This is an excerpt from a post first published here in September, 2011 and later included in the 2013 Texas Folklore Society Anthology titled Cowboys, Cops, Killers and Ghosts. A little longer than my usual posts, but I hope you’ll take time to read and enjoy.
The frame 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. 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. I tried to figure out Sally’s age and guessed her to be in her early seventies.
My friend Carol who drove me to Tomball from Montgomery told me to go first with my items before she slipped away to browse through the shop. I 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. Sally interspersed her stories with getting down to the framing business at hand, periodically producing a frame for me to consider along with mats of various colors and textures.
I glanced around the shop while she worked and remarked that I thought the pictures in her shop were great; 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 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 which cowboy 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 but 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 must have looked surprised because 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. 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 since 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, 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 television. The deal was supposed to be David Letterman was going to climb up and sit on Chance in front of his live audience. 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. I was never prouder of my big guy because 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, 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 went 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 over at Texas A&M took skin cells from my big fellow – they cloned him. Yessiree, 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 at the time 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. 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.
Stay safe, stay well and stay tuned.