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Spilling the Beans

by Eva Pasco


Spilling the Beans by Eva PascoEver since Philip Danforth Armour opened a meat packing plant in Chicago - "Armour" - it "behoofed"  many a cowpoke to round up the herd along the Southwestern trails.  By 1866, the bounty on each long-horn fetched as much as $40 a head.   Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ rawhide! Striking a balance between speed and maintaining the cattle’s weight meant not going steer crazy by beefing it up to town.  Time to graze!   I have stirring memories of cowboys sitting around the campfire sipping strong coffee and spilling the beans whether from chili or swapping stories.       
I still can recall some of the lyrics to “Old Texas,” one of the cattle drive ballads committed to memory from fourth grade music class during the early sixties.  Its cadence reminded me of a horse’s lazy canter to his rider’s harmonica playing:  I'm going to leave old Texas now/They've got no use for the long-horn cow/They've plowed and fenced my cattle range/And the people there are all so strange. 
That same year my father rustled up the family for a day trip to  Cowboy Town. This 28-acre, Wild West theme park flourished in Plainville, Massachusetts until it closed in the 70s. Even without tumbleweeds, sagebrush, and dry gulches along the Eastern seaboard, it was a Seinfeld  “Festivus for the Rest of Us.” A rip roarin’ regalia of gun fights and stagecoach holdups kicked up plenty of dust for the roadside rancheros. 


Jostled by the bumpy ride along rugged terrain, the sound of hoof beats closed in on us, and gun fire startled me.  Our conveyance came to an abrupt halt after being accosted by masked bandits brandishing their six-shooters and barking orders to step out with our hands up. Before we could raise ‘em high to the sky, the driver reached for his rifle and shot both banditos dead.


Back on safe ground in the center of Cowboy Town, we barely dusted ourselves off when we witnessed a bar brawl.  Two unsavory dudes tumbled out of the saloon and rolled on the ground delivering drunken sucker punches until the sheriff hauled their sacroiliacs to jail.  Then a heated argument brewed between two gunslingers who challenged each other to a duel. While pacing, my younger sister began whining for popcorn.


The one quickest to draw mortally wounded his adversary who slumped in a heap on the ground. Minutes later, an undertaker attired in somber garb appeared, doling business cards to the crowd before scooping up the carcass on his stretcher.  This grand finale prompted my dad to walk inside the saloon to order soft drinks and popcorn for his three buffalo gals who waited on the bench for grub.


At four years old, my younger sister had a severe case of the “gimmes.”  Against my father’s better judgment, he let her hold the box of popcorn.  My mother snapped a picture of my sis stuffing her face so her cheeks bulged like a chipmunk. Afraid there wouldn’t be enough popcorn for herself, she pulled away just as I was about to grab a handful. In doing so, she dropped the box, spilling all the beans. Another candid stashed with the family photos!


For the longest time, I hung onto Digger O’Toole’s souvenir card.  I wish I kept it as a memento of Cowboy Town, an imaginative figment of the Wild West.  As in life, we instinctively know when to hold ‘em or fold ‘em.   I'll take my horse and I'll take my rope/And hit the trail upon a lope/Say adios to the Alamo/ And turn my head toward Mexico. 


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Underlying Notes by Eva Pasco  An E. Quiche by Eva Pasco



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