Brad was a funny sort of fellow. Judging by the worn leather face, with faint white traces of scars nestled deep in the eyebrows that looked like a couple of hairy caterpillars, and the long brown neck with bulging Adams apple that poked from the button up shirt you would guess his age at somewhere between sixty and two hundred.
From the tattered and sweat stained shirt collar up to the brim of the sweat stained and tattered hat only the piercing blue eyes gave a hint of youth or even life. For all intents and purposes Brad had the face of an Egyptian mummy.
He stood well over six foot tall but an exact height was tough to determine as he often leaned forward on one leg. To say his build was thin would be akin to saying Duluth is a bit chilly in the winter. I would be willing to bet he could have hidden behind a flag pole.
Brad wasn’t sickly thin. It was more like jerky thin as he had dried under the desert sun for so many years there was a distinct similarity between him and his favorite snack.
Brad was the only man I have ever known that could eat jerky with a plug of tobacco big enough to choke a squirrel in his cheek. He was also the only fellow that I have ever met that would smoke a home rolled cigarette, or Camel, while passing a plug of tobacco back and forth between his cheeks.
He claimed to be a optimistic pessimist that started each day with meditation on the worst things that could befall him during the day. He said that the advantage to this type of thinking was regardless of how bad the day went, he was the only one smiling at the end because it wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be.
He was slow to talk and slower to anger. His simple, homespun philosophy and logic gave the impression he was an intelligent, thinking man with little formal education. But on those long days during roundup when we would be on the range and on the trail eating dust for days on end, you knew his saddlebags were loaded with books by Plutarch and Pliny, and in Latin, or by men like Thomas Paine, Teddy Roosevelt, or Robert Service. But it was a well worn and weathered Bible he treasured most.
See, Brad was not a man of formal education but he was a man with an inquisitive mind. He was also a man that loved to learn and was passionate about books.
For him school, came to an abrupt end shortly after the eighth grade when his dad died in a mining accident and he picked up jobs to help his mom make ends meet. Then he lied abut his age and enlisted at the age of 17, the week after Pearl Harbor.
He turned 18 on Guadalcanal and turned 19 in a hospital recovering from wounds. After the war he sought solace as a balm for his broken soul and found it in the life of a cowboy in Montana.
From that day until I met him on the Sierra Mesa Ranch down near the Mexican border, that was the only life he had ever known. So, there I was, a green kid with a dream of being a cowboy and there he was, a man worn old before his time but at peace with the world and his place in it.
Brad had only one speed regardless of how important a project was or who told him to do it, the one he set. But any job he did was done right and well.
I remember a time that we were given the task of setting new posts and stringing wire in the brush thickets above the bottoms of the Mimbres River. During the first hours of the day my frustration with the old man began to grow as I was setting two poles on my side of the river for everyone of his.
While I wolfed down my lunch in a hurry to get the job done, he lounged under a tree, read a book, smoked, and slowly chewed his burritos. When I dusted off my pants and went back to work, he looked at his pocket watch and read to the end of the chapter.
By mid afternoon I was about played out. By late afternoon Brad had set his poles and was on my side of the river finishing the line. Then, when that task was done, without a word, he handed me the spool on a piece of pipe, and went to work stringing the wire.
We were in the truck on the way back to the ranch when he spoke for the first time since lunch. He pushed his hat back on his head revealing snow white skin and thin wisps of greying hair, patted me on the shoulder, smiled a big grin, and said, “The good book says to meditate on whats good, pure, and lovely. All day I was trying to figure out what was good about stringing wire in that brush. Then it came to me, we had no clock to punch. Besides, if it wasn’t for work like that, how could a man ever look forward to death?”
There were two kinds of people in Brad’s world, those he liked and those he didn’t. For reasons unknown, he liked me.
One evening we were relaxing in the shade after unloading a truck full of hay into the barn when a big Lincoln Town Car came down the road and stopped in front of us in a cloud of dust that stuck to our sweat soaked shirts and damp faces. The driver, a fat man unused to work, rolled his window down and the cool breeze from that air conditioned car teased us with a hint of winter in the middle of summer.
The question to Brad about where the man could find his boss was met with an appropriate response, at least appropriate as Brad saw it. He stood up straight and tall, dusted the hay from his shirt, wiped the sweat from his brow with a colorful handkerchief, sauntered to the side of the car, placed his arm on the door, spit in the dust, pushed his hat back on his head, leaned down, and said, “Well, that son of a bitch hasn’t been born yet. Now, the fellow I work for is at the end of the road in the big stone house.”
There was no pretense in this man and if you look in the dictionary under the word honesty, I am quite sure you will find his picture. He was soft spoken but always got his point across without raising his voice or even using a great deal of profanity.
I remember one time when I came back to the ranch after a long weekend with a new pair of boots. Without realizing it, I kept wiping the dust from them on the back of my pant legs.
Well, after an hour or so of this, Brad walked up, and spit a stream of tobacco right across them. Then he smiled and said, “Now that you don’t have to worry about getting your pretty new shoes dirty maybe we can get some work done.”
He was as tough as a bag of nails with a big and generous heart. Nobody went hungry when Brad was around, nobody was left thirsty, and no one slept in the rain if they didn’t mind spreading a bed roll on the stone floor in his cabin on the ranch.
Brad and I polished saddle leather with the seat of our pants, strung a few hundred miles of wire, and played a few hundred games of chest in the year or so that we worked together. We also tried to drink the bar in Palomas, Mexico dry on occasion and marveled at the handiwork of God as we watched the snow fly from the flanks of Cooks Peak high above the Mimbres River Valley.
There was a promise made of staying in touch when I left the ranch for a job in the mines at Hurley. But Brad moved south into Mexico and when the mines let everyone go, I began to drift.
Memories of Brad and the lessons he taught quite often come to mind. Sometimes it comes with the scent of sage on a desert wind or in the stillness of the night where the only sound is the coyote on a distant hill.
But thoughts of Brad, and men of his breed, come to mind most often when I look at the state of the nation today. And then I ask myself, I know they haven’t all died but where are they now?