By Marcos Fizzotti
It’s very well known that today’s society is still plagued by lots of past traditions. Certainly, one of the most ridiculous and pointless one is the good ole debutante party. Unfortunately, my family digs this sort of thing, and here I am, in this big ballroom at some godforsaken place somewhere in Texas, one of the many family plots, as they so proudly brag about.
Thanks to all this, my maturity, as they call it, starts real boring. I can only hope my adult life will be more exciting. Oh yeah, my name is Anna, and I’m turning fifteen today. Well, technically, it was yesterday, but you know, as it takes, like, forever to plan such an event, we have to celebrate my birthday one day late and Gosh! How I wished they had simply forgotten it all!
However, being an extremely traditional family of means that made money mostly in the cattle business, of course they would never let this kind of social occasion pass unnoticed, which is by the way another good excuse for food and booze, the main course in this big buffet, everything designed to accommodate an old tradition. And old is definitely the word. If one’s to add up the ages of most people here, you’d go straight back to the big bang. Surely I was allowed to invite two, maybe three of my high school friends, but tell you the truth, I’m, like, totally embarrassed. So, I’d rather go through it on my own, I couldn’t possibly force this ordeal into another teenager’s throat.
Especially because I’m not planning to stay. Oh yes, you heard me! You may not approve it, but no way I’m gonna spend the whole evening sitting with a bunch of old timers whose talk can bore even a deaf corpse! I got to slip away. And if you are to preach me about manners, protocol, education and wisdom, in an attempt to make me change my mind and accept my cruel destiny only for this one special night, too late, pops. I’m already outside! When they find out I’m a goner, boy, they’re gonna be mad! And this makes the whole deal just the more exciting!
I’m kinda far from the ballroom farm now, hope I didn’t get lost already. And if I did, so be it! It was worth it! Thank God there is a bright moon up there. I can see practically everything, though it must be very late. Suddenly I hear what appear to be cows lowing not too far in the distance. But… cows out here!? At this time of year!? So late at night!? Creepy! Of course I have to take a look. Maybe, I stumble onto some young, handsome cowpoke on the way!
I go down a valley nearby. And dig this! It’s the biggest herd I’ve ever seen in my whole life! And my family got a lot of cattle. There must be, like, a million cows! What are they doing in here? I come closer and actually see a camp with some wagons parked around. And drovers, too! I immediately become the center of attention. Many of them look pleased to see me. Everybody needs a change of routine once in a while, I guess.
A tall, handsome man comes to me. He’s wearing boots with spurs, shirt with vest, and a hat. He says with a powerful, resounding voice:
“Good evening, lady.”
“Good evening, sir,” I answer a bit shy.
“And who might you be?” He asks.
“My name is Anna.”
“Little late fer a girl your age to roam around these flats alone, don’t ye think?”
“Are you coming from a costume party or something?” Another man says, probably referring to my fancy ballroom clothes.
When I explain why I’m there, trying to escape from my coming-out party and everything, they all laugh. There gotta be around ten riders in here. I grow fond of that bunch right from the start, and it looks like the feeling is mutual, especially because they sympathize with my noble cause of dodging boredom.
The tall man who first came to me introduces himself as the trail boss and soon more greetings follow. The guy who made fun of my clothes is the ramrod. I get confused as to what the heck that is, and they explain a ramrod is a sort of second in command. Then, there is the scout, the one who goes ahead of the rest to check the area for graze, water, stuff the cattle needs to survive; and finally the tireless wrangler, the Mexican young man who takes care of the remuda, that’s how they call the horses, now resting, all tied up in a row by a long rope.
The cook is an old man with whiskers who makes what he calls his special beef stew (most likely from the livery stock around) just for me, something that annoys some of the other cowpokes, and I find that kinda funny. He is helped by his loyal assistant they call the cook’s louse, gathering all sorts of material from their chuck wagon, which is a kind of kitchen on wheels.
I think it’s funny how they talk about the cows, as being the dumbest of the critters, which involuntarily agree to be pushed for 1000 miles just to meet their own slaughtering. They call them beef, or beeves, and sometimes even doggies. This is so politically incorrect! I can’t help wondering what the veggies would think of that.
The trail boss tells me that there are also the nighthawks, the men who guard the herd during the night while they are bedding down, taking shifts of three hours each. I really don’t remember all the names. My memory is terrible for names, but I’ll never forget their faces.
Then, the stories began to flow, but surely not boring ones. That specific range is coming from Sedalia, Missouri, and their destination is the market in Denver, Colorado. Jeez, I didn’t know they still did cattle drives these days! But then, what do I know? When the stories of their adventures in the many trails they’ve been end, another peculiar kind of party breaks down. We all start dancing by the sound of a guitar and harmonica played by two of the men. Boy, I’m having so much fun! I throw my high heel shoes somewhere in the grass and sing and dance until my feet hurt!
After a while, the trail boss urges me to come back to my family. He is a very decent man. Perhaps he’s right, I guess. They must be worrying sick. The scout offers to escort me to the old ballroom farm, for he knows that area like the palm of his hand, but I politely decline. I’ll be in lots of trouble as it is, and the last thing I need is my folks seeing me hanging out with drovers. Besides, I know my ways around these flats, too.
I come back and, little I know, nobody missed me. It’s impressive the degree of abstraction people can reach, especially after a truckload of booze. I gotta try this one of these days. Well, my grandfather missed me and was indeed worrying sick. But he isn’t mad. He’s the liberal type and maybe my only real friend in this family. Grandpa, or Gramps, as I like to call him, also agrees that this whole debutante stuff is a sack of nonsense, and he promises to cover for me. He actually laughs and taps my back for my daring. “Who wants to waste such an important night with a pack of old coots anyways!” He says. Gramps is from a family of old cowboys, being an old cowboy himself.
When I tell him where I’ve been, he says to me that valley was once called Immookalee by the Cheyenne, which means waterfall, a name that later proved to be dreadfully right. Back on 1870, a terrible storm stroke, catching an entire trail drive by surprise, and they all got trapped by the water. The flood killed twenty-five riders, practically the whole crew, together with about three thousand heads of cattle, all drowned and lost forever. The white man then changed the name of the valley to Deathwater Creek. And, of course, a legend goes that the ghosts of those cowpokes, as well as their horses and cows, to this day still wander through the land, always hoping to finish the drive.
That’s when I tell him what happened, and what I saw that night. I thought he would laugh at me or get scared, but no! He actually gets excited and promises me a ride back to the valley first light tomorrow, and I promptly agree.
We get there the next morning on our horses, only to find the place totally empty, not a sign that a huge herd was ever there. It’s kind of hard to conceal three thousand heads of cattle. No footsteps, no hoof steps, not a single track to be followed. I don’t know what happened last night, but it was all so real to me, and I enjoyed it! My grandfather can see this in my eyes and smiles – if he believes me or not is only for him to decide.
All I know is I’ll never forget the crew of cowpokes who turned what might have been a personal disaster into the best night of my life! Alive or long dead, never mind, those drovers, or at least their memories, will live in my heart forever.
“Head ’em up, move ’em out!” Gramps suddenly screams.
“Head ’em up, move ’em out!” I feel like screaming, too!
Marcos has a bachelor degree in Electronic Engineering and worked with telecommunications for many years, both in Brazil and abroad. He has written books since 2002 and developed a taste for scriptwriting. He is currently working with translations of technical and legal documents, as well as internet sites.