Keepin' 'em Laughing. A tribute... sort of
I grew up in southeastern Idaho, surrounded by cowboys, Indians, mutton conductors, goat ropers, artists, railroaders, Mormons, hippies and farmers.
The worst of the bunch, by far, were the cowboys. When Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson sang that cowboys like “smoky old pool rooms and clear mountain mornings, little warm puppies, and children and girls of the night,” they damned sure got it right.
Boots Reynolds is not only an old cowboy, he’s from Oklahoma—the worst kind! As such he qualifies for the cow pen philosophers’ warning: “Approach with care.” The average person can’t handle true cowboys and, most especially, their heart for honesty, truth and the American West and its values. Along with, I like to add, a wonderful sense of humor based in the simplicity of man’s failings, reaching for the stars but coming up with a Meadow Muffin.
Cowboys never figure out a lot of things, one of them being women. If a woman doesn’t smack them up side of the head, they’ll never figure out she’s even interested. From then on it’s pretty much all down hill. They are half house broke, with bad table and public event manners, and should only be trusted around livestock. Nevertheless, I’ve learned my best bad habits from cowboys!
Boots has had a long and nefarious career in North Idaho and it’s all Howard Faux’s fault. Howard is the epitome of a retired country squire: a dapper gentleman of an age, retired banker, God-fearing family man with a wonderful, full-time Cheshire cat smile. As kind as can be, he is always interested in your well -being. But it’s Howard who gave us the scourge of Boots’ half-true stories, cartoons that would make a sailor blush, fish and other smelly stories, greeting cards, books, and documentary interviews that have wasted enough paper and celluloid to make the “greenies” fall over with apoplexy. And for that, Howard, I fear you shall be held eternally accountable.
Let me explain. A few years back I found myself sitting in the Clark Fork High School lunch room eating next to Boots. Here’s where it gets hard to believe. I, along with Boots, was there for Career Day! Howard and some other respectable folks were across the table from us (some had real careers). Boots asked Howard if he remembered lending him some money years back for a special project he had been given. Howard said he didn’t remember, but asked, “Did you pay it back?”
“I sure did, Howard. No one else would give me the money. If you hadn’t, me and the missus would have had to move on.” Point made, Howard’s fault!
After seeing each other at horse events, draft horse pulls, fairs, and Western regalia shows, Boots finally walked up to me like he was going to take a scalp and asked, “What crippled you up and put you in the chariot, horse?” He’d been parading around the fairgrounds in his custom-made Tenny-Lamas boots (cowboy tops, tennis shoe bottoms), made for him and other high “pollutin” characters like Willie Nelson by the Tony Lama boot company. Show off! I answered both questions, and he just walked away. That’s a cowboy.
Oh, sure, Boots has a modicum of fame. The cartoon illustrations in Pat McManus’s books, the dozens of ‘cowboy slant’ greeting cards for Leanin’ Tree (to the disgust of God fearin’ folks, the women on these cards are always overly endowed and under dressed), the National Cowboy Cartoonist credentials, the many years of Western Horseman cartoons and much more. So what!
He can be hurtful. Some years ago a lad named Corey was standing in line for Boots to autograph his copy of “Boots n’ Beans,” a coffee table book he wrote with recipes and cartoons. (Published locally by Keokee Books. You can buy it at SandpointGeneralStore.com.) When the lad finally got the book in for signing, Corey chimed in, “I work for Scott Hancock.” Without looking up, Boots retorted, “I’m sorry.” I had to get counseling over that one.
Some folks think Boots is really clever and that nothing throws him off. Once, our friend Pearl went up behind him while he was otherwise engaged and asked why he was harassing people. Without missing a beat he turned around and said, “Didn’t I tell you to stay in the car with the kids?” Where are the feminists when you need them? For those uninformed, Boots’ wife Becky is slated for sainthood.
The Reynolds have a neighbor, Barb (such an appropriate name), who helps and hinders the progress of all and is one of three women who intimidate me (more counseling). When I speak they take any tiny slip up and nail me with stinging zingers that wither my manhood! Ms. Gannon of this publication is one and lastly the new “Queen of Sting”, C.S., is worse yet and you can take that to the bank. Barb and Gannon protect Boots like he’s a national treasure, perhaps thinking Laura Bush will send them a recipe, as she did for the book “Boots n’ Beans.”
A few years ago Boots and his wife showed up at a breakfast eatery where we were eating. They sat down about fifteen feet away and, not wanting to hurt Becky, I stroked up a conversation. Boots often hires a carpenter who has worked for me. This carpenter is a good and a quiet man who has tried to teach Boots not to use 20-penny barn nails to install window trim. This carpenter we’ll call “Rich” to protect the innocent.
While this “Rich” was working for Boots he had an accident involving a digit. Nothing new here. So I, being a genteel soul, said to Boots across the room, “Ever get all of Rich’s finger cleaned up?” He yells back that he still finds pieces and bits every time he moves a book or paint bucket in his studio. At this point some folks started carrying their plates into the other room. What the hell?
I looked at my wife (also up for sainthood) and she pointed out that our conversation may have been the problem. Huh? Then the waitress confirmed my wife’s fears. To this day Boots blames me for the incident. At our last meeting at the Big Horn Show we decided we couldn’t see the harm. It was the truth!
I close with something Boots would like. My young friend Juline said recently “When people ask how you are, you should say, ‘I’m on a roll,’ and then add, ‘Remember, I’ve been pushed around all my life.’”
Boots, keep em’ laughing! Because you know the difference between a Claybank and Grulla and that I rode the short bus to school, too. Do I know Boots well? No. But, as the Masai say, “I know him well enough.” Friend, I say to you, “Powder River, let er’ buck.”