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From the Mouth of the River

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Beware the friendly diner

It’s that time of the year when the snow is up to your, you know. And has been for quite some time. Gray and overcast skies make for doldrum days and makes one stroll off into the kitchen looking for something fattening and delicious to munch on. What the hell, one more button undone wont make a difference at this time of year. Besides, I’ll work it off, or at least some of it, come spring. 

It’s this time of year when a large bowl of chunky beef stew with potatoes, carrots, rutabagas and anything else you can find all piled on makes a mouth-watering combination of over-the-top goodness. Or a steaming bowl of Momma’s homemade chili, made when she was sober, and topped off with a big slice of cherry pie. In the winter time these are three of the fore most favorite things a cowboy dreams off. 

I am sorry to say I had to give two of these things up after seventy-five years of having them at the top of my list. It all started while on my trip to Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo, a trip I try to make every year. Because it takes place in December, running into bad weather is a strong possibility. It was in one of Montana’s snow storms that I decided to pull in to a small café just off interstate 15. This is a café that is mainly used by ranchers and cowboys who stop by after their morning’s work of feeding large numbers of cattle on the biggest ranches in that part of Montana. This small café is run by two or three ranch women who know how to cook good, working- man’s food. 

There’s a blackboard nailed to the wall with the day’s menu scribbled on it. This time of year it usually says: beef stew, beef soup, beef chili or chicken fried steak and gravy with fried potatoes. Plus cherry pie or peach cobbler. $3.50.  And coffee; They’re not kidding about the coffee, it’s made in a five-gallon pot, by pouring Folger’s coffee grounds in a nylon sock and hanging it over the side of the pot until it boils. I think everyone who has come in there has asked the same question: just who the hell did that sock belong to before they used it to make coffee.

As I walked in outta the blizzard and kicking the snow off my boots I noticed there was just one old cowboy sittin’ alone at the other end of the counter. Elbows resting on the counter he was staring down at a bowl of steaming hot chili. I looked up at the blackboard and it said “Chily an corn bread an Cherry pi.” 

Right away I figured out the women weren’t cooking that day from the spelling on the blackboard. Instead it was an old cowboy or a sheep herder, wearing an old felt hat pulled down to keep the hair outta his face. His week old gray beard, with tobacco stains running down each side, indicated he was level headed. He wore a dirty dish towel tied around his waist for an apron and his run-over boots from walking bow-legged made him look like a cripple when he moved, which was pretty slow. 

“Where’s the women?” I asked as he poured me a mug of coffee without asking if I wanted it or not. 

“They’re in Billings doing some Christmas shoppin’,” he said. “What’ll ya have?” he asked.

“Pie,” I said, “cherry pie, and this cup of coffee.” 

He wandered back to the pie table and started cutting pie. I glanced over at the old cowboy sitting at the end of the counter still hanging over his bowl of chili, which reminded me of the chili cook-offs in Texas, where they make chili so hot with jalapenos and habanera sauce it scalds your mouth so bad people talk like they just had a mouth full of Novocaine and have no control of their tongue. You might see objects in your bowl that look like meat and sauce but there is no taste or flavor whatsoever, just hot, hot, hot;

Just then the door blew open and along with the snow and wind came a tall, lanky cowboy, maybe in his early twenties. Unzipping his Carhartt coat and shaking the snow and cow feed off he sat down on a stool next to the old cowboy. He glanced at me and took a long look at the old man staring down at his bowl of chili. He could see the cook was busy cutting up the pie so he waited a few minutes and finally spoke to the old man. 

“If you’re not going to eat that chili I’ll take it off your hands,” he said with a grin. The old man just looked up and with the back of his hand slid the chili over in front of the young cowboy without saying a word. 

The young man took the old mans spoon and started wolfing down the chili just as my pie arrived. It was almost a contest as to who would finish first as we were matching each other bite for bite, when suddenly, the cowboy slammed his hands down on the counter, leaned over and looked into his bowl. As I was just taking my last bite of cherry pie I glanced over and saw a bloated rat floating in the bottom of his chili bowl.

The cowboy gagged once and filled the bowl from the pit of his stomach. The old cowboy pointed at the bowl of chili and said, “That’s as far as I got, too.

From the front door to my pickup door was a string of cherry pie filling. It’s too bad that two of my favorite foods have been lost to me, forever.

Boots

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Author info

Boots Reynolds Boots Reynolds The "internationally-renowned cowboy artist" Boots Reynolds has moved his comedic interpretation of life into the writing field with his regular column in the River Journal - From the Mouth of the River.

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humor, food, diners

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