Where There's Smoke . . .
Where There’s Smoke . . .
“Funny’ depends on which side of the story you’re on.
When I was too young to spend a full day working on the ranch, my mother would ride with Dad and a ranch hand named Chuck. Now Chuck had an even better laugh than Santa Claus. It was the kind of laugh that made you join in even if you’d no clue what the joke had been. Humour bubbled up from him and overflowed through the rest of us. The man’s wonderful, infectious attitude lessened the workload and made it fun. Chuck was a great kidder, joked a lot, and called Mom ‘Maggie.’
Mom sometimes rode a jumpy appaloosa mare with a unique patch of white on her side that resembled a map of South America. The mare’s name was Pepper, and she spooked at everything.
One day, Mom was riding with Dad and Chuck, and at the time, she smoked cigarettes.
Chuck, a heavy-set, powerful man, rode a huge black half-percheron gelding named Tex that had the unfortunate habit of passing prodigious amounts of foul-smelling gas on a continual basis — his personal idiosyncrasy. Everyone knew not to ride behind Tex. Knowing this, Mom rode in front to enjoy a smoke that day.
As Chuck trailed behind on a cattle trail through the trees, he thought he saw something puff from her saddle. He blinked, thinking he was seeing things. When they came to the edge of the trees, he motioned for Dad to ride up next to him.
He pointed at Mom. “Joe, do you see that?”
“What?” Dad settled his stallion next to Tex as they followed Pepper.
“There’s something coming from Maggie’s saddle!”
Dad, expecting a new practical joke, raised a skeptical brow.
“I’m not kidding! Take a look!” He tipped his ten-gallon cowboy hat towards the appaloosa mare.
Dad peered then frowned. “Well, damn! I think you’re right!”
“Looks like . . . smoke,” mumbled Chuck, screwing up his broad face and squinting. Every time Pepper took a step, a plume of smoke puffed from the back of the saddle. “D’you think Maggie could’ve set her horse on fire?”
“Kinda looks like it, doesn’t it?”
They rode in silence for another minute as they watched Mom’s saddle.
“That has to be smoke!” insisted Chuck. “What else could it be?”
“I believe you’re right,” said Dad. “I keep telling her to quit with the cigarettes.”
“What do you think’s gonna happen when that fire works its way to that mare’s back?”
“I expect there’ll be quite an explosion.”
“Think we should tell Maggie?”
“Well, I’d hate to see that mare get a burn on her back. Might not be able to ride her for awhile.”
They watched the smoke puffs thicken.
“Didn’t know you could actually set a horse on fire,” drawled Chuck looking thoughtful.
“I suppose we should tell her,” said Dad. He urged his stallion to a trot. “Margaret! Hold up! Your horse is on fire!”
Of course, she wouldn’t believe him, used as she was to cowboy practical jokes. But Dad grabbed Pepper’s reins and had Mom dismount. In seconds, the saddle was on the ground and Dad was examining the blanket.
Sure enough, it was smoldering. A burning ash must’ve fallen into the hole behind the saddle horn. In a few more minutes, it would’ve burned through to the horse, and if that had happened, she would’ve bucked like a rodeo bronc. Mom would’ve been catapulted into the nearest tree and Chuck and Dad would’ve had a time catching that mare and getting the saddle off.
As they patted out the embers, Mom looked a little spooked herself. She knew what would’ve happened if no one had noticed.
Unfortunately, she also knew Dad and Chuck would never let her forget it.
I remember years later hearing Chuck’s rolling laugh as he ribbed Mom over that event. My mother didn’t see much humour in it, but Chuck got a lot of mileage out of the day Mom set her horse on fire!