Ok, so I promised to include new material not in I’ll Call It Like I See It – yet! Here’s a fresh story hot off the presses…hope you enjoy.
SALLY AND CHANCE – AN UNUSUAL LOVE STORY
If you spend time in a small town in Texas, you can be pretty sure you’ll meet a storyteller or two and be thoroughly entertained with gossipy tales about town politics and politicians or a hurricane that blew through a few years ago or the high school football team that won state or the best game the Aggies and Longhorns ever played or whatever happened to the Cowboys anyway when an Arkansas boy named Jerry Jones bought them or why did the Houston Oilers have to move to Tennessee? Most likely you’ll find out who has the best chicken fried steak and hamburgers in town and the name of the newest Mexican food restaurant that’s run by authentic Hispanics and not one of those dagnabit chains. The number one topic in every small town in southeast Texas in the summer of 2011 for sure, however, has been the drought, as in no rain. Not a drop for weeks. Record triple-digit temperatures for days and no rain to cool off anything or anybody. And so on. My listening ear was almost on autopilot and I could nod my head at appropriate intervals and tsk! tsk! about the weather with the best of them.
And then I met Sally, and no my name isn’t Harry, but Sally woke me up with a real Texas love story. Good storytellers can appear in the strangest places and most unexpected times, and this one was no exception.
My friend Carol and I drove over to Tomball, a small town between our home town of Montgomery and Houston, the giant behemoth of a city forty miles southeast of us. We both took items to be framed because Carol said she knew the best frame shop in the county and it was in Tomball. She knew the woman and her husband who ran the shop and vowed they were the best framers in the business. Well, that was good enough for me. Carol was a reliable resource for all things artsy craftsy antiquey and anything in between.
When we entered the little shop, I saw it was an art gallery as well as a frame shop but wasn’t surprised because many retail stores combine the two, particularly in a town the size of Tomball with its population of 9,089. I could also see right away I would love the unpretentious shop because much of the art displayed on the walls and scattered about on easels was Texana. You know what I mean. Cowboys and cows, boots and spurs, horses, Indian chiefs – all the nostalgic western images that made Texans, both native and transplanted, believe they remembered who they were. You either got it and liked it or didn’t get it and made fun of it. I got it.
The shop was empty except for Sally and her husband Bill. The first thing I noticed about this woman was her hair. She had big hair, as we used to say when we described my Aunt Thelma’s signature beehive hairdo or the coiffures of the women who attended the Pentecostal Holiness Church. Sally’s suspiciously colored reddish blonde white hair was swept up and back and appeared to be longer than it probably was. Regardless, it was big and suited the woman who greeted us with a smile the same size as her hair. She exchanged pleasantries with Carol who introduced me to Sally and Bill and explained our mission. We had brought our assortment of pictures and posters and prints in with us and Sally escorted us to the back of the shop where we could lay them out to be measured and matched with mats and frames. Bill disappeared into his work room.
Carol told me to go first with my things and I began to put a few pictures on the counter top in front of Sally who sat down and reached for her measuring tape. But then, she seemed to lose interest in the job ahead of her and launched into a monologue about the heat this summer. And could we believe it? Lightning struck her air conditioning unit at her house earlier this week and she and Bill had been without cool air for two days and nights. The first night they turned on all the fans they could find and toughed it out but last night she had looked at Bill around 8:30 and told him they had to go spend the night in a motel because she couldn’t stand the heat. Now Sally wasn’t a small woman and I could empathize with her need for cool air and found myself caught up in the drama of spending the night in the Comfort Inn to flee the hot humid natural air of a house struck by lightning.
Sally embellished the story with disclosures of her being a member of the Tomball Volunteer Fire Department and some ancillary marshall’s role with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department that allowed her and Bill to drive a county vehicle. I settled in for the long haul when I recognized Sally was the genuine article: a good ol’ gal Texas storyteller. I noticed Carol slipped away to browse through the shop. She evidently had heard some of these stories before.
Sally interspersed her stories with getting down to the framing business at hand and periodically produced a frame for me to consider along with mats of various colors and textures. I remarked that I thought the pictures in her shop were great and that I loved Texana. She stopped measuring and her eyes lit up with the excitement of discovering a kindred spirit. She asked me if I had noticed the pictures at the front near the cash register. I hadn’t.
“Well, I want you to go take a look at them right now,” Sally said. “They’re pictures of me and Chance, the love of my life. Go on. Have a look.”
I obediently followed her instructions and walked over to see the two 8 x 10 glossy photos hanging on the wall next to the check-out counter. One was a black-and-white photo of a younger Sally in a western outfit with three not unattractive cowboys posing with her. They stood next to a large Brahman bull. I tried to pick out the one who was Chance. The other photo was in color. Again, it was a younger version of Sally in a rodeo outfit with her arm around the same bull. I walked back to Sally and told her I thought the pictures were great and wondered which one was Chance.
“Chance is the Brahman bull,” she said and pronounced it bray-man. I had always called it brah-man. “Wasn’t he beautiful?” Sally asked in a reverent tone. I’m sure I looked surprised and she chuckled as if she and I now shared a wonderful secret. Chance the Bull was the love of her life. I waited for the whole story.
“I got him at an auction when he was ten years old,” she said. “My husband at the time, not Bill, said I ought not to take a chance on him but I looked right into that bull’s eyes and we had a connection. A real connection. It was love at first sight. So we got him, and I named him Chance. I had him for more than eleven years and that bull was the sweetest and gentlest animal I ever knew. I’ve had dogs meaner than him. I used to ride him in rodeos and the parades for the rodeos and he never minded the noise and fuss people made over him as long as I was with him. He was oblivious to everyone but me. It was love at first sight all right, and he loved me as much as I loved him for as long as he lived. I’ve never felt the pure love I felt from that bull from any person in my life including my husbands and children and grandchildren.”
She took a breath and continued. I didn’t dare interrupt her.
“He got to be so popular in Texas that Letterman’s people called and asked us to come to New York to be on The Late Night Show. So we put Chance in his trailer and off we went to New York City to be on tv. The deal was supposed to be David Letterman was going to climb up and sit on Chance in front of his live audience and of course I would be standing right there with him. Well, honey, you should’ve seen those New York City folks’ faces when I walked Chance through the tv studio and I was never prouder of my big guy. He didn’t pay them any mind at all.”
“Really?” I exclaimed. “Did David Letterman climb up on your bull?”
“I’m just getting to that,” Sally replied as she warmed to the storytelling. “I was waiting in the little room before we were to go on and watching the commercials at the break when I felt someone standing behind me. You know how you can tell when somebody’s behind you.”
I nodded, and she pressed on.
“Well, it was David Letterman in the flesh,” Sally said. “I must have looked kinda funny at him because he said, ‘Listen, lady, are you going to make sure nothing happens to me with that bull of yours?’ So I said, ‘Mr. Letterman, as long as I’m with Chance, you’re as safe as if you were in your own mother’s arms.’ He smiled and said that was good enough for him. But the funniest thing was when we went on the air, he chickened out at the last minute and wouldn’t get close to Chance. But, then, the audience took over and made such a production that he ended up getting on him for about a second. He couldn’t believe how gentle my Chance was but he wasn’t interested in pushing his luck, let me tell you.” Sally laughed and stopped talking. She began to fidget with the mats for my pictures.
“Wow,” I said. “That was some story. You and Chance were tv stars. Amazing. Whatever happened to him?”
“Oh, he died an old man’s death,” Sally said. “Peaceful as he could be, but it nearly broke my heart. I cried for days when I lost that bull. But, I’ll tell you something about Chance. Some of those professors at A & M (Texas A & M University) took skin cells from my big fellow and they cloned him. Yessiree, and they cloned him and called him Chance II. First successful cloning of a Brahman anywhere.”
“You’re kidding,” I exclaimed. “Did you ever go see him? Was he just like your Chance?”
“I didn’t go for a long time,” Sally said. “But my husband finally convinced me to go and yes, he looked exactly like my beloved Chance. Exactly like him. But you know what was different? The eyes. They were the same color as my Chance’s eyes but we had no bond. No connection. He let me pet him but I wouldn’t trust much more than that. He didn’t have Chance’s soul.” She took off her glasses and wiped a few tears from her eyes. I was mesmerized by the story and pictured her trying in vain to recapture her lost love in an experimental lab at A & M. So close – and yet so far away.
Sally told me other stories that afternoon while I made my selections for frames and mats from her suggestions. She had started riding wild bulls in rodeos when she was forty-one years old and had ridden for a year but retired when the broken bones and bruises became too much for her battered body. I tried to figure out how old Sally was and guessed she was in her early seventies and wondered how many stories she could tell to her customers who were good listeners. She finished with my items and gave me a total that was reasonable for the work she and Bill were going to do. And a bargain when you consider the storytelling was free. I looked at the clock and realized we’d fiddled with my pictures for forty-five minutes. Carol must be ready to kill me, I thought.
Luckily, she wasn’t and I waited for her to pick out her mats and frames. Sally stuck to her business, and Carol and I left a little while later. On the way home I asked Carol if she’d heard Sally’s stories about Chance and she said she’d heard them before today but they were good ones so you didn’t mind overhearing them again. I smiled and said I was already looking forward to my next trip to Tomball. I was a sucker for a good love story and Sallie knew how to tell one.