The boy got up and reached for the tin dishpan hanging on the wall and set it on the stove. He poured some water into it from the galvanized bucket on a short shelf next to the door, and then returned to his plate.
The only sound was ceramic scrape of a fork on plate as he finished his breakfast. The old man went out into the pre-dawn morning, the screen door slamming behind him. He called the horses out of the dark as if they were to appear in the corral before him. After he put feed sacks on the horses, he started the 1959 pickup and let it idle.
“Bring the Coleman,” he hollered to the boy who was drying off his plate and stacking it on the shelf. The boy stepped on to the porch and tossed out the dishwater. He returned the dishpan to its nail, pulled on his jean jacket, and grabbed the lantern from a hook in the middle of the room.
“Go get the tack,’ said the old man, “and let’s load it up in the back of the truck.”
The boy ducked to enter the low-ceilinged saddle house, drug out the old man’s saddle. Resting it on his right thigh, he walked stiff-legged over to the truck as if limping with some unimagined wound. He tossed the saddle in the back of the blue truck and went back for his.
The old man took the feed sacks off of the horses and called for the bridles.
“Let’s get these horses loaded in the trailer,” he said.
The old man unbuckled the bridle midway up the jaw line strap and carefully wrapped it around his horse’s neck. Taking care to avoid the ears of the animal, he offered the bit to the big bay gelding and the horse nibbled at it with his lips and then received the bit into his mouth. The old man pulled the leather strap up behind the ears and re-buckled the bridle, patted the horse on the neck and led him to the back of the trailer.
The horses loaded, the old man’s favorite horse named Curtis and a dapple-gray jug-headed horse named Johnny Reb, they started down the mountain towards the holding pins at San Antonio Mountain. The large, free-standing dome-shaped mountain in northern New Mexico rises in relative isolation above sagebrush flats about nine miles south of the Colorado border. There they would join other cowboys, a hodge-podge group of hands, some working for the day—others in from the owner’s ranch in the four corners area. Fifteen hundred head of steers had been trucked in and pinned up waiting to be driven up the road to the ranch where they would fatten up on the rich high mountain grass for the next three months.
The rough road tossed the pickup truck back and forth as gears downshifted and the engine whined. The old man and the boy didn’t talk for five miles. The boy’s eyes were heavy but he dared not sleep. That would be lazy. That would be a sin. So, he looked out the window, feigning interest in the passing shadows, but secretly let his eyes close to find their own nestled comfort.
The old man took the pipe out of his mouth and cleared his throat.
“Now, when we get down to those pens I want you to unload the horses and make sure they get some water. I am going to go look up Dick Davis and round up the boys to line out how we are going to get the cattle up the mountain on this drive,” he said.
“What will I do on the cattle drive?” the boy asked.
“Drag. You’ll be in the back of the herd.”
“It’s where you belong.”