Ol’ Jughead Thompson and me were leavin’ outta Spooner, Wisconsin heading for Eau Claire for our next rodeo. It was 11:00 pm Friday, August the fourth and we had to be in Eau Claire by 10:00 am Saturday for the draw for Saturday night’s rodeo. We got a late start because we had to wait for Jughead to stop pissin’ blood.
I been knowin’ Jughead for going on thirty years now and I was hopin’ he learned a lesson in Spooner. At least he wouldn’t take a full finger tuck this time. He would play by the rules. Earlier tonight his bronc stood quietly as he pulled his riggin’. When he nodded, I opened the gate and he got wadded up into the gate. I thought they would give him another chance to nod but before he could get settled back in, that big flathead saw the crack in the gate and he blew out of the chute. His head, neck, and everything just disappeared as he bucked and kicked. For a moment ol’ Jughead actually looked like a bareback rider again until that damn flathead jerked the handhold out of his hand and it wasn’t long before Jughead was flat on his back. He was out for a few seconds and didn’t remember much when he came to. He said he recalled the horse’s head almost touching the ground and then the lights went out.
We picked him up and loaded him in my rig and then I went and got our horses and loaded them before we took off for the Spooner Hospital.
The doctor there in the ER wanted Jughead to spend the night but he didn’t want to forfeit his rodeo fee in Eau Claire, so we left. We no sooner hit the outskirts of town when I had to stop so he could piss out some blood.
My name is Bill Toft. My friends call me Buck, or when they are jabbin’ at me, Buck Toff. When I was younger, I rode saddle broncs and bare backs, but now I’m too old for that. No way I want to put myself through that pain anymore. My body hurts just gettin’ outta’ bed every mornin’
We arrived in Eau Claire in the middle of a heavy rain. Jughead drew #88 name of Widow Maker.
“I’m gettin’ on that son of a bitch,” Jughead declared.
“Don’t you think it’s about time you acknowledge the corn. You just ain’t made out for riding bucking stock. You have a lot of heart, little talent, and no quit in you. Like a bull, you don’t know when to quit. That’s a recipe for a quick death, little buddy. Let’s just stick to being pick up riders and hauling rodeo stock and leave the rest of this shit to the young ones. You ain’t going to like hearing this, Jughead, but…”
“Some things are better off left unsaid,” Jughead replied, glaring at me.“But you are going to say it anyway, aren’t you,Buck?”
“Yep, can’t help myself. If you do this, you will be sucking blended food through a straw for the next six months. Worse case, you’re going to end up in the bone orchard.”
“Hell, I still got some kick in me, Buck. I know I can ride this horse. Look at him. That horse looks dead.”
“So do you Jughead. I gotta say this, you lasting eight seconds on that horse is as likely as the Pope leading a gay pride parade.”
“Well, we’ll just see, won’t we?”
“Yep, common sense is like deodorant. The ones that need it the most don’t use it.”
“I assume you are referring to me?”
“Yep, Jughead, I am. Listen, if you feel yourself losing it, just choke that horn, will ya?”
“No way. Ol’ Jughead never has and never will be caught choking the horn. It just won’t happen.”
Well, that ‘ol dead horse threw Jughead ‘bout up to heaven and when he landed, he landed on his head before a hind foot from that bronc landed down on his chest.
I was looking down at Jughead in a crowd of cowboys and he gave me a warm smile as well as a thumbs up. Then I heard someone say, “Okay boys, let’s get as many hands as we can under him and lift him onto the stretcher.”
They put him into what I assumed was an ambulance. I crawled in after him and we took off. The driver was cursing as we hit some pot holes.
“I don’t know if I’m going to survive this one, Buck Toft,” Jughead groaned.
“You’re going to make it, Jughead. I remember that time in Noches, Texas, about twenty years ago, when you were in the recovery room and your spleen ended up in the operating room trash can. You walked away from that one. You’ll walk away from this too. From now on, we will spend our time spreading hay and hauling bucking stock, not trying to ride ‘em.”
Jughead nodded, smiled, and closed his eyes.
“You all right back there?” the driver asked, as the stretcher rolled across the floor and slammed into the side of the vehicle.
The ambulance driver wasn’t actually an ambulance driver, he was tending the beer tent and he had to close it down when they asked him to drive Jughead to the hospital. Actually, it wasn’t an ambulance, it was an old yellow cab and the driver was slurring his words.
“Damn, the gate is closed. Hey, girls, have them boys open that gate,” he yelled. I was sitting next to him. He turned around and was holding a can of Blatz Beer.
“How’s he doing?”
“Not good, he’s rolling around like a damned billiard ball,” I yelled.
“God damn right it’s rolling. We’ll get him there in no time. Now don’t let him die on me. He’s pretty old to be doin’ this, ridin’ broncs, ain’t he?”
“That’s what I’ve been tryin’ to tell him.”
Turns out Jughead didn’t last the ride. I don’t know if it was the ride on the bronc or the ride in that old Yellow Cab that did him in, but deep down in my heart, I know’d it was his stubbornness that finally did him in. He just didn’t know when to quit. I think the good Lord finally did him a favor calling him home but I sure am going to miss that boy.