Saturday, April 30, 2011

Unexpected Encounter With a Cowboy

I knew my car needed gasoline (you know… that expensive stuff a vehicle can’t run without) so at the end of Friday errands, I breathed a deep sigh of relief that the Buick and I made it home. Yes, I had watched the gas guage because for three days in a row Dear Heart had asked me to leave the old Buick at home so he could gas it up for me. He routinely does things for me like filling my car with gas so I have a little time to write.

Too willful to drive the big, bulky, hard to park van, I put him off. But, on Friday afternoon, with errands done and only fumes left, I gave thanks I had not been stranded due to my stubborn nature and said, “Please.” And “Thank you.”

Gus and I called our black Lab, Ava, who is always up for a ride in either vehicle. She snuggled down in the floor of the back seat while we two humans—with rare time alone together—caught up on odds and ends of life that swirls too quickly around us.

At the gas station, we pulled up to a pump behind a pickup truck and my dearly beloved got out and began the slow process of adding 14.5 gallons of gold to my tired, old carriage. While Dear Heart pumped, Ava sat up on the back seat to check out our stop and I noticed the Purple Heart notation on the license plate of the pickup. I leaned out my car window and hollered (a normal mode of communication in Texas J) “Hi! I’m a Marine Mom. Thank you for your service.”

The dog in the back of the pickup (another normal occurrence in Texas) peered down his nose at me. The pup's buddy, busy pumping LOTS of gold into the pickup truck, tipped his cowboy hat and said, “Thank you, Ma’am. I was Viet Nam.” As if expecting me to turn away.

I smiled. “I know something about Viet Nam. I lived through it as a kindergarten teacher to lots of students whose dads were there. I’m glad you got out in one piece. I’m still grateful for your service.”

The cowboy turned his head to check the pump and his long, white, ponytail flipped to the side. His best friend yawned and licked a couple of paws. The tall, lean cowboy stroked his dog. “Us ‘Nam guys don’t git many thanks.” After a bit, he grinned. (You may not know what I mean, but Texans understand those slow, can’t-guess-what-I’m-really-thinking cowboy snickers.)

He put the nozzle back into its place, shoved the cowboy hat down tighter on his head, then ambled over to my car window. “I hope you never need it, but I’m growin this white stuff to donate for wigs for – some nice older lady. Who might git cancer. It’ll be comin off in ‘bout a month.” He tipped his hat, did that cowboy grin, and ambled off to pay his bill, boots clicking on the hot concrete.

  • I didn’t tell him about the bomb injury my Marine son sustained in Iraq.
  • I didn’t tell him about another ’Nam vet who loved me the best he could through his alcohol glaze and war nightmares.
  • I didn’t tell him about my three sweet friends whose hands I held so many times and the prayers we shared and how they lost their earthly cancer battles—unafraid and eager to meet Jesus—even without beautiful white wigs.
  • I didn’t ask him if the long, slow process of growing out white hair was to honor a lost love.
  • I didn’t tell him that I would reflect on our conversation and wonder if a wavy, white wig from a cowboy’s heart would have made the lost battles more fun for my friends.
 Thank you, Cowboy, for the joy your white hair will give to some courageous lady…  and for whatever unknown price you paid to keep me safe so I can write words of my choice and pray with my friends.

Blessings to all cancer fighters - -
              And to war vets everywhere .



  1. This is the most precious story, Liz. See, you actually TALK to people, and that causes you to run into amazing people like this man at the gas station.

    This is my favorite kind of story.

  2. Dear Liz,

    This is beyond any words I have to describe it. I kept trying to think of an adjective to give this story, but nothing says it. There is sadness, greatness, caring, shrugging of shoulders, struggling, uncertainty and sureness all in one story. My eyes are watering making the words on the page blurry.

    Some of what you said rang so close to my heart. My dad was on Iwo Jima which gave my mother the same kind of husband you describe as "vet who loved me as best he could...". Where you taught kindergarten kids who were losing their fathers, I was losing classmates in high school. Every day over the intercom system was the announcement of another town boy lost. My husband has cancer and every two years donates his white ponytail for wigs for cancer patients. Not many guys do this so I thought this was unique. My daughter was aboard the first ship after 911 to head for Iraq. She served 8 years, my husband's brother was a career navy chief. He's now retired. Was your son disabled in Iraq?

    I'm so glad you engaged this cowboy. He needed it and through you I got to "listen in." Thanks, Liz!

    God bless,

  3. Liz,
    That is a beautiful encounter. I do not cry easily (meds, you know), but that made me cry. As if serving in Vietnam was not enough, he also grows out his gray hair and donates it to someone in need. These soldiers have a giving heart that does not stop with their service in the military.
    God bless you for reaching out to him. It inspires me.
    Love ya,

  4. Liz, this is such a multi-faceted blessing! I am so glad I came over and read!


  5. I, too, am glad I came over to read today. Isn't it amazing where a simple "Thank you for our service," will take you --- and all of us. Being a cancer patient who lost all her hair, I have a new appreciation for those who grow and donate those pony tails. I was one of those who raised an eyebrow critically and wondered why these guys didn't "grow up" and out of the 60's. Little did I realize that so many were doing it for people like ME! Again, I see the ripple effect: Someone serves, someone says thank you, a story is shared, and all of us out here benefit. Thank you again for sharing this!

  6. It is so true – the Nam guys were reviled. If there is one good lesson from these last 10 years it’s that this country now honors the ones who protect us. Liz – this whole thing touched my heart – what you said – and didn’t. So happy I got to read it. Thank you. God Bless and keep you and all of yours.

  7. I love this story! God Bless that cowboy! My sister-in-law just bought a new wig after losing her hair for the second time after another battle with cancer.

  8. okay, I get a little concerned when you don't post here for a while – I hope this just means that life is so good and so full that you haven't found the time. Hope all is well. You know I heart your words. God bless you Liz.

  9. You once again brought tears to my eyes sweet friend! Bless you.