As kids, my brothers and I were surrounded by animals.
They were mostly ranch stock, but on occasion there’d be a dog or cat that wouldn’t take your arm off just to stay in practice.
Cats outnumbered dogs 4-1, “which keeps every mouse headed for La Barge,” as Grandma would say to the worthless cousin silly enough to call to a feline that loved fingers for dessert.
The dogs all worked cattle, though aunt Ruthie swore their best job was “building that trail from the mudroom door to the manure pile.”
She and her sister, Naomi, who ran off with a born again preacher and his tent, once bought some Guinea Hens as “watch dogs,” only to come home from church to find the real dogs and a few cats had made an early brunch of the whole flock.
They cried for days, but the line had been drawn as to who really owned the ranch.
Uncle Barney worked a dog that looked like a cross between a 1934 Buick and a coyote. He lost an eye along with his left front leg during a disagreement with the two raccoons he found near the chicken coop. He left one next to the chicken it killed and dragged the other home to Barney.
He and Grandpa sewed his eyelid shut and cauterized the stump. Uncle Barney carved three different legs for him, “but that damn dog would walk around a bit, lay down in the shade and then chew his new leg off.”
Most visitors thought the dog should’ve been put down right after the fight.
Uncle Blaine came up with a plan to help the dog pay his own way — cards.
Yup, uncle Blaine was going to teach the dog how to play cards.
This endeavor had to be as secret as Blaine’s recipe for moonshine.
Grandma loved Grandpa’s brother as her own, but she drew the line with drinking and gambling.
For one whole Wyoming winter, Blaine and the dog practiced playing Three-card Monte in the tack shed. The game is simple — two numbered cards and the queen of hearts. The dealer shuffles them up, lays them down and the player bets he can find the queen.
Blaine rarely lost, and when his suckers — excuse me, players — became disgruntled, he’d throw down his entire winnings and announce, “my one-eyed dog with three legs can beat you boys.”
Of course, the players wouldn’t let that challenge go by and they’d throw down the last of their payday.
Blaine would look around for the dog, call him to his side and say, “find the queen, boy.” That three-legged dog with one eye found it every time.
As a teenager, uncle Blaine taught me some simple magic and sold me the secret of Three-legged Monte.
It still works.
Hey, you be careful out there, and stay to the light.
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