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Real cowboys, Fort McMurray and the ‘lucky ones’

The Jacksons from the May 12 issue of the Manitoba Co-operator

Andrew Jackson ambled slowly down the sidewalk in the direction of the café. He reached up to pull down the brim of his new Outback hat, shielding his eyes from the brightness of the hot morning sun. A pickup truck drove towards him on the main street, bright-blue paint sparkling, sunlight reflecting from an abundance of chrome, and Andrew recognized Hardy Kehler’s brand new Dodge Ram. He raised a lazy hand in greeting and Hardy responded with a single raised index finger. Energy must be conserved on unseasonably hot spring days such as this. A cat stared at Andrew through the widow of the hardware store as he walked past, its tail twitching. Andrew returned the stare. “I know what you’re thinking, cat,” he said aloud. “If you were bigger you’d catch me, and eat me.” The cat looked away.

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cartoon image of a family seated at a table
cartoon image of a family seated at a table
cartoon image of a family seated at a table

Andrew pulled the café door open a minute later and stepped inside. The hum of conversation greeted him as he pushed his hat back on his head and looked around. Three young women sat at the table next to the defunct jukebox in the corner and Andrew recognized one of them as Jennifer’s best friend, Kendra. Kendra looked up, saw him, and gave him a bright smile. He nodded and smiled in return and she turned back to her conversation. Two men sat at the table by the window. Andrew walked over and the two paused in their conversation.

“Morning.” Grant Toews who was both Andrew’s longtime best friend and Kendra’s father pushed an empty plate to the centre of the table as he spoke. “Hot out there, eh?”

Andrew wiped a few beads of perspiration from his brow as he sat down. “I think this might be more of a rain hat than a sun hat,” he said pushing it even further back.

“It’s a nice hat,” said Jack Martin, who was sitting across from Grant. “Distinctive.”

“It’s only the second time I’m wearing it,” said Andrew. “Funny story. I wore it last week when Rose and I went to the city. It was still cold outside and raining so I was wearing my leather rain slicker and I was just tagging along behind Rose at The Bay when we turned into an aisle and there was this five-year-old kid with his mother, and this kid looked up and saw me and his eyes just went wide and he stared at me for like 20 seconds and then he reached up and grabbed his mommy’s arm and said, look Mommy! I never saw a real cowboy before! And the mother looked up sort of embarrassed so I just leaned down and handed that little boy a dollar. Little feller, I said, you can tell all your friends that you saw Hank Chisolm, greatest cowboy who ever rode a horse west of the Red River, at The Bay, and he gave you a dollar just to prove it was really him. Keep your feet in the stirrups pal. And then I walked on up the aisle and disappeared into men’s underwear.” He paused. “Even cowboys gotta have underwear,” he concluded.

“I wouldn’t know,” said Grant. “I’ve never met a real cowboy.”

“Good story though,” said Jack. “The kid will never forget it. Although eventually he’ll probably realize you were just a sheep farmer from Carberry playing dress-up.”

“Probably,” said Andrew. “But we’ll never know, and from now on I think I’d like it if you guys would refer to me simply as Chisolm. Or Mr. Chisolm. Either way.”

“Sure thing Chisolm,” said Grant. “And I’m sure Rose will embroider that inside the elastic of your new Fruit of the Looms.”

“Already done,” said Andrew. “Wanna see?”

“Definitely not,” said Grant and Jack in unison.

There was a lull in the conversation.

“Helluva thing in Fort McMurray,” said Jack at length.

“Unbelievable,” said Grant.

“Some people say it’s karma,” said Jack.

“Some people are morons,” said Andrew.

“I got a cousin up there,” said Grant. “Lost everything. Except the horse he rode out on. Which was a 2016 BMW coupe, so pretty nice, but still. What a disaster. He and his wife and kids are coming back to Manitoba. They’re gonna have to move in with his parents till they get it sorted out. No job. No house. Tragic.”

“And a thousand other stories just like that,” said Jack. “Gonna be a challenge looking after those people. Gonna have to learn how to share.”

“We can do that,” said Andrew. “We got more than enough.”

They sat for a moment, thinking their thoughts, before Grant spoke.

“We are the lucky ones,” he said simply. “Amen,” said Jack.

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