I was at a meeting recently where the subject was friendship. Much talk ensued about real vs. fake friends, acquaintances vs. friends, and other such roundabout conversation that never really got to the point.
Later, I remembered a story my father told that taught me the true meaning of friendship. It also helps explain the special way country people have of looking at friendship. Mostly, I think, it’s because when you have few neighbors you get to know them. Also, you know they will be there for you just as quickly as you will be there for them.
My cowboy father was a bit unusual in that he had a homestead where he lived between jobs at the big ranches in west central New Mexico. During the Depression in the 1930s, times were hard and the people were, too.
His homestead was near Trechado, at the edge of the malpais. Malpais means “bad country” in Spanish. It is hardened lava flow from an ancient volcano. Unshod horses soon go lame there, and most hoofed animals avoid the area if possible.
One day when my dad went to the post office-general store, a local man unknown to my dad happened to be inside. Dad nodded to the man, and began asking the store owner for various items from the shelves — mostly canned because in those days there was no refrigeration. The man watched awhile, then asked if my dad would buy him a can of peaches.
Dad said, “Why would I do that?”
The man said something about friendship.
Dad thought about that a minute and decided it was an OK reason. “Give him a can of peaches,” he told the store owner. He paid for his purchases, got his mail, went home and forgot the incident.
A couple of months later, Dad came home from a trail drive to find a hole in the fence around his homestead, and the two cow ponies he’d left there gone. Tracks told the story of a mountain lion inside the pasture, and at least one horse bleeding after he went through the fence.
Dad followed the tracks into the malpais, where he lost them. He decided not to take a chance on ruining his remaining two horses’ hooves in what probably was a futile try to find the runaways. He figured he’d never see those horses again.
Just before sunset a few days later, Dad was finishing fixing the hole in the fence when the man from the store came over the hill, leading the two lost horses. He rode to the gate in the pasture corner (about 100 yards from where Dad stood), removed the halters, waved and rode away.
Although sorefooted, the horses were in good shape. Their cuts had been doctored with something and were scabbing over.
Years later, when Dad told me this story, he said, “That man taught me the true meaning of friendship.” After a long pause he added, “I don’t even know his name.”
Glenda Price has been a contributing editor to New Mexico Stockman magazine since 1982. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org