State Your Business
Tonight Dwayne and his son Kelly bounced down our driveway in a black pickup truck and ambled onto the porch carrying a plastic bag filled with beer. We’re in need of a welder to piece together some sheds we removed from a nearby ranch (Eccentric millionaire down the road – another story worth telling). Dwayne was over last weekend when we first mentioned the dilapidated sheds sitting in a pile by the house, and before I’d fully explained the situation he raised a finger to pause me and hit speed dial with his free hand. While the phone rang he reminded us, again, that he “don’t know shit but can hook you up with people that do,” and when someone answered the other end it was clear he’d contacted his son to come have a look at our pile of metal. This evening they came by to inspect our old sheds and see if they could be pieced back together.
It’s important to understand that Kelly satisfies every single stereotype for “cowboy.” He’s short and squat with a leathered neck, red from sun exposure. When he talks it’s only out of the corner of his mouth but always with a wide grin, meaning every other word is almost unintelligible – but you always get the gist. For example tonight we had an entire conversation about, what I thought was, a picture. It turns out he was actually talking about a pitcher, but I’ve gotten so accustomed to his accent that I actually assumed it was the other word. Regardless, I understood the story in the end. For years Kelly rode bulls on the rodeo circuit and was the foreman at the only ranch in Texas that sold organic Kobe beef from Wagyu cattle. He’s got at least 20 stories about the various chefs from New York City flown in for the afternoon to taste a cut of beef that Kelly himself cooked out in the pasture over an open flame. And no matter how dirty and sweat-soaked he gets, his cowboy hat stays perfectly crisp and clean. The thing about Kelly is that, despite the rough-hewn first impression, he’s got a true appreciation for history and antiques. When he walked into our house for the first time, he gravitated to our enormous antique apron sink and stroked it gently, murmering, “She’s real, real pretty.” In fact, one of my most treasured books is one recommended by Kelly – called Indian Depredations – a contemporary account of Texas settlers’ experiences with Indians in this exact little spot, deep in the heart of Texas. He’s memorized most of the stories and retells them with eyes, literally twinkling – like the one about Texas ranger Jack Hayes who rode a mule instead of horse so he could traverse the rocky hill country and sneak past Indian encampments. He’s the kind of man who, if he’d lived in those days, would have proudly volunteered as a Texas ranger. It’s not fire and bravado that motivates this guy – it’s honor and pride. You know, the kind of stuff we only read about in books and see in old movies. I’ve always liked that a conversation with Kelly is timeless. He talks in a manner that probably would fit in just fine 100 years ago.
As much as I enjoy the company of this father and son duo, it’s tough to end a visit since their stories run together like rivers. And they don’t stop. Although we’ve heard most of Dwayne’s stories at least five times, he always throws in something new. Tonight we heard about the time he ran into Evil Kenevil in the airport and called Kelly at 2am, said “Son, I want you to talk to Evil Kenevil” and, in a stupor, Kelly said, “Evil, is that really you?” He told us about the time he found himself entertaining a crowd at a bar in New York City where he “stuck out like a rat shit in a sugar bowl.” We gossiped about other neighbors, discussed fence repair, and I told them both about a random car that drove up to the house this week – a frightening experience when your house is hidden in the woods, half a mile from the road. Dwayne became deadly serious when I shared this story and, in a grave voice said, “Darlin’, you got to get you one of those No Trespassing signs. But one of those real ones that ain’t no one gonna misunderstand. You know what I’m talkin’ about? They say ‘Trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again.’ ” Then he instructed me to keep a loaded gun next to the door at all times, and when an unexpected visitor arrives at the door, to greet them with the raised gun and say, “State your business.”
I started to laugh when Dwayne said this, his face set, so stony and serious. Then I watched Kelly look at his father with reverence and nod his head in complete agreement as he took a long, slow sip of beer and pushed his cowboy hat back slightly from his forehead. “Yessir,” he said softly, lifting the beer can to his lips again, “make ‘em state their business.”