The Cowboy Who Loved Emily Dickinson
Bucky Joe HarDister rode the bus uptown, went immediately to Belks Department Store and asked Mister Fred Pickelsiemer, manager of the men's clothes, if he had any Blue Bell Wranglers,size 29-33. Mr. Fred said he didn't but he could order them.
"That's fine with me, sir;" Bucky Joe gave him the three dollars and sixty nine cents the ad in Life said they cost, mostly nickels, dimes, and pennies he had earned all summer digging postholes, milking cows, cleaning out stables, tying sacks on combines, anything he could to make money. He had to have his jeans broke in by the first Monday after Labor Day when school started. As a freshman at Doaksville High School he wanted to look good even though he would only be there until Christmas.
When he turned sixteen in December he would quit school and go to Oklahoma to live with his Uncle Buck and become a rodeo champion. When he wore his slim cuts that first day of school they would know he was a genuine cowboy because he wore them just like his Uncle Buck...slim, fit and trim.
"Are you sure you want slim cut blue bells?" Mister Fred looked kind of sideways at the young cowboy like a bird eyeing a worm. "You sure you don't want Levis? That's what all the boys are wearing these days."
"No, sir. I want Blue Bell Wranglers cause they fit me better. Those Levis make me look like a pack of cooties moved out of the seat of my britches. No, sir, Mr Fred, if you don't mind I want Blue Bell Wranglers....fit for champions! Just like the ad says And I can wait till they come in. And do you think you can do me a favor, Mister Fred?"
"What's that, Bucky Joe?"
"Please make sure they are authentic Western cut, slim fit and trim, with tapered legs..."
"Yes, sir. Please make sure they are course-weave denim and Sanforized cause I'll be looking for the Blue Bell Qualitag."
Mister Fred grunted then counted the coins, sliding them smoothly off the counter edge onto his slick palm.
"Have you talked to Mister Wharton about this?"
"Mister Wharton , the principal, what's he got to do with what kind of britches I wear?"
"Well, Bucky, you're a cowboy but they got a dress code at the high school. And Mister Wharton , the Principal, is, as you say the jigger boss and he will enforce the rules: no tight butted jeans and no short shorts. This ain't Silver Valley and you'll have to play by their rules."
"Can't be much on rules if they let folks wear Levis. Besides I ain't gonna be there long. Soon as I turn sixteen in December I'm going to Oklahoma to live with my Uncle Buck and be a rodeo cowboy."
"Oh," said Mister Fred, looking up from his order blank, "You quitting school, Bucky Joe? I hate to hear that. I'm going to miss you." Mister Fred had let Bucky Joe sweep up and carry out trash around the store when he could and liked the way the Silver Valley cowboy worked.
"Well, thank you, Mister Fred, you been real nice to me. I'll send you some free tickets to the rodeo when I start riding good. But I ain't sad at all about quitting school. I ain't never been too welcomed around here
In a couple of weeks Mister Fred sent the cowboy a notice in the mail. Bucky Joe rode the bus from Silver Valley to Doaksville the next Saturday, got his wranglers and hopped back on the next bus home.
He laid out his new jeans in the bath tub and filled it about half full of water. When the water turned dark blue he took them out and starched them and hung them in the sun to dry. He sat in the shade of the big oak beside the barn and watched them dry. When they got crisp he took them down and stood them in a corner of his room. If they stood by themselves they would be perfect. They did and he laughed.. He ironed them, making razor sharp creases on the front and backs of the legs.
They fit perfectly, snug in the butt and hanging over the spur ridge of his hand me down Tony Llama boots. He was kind of skinny but like all cowboys had a nice round butt. He felt it pressing against the denim and hoped the girls would like the way they fit.
He spent an hour walking around the barn to get used to them and to perfect his cowboy strut. He'd be just like that cowboy in the ad...Western cut, slim fit and trim. He was a real cowboy so he had to look, talk, and walk like one. Those city girls won't know what hit them. He might even sing his favorite cowboy song:
"Who is that cowboy in the brass butted jeans Lookin' better'n John Wayne on the Big Silver Screen?"
Monday morning he caught the school bus and to keep from wrinkling his jeans rode standing up until the driver told him to sit down. He did very carefully and stretched out his long legs. He already felt other kids looking at him. He often wondered why folks stared at cowboys.
When the bus got to the school it seemed the others wanted off in a hurry as they rushed past him and spread out into little bunches to watch him strut away to his homeroom.
Miss Johnson looked at him but said nothing. He took that to mean she liked his looks. And he thought she looked pretty good herself for a teacher. By noon every student in school had heard about the cowboy in the butt tight jeans.
"Got to be stupid to think he could get away with those jeans."
"He might be stupid but he sure is cute."
"Yeah, well just wait until he runs into Wild Bill." By 2 o'clock Bucky Joe HarDister was the talk of Doaksville High. At half past 2 he was in Mister William "Wild Bill" Wharton's office.
"But, sir, I can't wear those baggy ase levis, they make me look like everybody else."
"Watch your mouth, young man. And that's precisely what we want at this school. Everyone to look like everyone else. You can't wear those jeans in this school. Is that clear?"
"That's clear," said Bucky Joe, "but it don't make no more sense than standing up on the barn and pissing into the wind."
Mr Wharton, neanderthal, a foot taller than the cowboy, grabbed Bucky Joe under the armpits and tried to shove him toward his office. Bucky Joe stood firm which startled the principal. Rather than lose his temper he told the cowboy to sit on a bench against the wall facing a counter where students came to do business.
"Stay there until I call for you," he grunted and went into his office.
Bucky Joe HarDister sat very still so as not to wrinkle his jeans and daydreamed of Oklahoma and the rodeos he would ride in.
Out of chute number one riding Dy No Mite, the Silver Valley Kid is a riding tonight!
Top notch buckles, bucks and ladies, he's had 'em by the score
He' the all around blue bell wrangler cowboy nineteen sixty four.
I've just hit town not a penny in my jeans. I been livin' on fig bars, coffee, and beans.
He thought of the great times he and Uncle Buck would have on the rodeo circuit riding rough stock and making lots of money. And having all kinds of pretty girls. And no rules, no going to school. Just two great cowboys doing what they want, being free.
He kind of hated leaving Grandpa Kepley, though, him being old and alone on the farm. But he' be okay until Bucky Joe started sending him money. After all a man's got to do what a man's got to do.
He felt someone sit down next to him but he paid no attention. The bench got harder and his round butt seemed to flatten. He wasn't used to sitting and doing nothing.
"Hello, I'm Wilma Joyce Wilson,| said the tall, slender, blue eyed girl who had been sitting beside him for a while. When he didn't reply she turned to him and said "I hear you are quitting school and going West."
"Yeh," he muttered, still fidgeting with his jeans. He wished she would leave him alone so he looked everywhere but at her.
"Do you think that's a wise thing to do?" Wise? He had never even thought about wisdom or education or nothing except rodeo. And he didn't think she should be poking around in his business.
"I don't think," he said.
"You should," she said. When he did not reply she went to the counter and spoke with the lady. She has a nice butt, cowboy Billy Joe HarDister thought.
When Bucky Joe, the cowboy, explained to Mister Wharton, the principal, that he intended to quit school and not return after Christmas, Mister Wharton, the principal, left the cowboy alone.
He kept to himself, never went to dances and ball games and kept a special calendar on which he marked off the days. Thanksgiving meant he'd have only a month to do.
He did not fit. They laughed at him. Called him "cowboy" like it was a dirty word. Well, he had tried it their way, their pep rallies, and silly ass fight songs, their proms, and sock hops. Bullshit. One thing for sure: he wasn't about to wear their baggy ass jeans and penny loafers, and gook up his hair. The only thing he enjoyed was each morning when they stood and said the Pledge of Allegiance. Still, the girl with the impressive blue eyes bothered him.
The last rainy day before Thanksgiving holiday was cold with a snappy breeze. As usual the cowboy spent his lunch hour alone under a big old oak in front of the high school. He sat with his back to the oak, facing away from the classrooms. Usually, the lawn would be sprinkled with students but a little rain or cold drove them indoors. He wondered where the traffic on Salem Street came from and where it was going. He thought of Grandpa Kepley working the farm and wanted to be there where he could do some good.
"Hello, can I sit in the rain with you?" Bucky Joe HarDister did not look up or answer.
"My name is still Wilma Joyce Wilson. And yours is still Bucky Joe HarDister."
"So?" He shrugged, everybody knew Bucky Joe HarDister, the outcast cowboy. "You can sit here if you want. I guess it's still a free country."
Wilma Joyce Wilson chuckled and sat beside him, so close he could feel her.
"Ain't you afraid you'll mess up your hair?" She didn't answer.
"Ain't you ashamed to be seen with me?" Silence.
"Would you look at me?" she whispered and he felt her breath on his cheek. He didn't know what to do and thought of jumping up and running. But he could not move. "Please, Bucky Joe HarDister, look at me."
He couldn't help himself. Her blue eyes danced . She was the prettiest thing he had ever seen and he could not look away. Now he understood a poem Uncle Buck used to recite when he saw a pretty girl:
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling place
And can return no more.
"There," she said, "That's not so bad is it?" Still he could not speak.
"I just want you to know I am sorry for the way you have been treated here. And I want you to know I am not one of those who dislikes you because you're different. I'll be your friend if you want me to. Please take this." She handed him a sheet of folded notebook paper. When he did not take it she dropped it between his boots. She touched his arm lightly, got up and walked toward the school.
Bucky Joe, the cowboy, did not watch her as she walked away but he could tell when she was gone. He looked down at the soggy note. Then he looked at the way she had gone and all around to see that no one watched; he snatched it up and stuffed it in the breast pocket of his denim jacket.
He did not see her again that day but all afternoon he felt the note against his chest. When he got off the bus he ran behind the barn and read it. Rain had caused the ink to run but he made out:
My friend must be a bird,
Because it flies!
Mortal my friend must be,
Because it dies!
Barbs has it, like a bee,
Ah, curious friend,
Thou puzzlest me!
He read it many times trying to make sense of it. It didn't. But it was something he could cherish because it had been given to him by someone who cared. After supper, he asked Grandpa Kepley what he thought of it. After Granda Kepley read it several times he smiled and handed it back to the cowboy.
"Well, Grandpa, what do you think?"
"One thing for sure, cowboy, she's got you pegged. You're a bird
alright." Bucky's face reddened.
"I think she's trying to say she likes you and would like to have you as her friend."
"She don't love me?"
"Not like a sweetheart. No. As a friend."
"Well, Grandpa, where did a pome like this come from. You reckon she wrote it?"
"No I don't think she wrote it but she sure means it. I think it was written by Emily Dickinson."
"Who? I ain't never heard of her. Does she live around here? Reckon she goes to the high school?"
"Tell you what, cowboy, since you got a few days off you can take a ride up town to the library. Ask Miss Krause, the librarian, she'll know."
Bucky Joe studied on the poem all weekend and the first thing Monday morning he hopped the bus and went to town. At the library he asked to see Miss Krause.
"What for?" said the snotty lady with bloodshot eyes gawking over her glasses.
"I got a question I want to ask her."
"What kind of question, I'm the assistant." Bucky Joe opened the note in front of the snotty lady and held it for her to read. She grunted and said "Come with me." She took him to Miss Krause's office.
"Yes," Miss Krause said "it is an Emily Dickinson poem. Are you
interested in her poetry?" The cowboy shrugged. "Do you mind taking your hat off?" He yanked off the old Stetson Grandpa Kepley gave him last year. He would have talked to her but he had nothing to say because he knew nothing about poetry and he didn't feel like telling Miss Krause how he got the poem. "You don't talk much do you?" He shrugged again.
She gave up and led him to the Poetry section where she extracted
Collected Poems of EMILY DICKINSON. Handing it to him, she pointed him to a reading table. "Enjoy," she said, "the poem you are looking for is in here."
"Thank you, mam." She smiled.
He hunkered down under the Stetson, pulled his collar up over his ears and read. Most of what he read made no sense but he plowed on and to his surprise some meaning came . That lady's got a bunch of common horse sense, he thought. One hundred and five pages later he stumbled upon the poem, just as Wilma Joyce had written it. He read it over and over to make sure.
"How would you answer that?" said the cowboy Bucky Joe HarDister to the Librarian Miss Krause. He stood before her desk, hat in hand.
She read the poem several times. "It would help if I knew who gave it to you and under what circumstances." He hesitated then mumbled the story. With the book open she scanned it with an experienced index finger. "Ah, there." She flipped the leaves back to page 4. "There," she repeated. "Read it...out loud." He stumbled through the poem expecting to be corrected. "Again." He got better. "Ah, that's it," she closed the book and touched his hand. "It's like that old cowboy saying," she said, "There ain't never been a horse that ain't been rode and there ain't never
been a cowboy who ain't been thowed. And there ain't never been a poem that can't be read." He blinked.
"Thank you, mam," said the cowboy to the librarian as their eyes met and their smiles spoke.
Bucky Joe HarDister did not see much of Wilma Joyce Wilson after
Thanksgiving. When he did she was usually with a tall, neat dude wearing a red sweater with a big black T. Hero football player or tennis player or something. But she always seemed to be with him, when he cleaned the barn, when he watered the stock, when he practiced roping. Not so much all of her but her eyes, her searching, hurting, expressive blue eyes. He kept her poem with him always and when he found a quiet time he read it again, finding more meaning in each reading. The paper became limp, the words faded. Soon he didn't need the paper anymore, he had learned it by heart. He folded it carefully and tucked it away in his wallet.
His plans had not changed: he would not return to school after Christmas, he would go to Oklahoma and live with his Uncle Buck who would teach him to be a world champion cowboy. Then he would, maybe, someday, come back to this place, and instead of black Ts he would be wearing his Best All Around Cowboy Top Notch Buckle. But he had to see her before he left.
Suddenly the last day came. He was desperate. What the heck? No need to be careful now, he thought, it is over. They couldn't hurt him anymore. He'd do what he had to do. Like Granpa Kepley says: a man has got to do what a man's got to do.
He knocked on her homeroom door and when the teacher called for him to come in he opened the door and said he didn't want to come in he wanted to speak to Wilma Joyce, could she come outside a minute. The room laughed and he hoped he hadn't caused them to laugh at her. Just as he turned to leave she came out, smiling.
"I'm sorry," he started to say but she shushed him and took him by the elbow moving him down the hallway and out into the crisp December. They sat on the steps that led down to the ball field. All the way there he was aware of her touch.
"I read your poem." he said. "I read it so many times I know it by heart." Her hand rested on his arm, its warmth sinking deep. "And I've got an answer for it." He pulled it out of his breast pocket, folded it open."It's by Emily Dickinson, too. I've read it so much I know it by heart too." He handed her the poem and waited while she read, her lips moving slightly with the words. "I know it by heart," he said again. "Please," she said, "I'd love to hear it."
So Bucky Joe HarDister, the cowboy, recited by heart from his heart to the heart of a lady Wilma Joyce Wilson, his feelings
I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us---don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the live long day
To an admiring bog!
"Are you staying?" she said, pushing her shoulder to his. He pushed back.
"No, I can't. Like the poem says I'm a nobody now but someday after I become All Around Cowboy I'll be somebody." What he wanted to say was he thought she was the prettiest thing he'd ever seen and he really liked hera lot. And there was something happening to him he could not explain. He didn't know how to use the word love.
"I'd like for you to stay," she said.
He reckoned he'd just tell the truth like he'd been taught all his life to do.
"Wilma Joyce, I need more than a friend and you need more than a cowboy. But I'll be a diamond someday and I'll come back and give you all the things you need. Besides, a man has got to do what a man has got to do. He didn't know what he had said but the words sounded right.
A light snow fell as they walked back to her class. They bumped shoulders as they walked.
"Adios, Wilma Joyce Williams."
"Adios, Bucky Joe HarDister.
In those days it was customary to post the daily body count in newspapers all over America. Each morning Mr Fred picked up his Times from the sidewalk in front of Belk's and read: On 21 July 1968 Bucky Joe HarDister,19, of Lenapah, Oklahoma, formerly of Silver Valley, North Carolina, had been killed in action in the Republic of South Vietnam.
He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for bravery in action against a hostile enemy of the United States of America.
Mr. Fred cried.
Author: Rocky Rutherford
Born in Thomasville, North Carolina, I soldiered most of my life.
Attended the University of Alaska (BA English, 1974) and Pepperdine University (MA, Human Resources, 1978). Last year I wrote a bio sketch on Jerome Davis, North Carolina's First Bull Riding Champion, for our State Library (NCpedia.org) of which I am proud. But my favorite writing place is The Dew. I am cowboy at heart. I am not redneck, I am not good old boy, I am not white trash...I am Southern. I live in Silver Valley,North Carolina.