As a young man, I would listen to the stories my grandfather and his brother, Blaine, would tell.
It didn't matter how many times they'd been told, or how "tall" they might have been; my two brothers and I would absorb each word and dream of the day we could attempt each story and make the adventure ours.
One such adventure involved Grandpa, Uncle Blaine, a horse called Red and a bar on Saturday night.
As the story went, Grandpa and Uncle Blaine had been to a dance in Heber, Utah, and were riding horse back through Park City, Utah, on their way home. As they passed by one of the many saloons along Main Street, Grandpa suggested they stop "just up the hill" for a drink or two before going home.
Uncle Blaine made some off-color remarks about the bar Grandpa wanted to stop at and then said, "I wouldn't ride your horse through that hole."
Grandpa pulled his horse up, stepped down, tipped his hat, and said, "Blaine, your pants ain't long enough, and you can't pull your hat down far enough to ride through that bar."
That's pretty much all it took for Uncle Blaine to swing atop Grandpa's horse and head for the open door of the bar.
"Girls screamed, men jumped over the bar and tried to climb out the windows."
Each time Uncle Blaine told his part of the story, he'd claim, "That red horse stayed pretty steady till those damn miners started waving their hats and grabbin' for the horse."
Grandpa always would laugh and say, "Blaine, that red horse started buckin' the minute he smelled that black-haired girl from Ogden and didn't quit till we were halfway up the hill trying out our getaway."
Uncle Blaine would smile.
"You might be right, Mode, but that black-haired girl from Ogden did swoon as I rode by tipping my hat."
Grandpa always smiled back.
"That's a fact, Blaine; she did swoon, but that red horse always had a way with black-haired girls."
They'd both laugh and start talking about something else.
Each time I'd hear that story, my imagination would find me atop that horse bursting out of the bar headed for home, a dark-haired girl swooning as I tipped my hat galloping away.
A story of our own
As life would have it, my brothers and I were laying in the backyard one summer telling Grandpa's stories.
Scott, the middle brother, started telling Grandpa's version of the Park City story. When he reached the part about short pants, he rolled over to Kris (the youngest and most fearless kid in all of Butler, Utah, history).
"Your pants are way too short, Kris, and besides, you'd be a scaredy cat to ride my horse in that bar."
"Would not," Kris said.
"Scaredy cat, scaredy cat," Scott chanted.
"H-E-double-toothpicks," Kris said, staring at a passing cloud. "I'll ride Buck through the Cotton Bottom Bar if Grandma won't find out."
"Would not," Scott said and laughed.
"Go get Buck," Kris said.
There we stood, three Mormon boys, whose total bar experience involved looking through the rear window of a car while driving by one.
"Grandpa didn't say anything about cars and trucks parked out front," I said, "and look, the front door is closed."
"Let's go home," Scott said. "Buck can't open doors and will :"
Yup, lady luck, or maybe her evil, red-haired sister, sent that Fisher Beer truck from around the back of the Cotton Bottom Bar. "Come on, Kris will ride through the back door and come out the front." I said.
"But the front door is closed," Scott whined.
"Not if you pull it open," I said. "Let's top Uncle Blaine and Grandpa."
Kris laughed and swung atop Buck. He pointed straight at Scott and commanded, "When you hear me yell, open that door wide so me and Buck can make it out."
"What about the ..." Scott started.
"Hold the damn door!" Kris commanded again.
Strange how little things stay in your memory, the feelings that were sweeping over me as I grabbed the handle of the backdoor and pulled.
At that instant, I would have given anything to trade places with my baby brother. But it was his ride, and I would have missed that smile as he pulled on the bill of his ballcap, kicked Buck, and yelled, "Let 'er go:"
Buck made a little hop and was in the bar.
Kris yelled again, "Open the door, Scott!"
I panicked and let go of the oversized screen door and ran for the front.
Kris swears Buck was, "doin' good till that screen door slammed shut."
When I got to the front, Scott had already broken the record for the hundred-yard dash and was workin' on a four-minute mile.
"Refrigerated Air," the sign on the door said. I pulled on that worn handle at the same time a customer was pushing his way out.
There was my little brother, atop the coolest horse in the whole wide world, headed straight for me.
Between Kris's hysterical laughter, Buck's snorting and spinning, and somebody yelling something about something, Kris and Buck made their way out the front.
"See ya at the house!" Kris yelled as Buck jumped by.
I started to run just as Kris pulled Buck to a stop, spun back towards the now-infamous Cotton Bottom Bar, waved his ballcap to the patrons gathering in the parking lot, and yelled, "Thank you!"
Then, looking back toward me, that smile still on his face, he gave Buck one last kick and headed for home.
What a summer
As the summer passed with the occasional rumor about drunks, horses, the Cotton Bottom Bar, and Deputy Sheriff Wilkerson looking for the culprits, we boys would do odd jobs for aunts, uncles, Grandma and Grandpa.
Sometimes as we worked, Kris would tell me what happened inside the bar. We'd smile at each other and laugh for hours. Even though we couldn't tell anybody what we'd done, we knew, and that made the adventure ours and ours alone.
At the end of that summer, my brothers and I, along with two worthless cousins, gathered at Grandpa's to get paid for our summer's work. Aug. 19, 1960-something, three boys stood in front of their grandfather's workbench, waiting for the summer's riches. Each one of us was daydreaming about wasting it on stuff that didn't matter; we just wanted to waste it on something.
"Well, boys, lets see what I've got here," Grandpa said, thumbing through a pile of paper.
No records were ever kept, no wage was ever decided on, and we were given what Grandpa thought was fair. Looking back, it always was too much, but that was Grandpa's way.
"For Scott, I've got $6 and whatever change is in my pocket."
Scott held out his hand, took the money, said "thank you" and was gone.
"Quite the jackrabbit, isn't he?"
Kris and I glanced at each other, then looked at Grandpa.
"As I figure it," Grandpa said, "this summer and most of next will just about cover your bill at the Cotton Bottom Bar. Sound fair?"
"Yes, sir!" we said in unison.
We spent the next hour or so telling our story and listening to Grandpa's.
"Well, men," Grandpa said as we started back to the house, "it seems we both had the same problem in the end."
"We did?" Kris asked proudly.
"Sure," Grandpa said. "Neither one of our getaways worked out."
In the company of our hero, the laughter started again.
Until next time :
Thinking about my heroes, there I was, surrounded on all sides, when I said to myself, "Self," I said (because that is what I call myself when I talk to myself), "that's just one more thing stripped from our children: an honest, everyday hero."
Thank you for your time.