” Ernest said, “he faded, like mist, and vanished. Like he’d never been here.”
I went back to the house and got on my computer. I emailed him links to some pictures I’ve stored online. Family. Friends. The usual suspects.
In the email, I asked if he recognized anyone.
That evening, he came over to the house with a printout of one of the pictures. “The man on the left is the one I saw at the corral,” he said. “The same gentle smile.”
I knew the picture well. It was taken in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, at a dinner where I—was giving a Lifetime Achievement Award to the gray-haired man on camera left.
The man with whom I had so many discussions about everything from ancient history to writing to the nature of reality himself.
The man who argued vehemently that death was “the end.”
The man who ended every conversation we ever had with the same four words:
“I love you, man.”
My best friend.
E the YLF had never met him. Never seen him. Knew nothing about what he was like. At least, not in life.
But he had him pegged.
Tomorrow I’ll throw the junk behind that shed onto the truck and take it to a scrap metal dealer. Bob was a collector. He was okay with clutter.
But he really hated waste.