Lean on Me

The annual rodeo and meet up in Drywell Oklahoma draws a crowd from all parts of the county. It gives people time to jaw and rub shoulders with each other.

They appear from all sides of town seemingly from nowhere. Most of them wear a pink coat of trail dust; men, women, and children. They’re all smiles, yakkin’ at each other and gawkin’ around as they ride into town. All are welcome, and I’m one of ‘em. My name’s Tom Matthews.

I hand over my reins to a stable boy who, for a price, promises to take good care of Windy, my horse. (Yes, the animal is plagued with flatulence.)

I’m thirsty for coffee and a bite to eat and I see a big cloth tent butted up against a corral. It’s also in front of the rodeo arena. A sign over the entrance says: Smiley’s Sinkers & Coffee.

I say hello to Smiley, and he remembers me from the past four rodeos, “Hey Tom, welcome back. Coffee and maybe a few of my famous sinkers?”

“Yes, please Smiley.”

With practiced ease, he sticks a wooden skewer through the holes of three plain cake doughnuts and wraps them in a square of butcher’s paper. He pours steaming hot coffee into a metal cup and passes me the parcel and cup.

I drop a few coins in his hand, “Much obliged Tom, find a seat in the eatin’ section, we’re fillin’ up fast.”

I snake my way between several tables and spot a young man sitting on an upturned wooden crate at one end of a plank-topped table. The young fellow, or someone else, had removed his right boot. His foot, with no sock, is sandwiched between two pillows held together with a hog tie. A gangly cowboy in filthy jeans brushes past me and sets a container of coffee in front of pillow foot.

The cowboy asks, “How’re you doing, Flip?”

“Sumbitch hurts like hell.”

I ease around and take a seat near the fellow on the crate. I look hard at the lad and open my parcel of sinkers.

Dirty pearls of perspiration run down the young man’s face. The color of his cheeks, underneath day-old stubble, is changing from pink to a beeswax color.

I blow steam from my coffee and shoot him a glance, “What happened to your foot?”

“Sweet Potato stepped on it.” The young man’s eyes wince shut for a split second.

“Is Sweet Potato your wife or your girlfriend?”

“That’s the name of one of his bulls,” said the fellow who’d brought the coffee. He chuckled deeply. “Flip ain’t married.”

A short young man in a denim jacket stepped into the tent and scurries across to pillow foot. “Here, add some of this to your coffee.” He plunks down a pint of Saddle Burr’s XXX.

Flip reaches for it and tries to remove the cork. His back stiffens, and he moans “Oh, god.”

The short man’s hand shoots out. “Lemme do that for you Flip.”

He reaches over and tips out coffee from Flip’s cup, and replace what he dumps with a few glugs of the spirit.

“Here you go. Drink as much of this as you can. It’ll help numb the pain a bit.”

Flip squirms right and left, then removes his filthy hat and sets it on the ground by his padded foot. He wipes his forehead with the back of his sleeve and takes a long drink.

“Whew, ahhhhh. Hot damn. Jeez, Shorty, this stuff sure takes yer breath away. Tastes a bit like licorice and honey with a heap of whoop-ass included.” A rosy flush creeps into his cheeks, and he smiles. “Lemme have a bit more of that stuff.”

He exhales loudly and wraps my face in an invisible envelope of booze-scented haze.

“My god son, how can I help you? If you need a ride to the doc’s office, I’ll hire a buckboard. My name’s Tom.”

“Thanks, Tom, but my neighbor’s on his way here now. He’ll tend to my animals. I need the money I get for runnin’ them in the rodeo, and I can’t do nothing until he gets here. I’m Flip, and this here’s Shorty. My other friend is Jimmy. I sure could go for a coupla sinkers though.”

“Stay there, boys. Be right back.”

I return a few minutes later with fresh coffee for all, and a dozen sinkers.

“Dig in, everybody.”

Flip’s foot is a third larger now. The hog tie looks even tighter, and strains to keep the pillows secure.

A voice bellows from an opening in the tent flap. “Hey, Flip! Here I am, finally.You gotta teach them bulls how to mind. I keep tellin’ you to quit lettin’ ’em walk all over ya.”

A stocky man in bib overalls and a stained shirt grins at Flip, and then hee-haws, just like a mule.

“Quit yer damn laughin’, Hoover.”

Flip grabs the flat bottle of liquor and jams it into a hip pocket. Then he rips off a section from his butcher’s paper and wraps it around two sinkers. He looks over at me,

“Thanks very much, Tom. I’m pleased to meet you sir, much obliged for the grub. Thank you for your offer to help, but Hoover here will help me to the doc’s office.

He rises on unsteady legs.

Jimmy picks up the wooden crate, and Shorty scuttles over to Flip’s side.

“Lean on me….”

— Ted Atoka