Barry called me the other day and told me my best friend had passed away.
It wasn’t unexpected. He was a chain smoker like three to four pack of Winstons a day. Most of us smoked way back then and not only did I , but his darling wife and daughters always encouraged him to use some common sense about the amount he smoked. Years ago he had open heart surgery and one would have thought that would curb the smoking. It didn’t. He died on Christmas day and I talked with him last a few weeks prior. It got to where he didn’t have the strength to visit.
His mother named him Jan Lajuan Brooks. I reckon she wanted a girl. That was almost like being named Sue. He was all man, always busy, always into some project or other. I met him in 1963 when I worked for Sears in Odessa, Texas. I sold T.V.s and he managed the mail order catalog business. We had many, many adventures together besides our families sharing much of our lives. I think the thing that sticks most in my mind was our trip, just Jan and I made down to Big Bend National Park along the Mexican border. We took a couple of rubber rafts, a supply of food, our pistols and some fishing gear and had a buddy drop us by the ranger station. Now, gentle readers, this was before the movie “Deliverance.” The rangers ask us where we planned on putting into the river, did we have adequate medical supplies and food and were we armed? “Yes, we have all that taken care of,” we offered back. The ranger warned us this was dangerous territory as we were going to float roughly 60 to 75 miles down the Rio Grande. “There are bandits, mountain lions and rapids in the river. We will fly over you every day in our plane and be sure and look for us. If there is a problem wave a white flag at us when we fly over. Check back in with us when your trip is complete.” We assured him we would.
Our buddy took us as close to the river as he could get and we packed our gear down and off we went. There are some deep, deep canyons and some really rough country. We were excited. The third day out we were not sure if we were in tune with where our maps indicated we should be. Some time later we spotted a Mexican man and four young men we assumed where his sons. They were peasants. Very poor dressed if dressed at all. I told Jan I was going to row over to their side and see if I could get some sense of exactly where we were. I spoke very little border Spanish and understood less. Jan warned me about getting out of the raft and approaching them as they might decide to jump me, take my pistol and shoot both of us and take our bounty. They all smiled as I waded to shore. “Buenas tardes,” I spoke and received the same reply. “How far to Boqouillas canyon,” I asked politely in English. “Si,’ he said and pointed in the direction we were headed. He didn’t understand me and I had no way to get him to as I tried drawing a map in the sand, but didn’t know enough to get the “how far” understood. He had been eyeing my large knife on my gun belt as well as my pistol. He said in English, “knife” and stuck out his hand to receive it. “Don’t you give him that knife Jack, he’ll cut your throat and I don’t want to have to shoot anybody,” Jan barked. I took out the knife and handed it to him and stepped back a step or two. He admired it and passed it around to all the boys in age from maybe 14 to 25. They all agreed it was a good knife and the old man handed it back to me. “Pistola,” he offered as he held out his hand. Oh, so now he wants my pistol does he? “Don’t give ’em that gun Jack he’ll kill both of us,” Jan barked again as his eyes blinked rapidly through his thick glasses. We called him “Blinky” at times because of his nervous habit of constant blinking. I pulled out that big ol’ chrome plated 45 and cocked it and pointed it at the old man’s head and replied, “see”! “Si, he said, bueno,” and they all retreated from me and we thanked them and tossed them a can of tomatoes and corn the best I remember. That was quite a trip my friends before it was all over.
Too much to cover but I will miss my buddy. We talked every week, sometimes twice a week on the phone. I did tell him I loved him in our last conversation and as hard as it was to repeat it for him, he said, “I love you too buddy.”
Stay tuned, check yer cinch on occasion and I’ll c y’all all y’all. ❖
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