Dale Clancy was a friend of mine and my hero when I was a child. He was a drifter and in early years would have been considered a hobo.
If truth was known, it was Dale that gave me my first drink of beer and taught me how to cheat at poker. All things that a boy should know, though had my grandmother found out there would have been Ned to pay on both our parts.
Dale was a ranch hand for the Alllens and slept in their bunkhouse along with the rest of the hired hands. I think my granny was sweet on him as she was always having me take homemade pies to the bunkhouse and inviting him to Sunday dinner.
Back in those days we (my grandmother and I) did what’s called “dry land farming”. We’d put in an acre garden by hand so her worthless kids who rarely helped in the garden, could fill their larders come harvest time. (Yes, grandma ! I’m little and mean and got no sense of family) We didn’t have running water. You try watering an acre of garden by hand and carrying a water bucket and then talk little and mean ..but I digress.
Part of dry land farming is you burn the dried garden and plant in another garden. That lets the nutrients go back into the ground.
One fall my grandmother and I were burning off that years garden when the fire got away from us. The whole durn countryside went up in flames. Back in those days people were people and soon there was cars parked in our drive and along each side of the road by people we mostly didn’t know, fighting that fire. (May God bless everyone of them) As soon as folks started to arrive, my grandmother had me pumping buckets of water, handing out tow sacks and keeping an eye on Poppa Tip (Her blind father and my great grandfather)
After a while there was no more buckets nor tow sacks. I go in and check on Poppa. I sit down on the couch and go fast asleep.
Of a sudden I hear someone yelling from the back of the house. I ran out to find Dale covered in soot trying to beat the flames coming at the house with a dry tow sack. I grab his empty bucket and fill it. By the time I get there, the tow sack is on fire and he’s beating at the flames with his jacket. Together we put that part of the fire out.
A couple days later, my grandmother tells me to go find dale and invite him to supper. When I got to the bunkhouse it was a pile of still smoldering cinders. When I looked up Mr. Allen he told me that his pastures were burned and he’d sold most of his cows that survived. He didn’t need but one or two hired hands to work what he had left and had paid off the rest and sent them on their way. I went back home and told my grandmother. I think I may have heard her crying in bed that night, but can’t be sure.
Though the years have been many since I last saw Dale and I’m sure that he crossed over years ago, I’d still like to shake his hand and buy him some expensive sipping whiskey. But I ain’t playing cards with him!