The Last Real Cowboy

Today is your birthday (June 20)…all that I want to is to sit in here on my deck, and sort through this box of pictures, and notes,  till the day is gone.

As long as I live, there will always be “question marks”  on some chapters of my  Life.  I KNOW that I will not understand on this side of Heaven why things  go the way they do, or happened the way they do.  Good and Bad things. Its sort of strange to me how when something really great happens to us, and I mean like a really BIG …once in a life time thing, we accept it and move forward to the next station of our life and rarely revisit that good fortune. We live in , and we are  better for its happenstance but we continue walking the paths of the daily grind and don’t give it a lot of thought.

Alas, this cannot be said about a rough time, a bad thing,  a moment that broke our hearts in two. Those moments live inside of us daily. They never go away, and only time eases the intensity of the pain or brokenness but it never removes it completely.  Its the circle of Life.  We learn from the tough times, and appreciate the good times…What doesn’t kill us makes us more alive.

Larry is my cousin.  He was born 13 years before me.  On June 20, 1949.  By the time that I was 5 years old … Larry had been draft into the Vietnam War.  By the time I was 15…I saw him once or twice at his parents house, just up the road from our house,  but stayed my distance as the family had been informed of his fragile state upon returning from Nam. If you started a vacuum sweeper without warning him, or a loud noise would send him into DIVE mode under a coffee table or BEHIND  a chair. Larry would not speak of the horrors that He saw over there. It was evident they  took their toll on him.

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When I was 16, He had a wedding and married. A little boy was born of that union.  Another marriage to a different  gal and  two little boys followed shortly after that one.    I believe their were 2 other marriages after those two.  Eventually Larry moved out west to Nevada and bought a mountain. His own mountain and he was pretty proud of it. It had no electricity, no running water, but he LOVED it.  He used generators for power and He carried a 300 gallon tank in the back of his black Ford Ranger pickup that once a week, after work  he would fill up in town at his Brothers home and drive it out to his mountain  and unload it. He used a gravity feed system to supply his RV park model trailer with water for showering and such.

I saw him in 1989 He flew home for the  funeral of his sister in law .  We spoke a few words to one another but nothing long or meaningful.  In the summer of 2000,  through another cousin I was given his email address.  I touched base with Larry then and we began to visit via the net on a regular basis. Larry invited us to come out and see his Mountain and where He worked, how  he lived and all the beauty of the west as He saw it.   By March of 2002 , I was making plans to visit Nevada with my 18 year old son.

June 17, 2002 We landed in Reno.  From the moment we saw one another Larry and I instantly became “like Twins”.  We were so similar in our actions, and thoughts and feeling. We used to joke and say ….isn’t it funny how much alike we are,  do you think its our spirits meshing  or just the fact that we have the same DNA. We would be talking about our childhood, memories  and suddenly be reminiscing about the same room at Grandmas house, or the red hip roof barn that we were not suppose to go into, or all of Georges Rose Bushes  in the garden that we were forbidden to enter.  Our memories were the same but a 13 year span between them. Sometimes I would shake my head and realize only after hearing Larry’s stories or memoires that He was talking about my Grandma too……the years between made it feel like it was two different families but it wasn’t.

While we were there, we visited many of the area sights. Silver Springs, Fallon, The Ponderosa and BEAUTIFUL , HISTORICAL Virginia City.  Where we walked on old, weathered,  board sidewalks. I loved the sound of boots walking across it and just about everyone man out there wore spurs that jingled when He walked. I was mesmerized by the sound. My Son spent a lot of time missing his girlfriend, and that cell phone bill when we got home is something we laugh about today.

(He married the girl and they have 5 beautiful children today. ( 1 Son, and four  girls.  )

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We were there for Larry’s 53rd birthday. One particular afternoon Larry told My son and I that there was a mountain he had still never climbed since he moved out west almost 20 years ago and he wanted to drive out there. So the three of us did just that. Out west, its always dry and everyone has a cooler in the back of their truck or car. It will have water, beer, pop, tea, etc but no one travels without a cooler because it is hot and dry out there. Out West  EVERYONE wears a gun on their hip. Each morning when we would head to town Larry would tell us to grab one of the holsters hanging on the light pole outside the house , make sure it was loaded and strap it on.  And we did.

On our way out of town,  we stopped at a gas station  and with holsters on and guns loaded we walked into the gas station and picked up a few more drinks and snacks. It was just the oddest feeling to me to walk around armed….in public….lol.

We travel closer and closer to the distant mountains and then began our climb around and around a large mountain. The road is too narrow at times and very nerve racking to look over the edge but we continued our pilgrimage up this un claimed mountain that Larry had always wanted to conquer.  When we arrived…We got out to stretch out legs and Larry hopped around  and hollered like a teen ager.

The view was so beautiful and you could literally see for miles and miles and miles.  There was a large rock formation that would make a cool picture but there was about  a 3 foot wide crack we had to jump to get to that rock. If we fell or lost our footing it would have been an absolute death sentence. No way to save anyone from that kind of fall.  Ask me today why I ever made that jump and I could not tell you. I wouldn’t allow my son to jump it, but I did. I was 40 years old….should have known better but thought I had already had 40 good years. It wasn’t a smart move as now I realize how awful it would have been for Thom to have to find his way back to a town some 98 miles away and live with what he might have seen. I wasn’t using my brain that day at all. I will blame it on the elevation in Nevada and lack of air. Thom is standing on the safe side and snapped this photo for us.  Larry’s 53rd Birthday would be captured forever on top of the mountain, across a dangerous divide.

Suddenly the clouds began to gather and lighting was beginning to show and it was imperative as Larry said to get down off this mountain a.s.a.p. That out west, a flood can come up and wash you over the side in a matter of minutes when down at the base of the mountain the sun would be shining and no threat at all. We navigated out way back down much to the relief of Thom and myself.

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On the way home from that celebration, Thom and Larry wanted to get a rattle snake hide for Thoms hat, so we all stopped at the Carson River and Larry and Thom hunted for rattle snakes from the banks of the river. They poked in holes and around rocks with a long sticks.  IT was crazy to me….but the two of them were having a blast. (they never did find a snake that day). AND I WAS THANKFUL.  Not sure if I could have continued video taping if they found one and the mere thought of it scared me to pieces.

Larry and I  spent a lot of mornings drinking coffee and talking. We tried to catch up on one another’s lives, what we had done as kids, as adults, as parents.. We talked about the family reunions at our Grandmothers house or Aunt Mary Helens  home.  He had more fun stories to tell  about our family as he was older than I.  We were both amazed at how similar we were in our thoughts and opinions. Looking back it was  pretty uncanny actually.

One morning, He started talking about Nam and told me several stories of that place that haunted him on a daily basis. I stayed as still as if a rattler was crawling across my boot. I didn’t move, I didn’t speak, I didn’t interrupt. I could see it was hard for him to talk about it all but for some reason He was  recalling the events, and they were spilling out of him like pouring water out of a pitcher.   A little while later Larry stood up and walked over to the kitchen sink, crying and wiping his nose  and said         “I have never told anyone those stories. I cant believe they just came out like that…….  Its  so hard to talk about them, hard to remember them,  but it feels so good to let them out, its such a relief”.  I stood up, walked over to him and just hugged him.

I understood after that why He Ask God to NEVER give him a daughter if he had children. And GOD never did.  The images he carried in his mind haunted him on a daily basis. He turned to drinking to dull the pain and bury the memories but he said after he would pass out and come to the memories were always still there, haunting his mind. When He had finished his tour in Nam and came home, it was  NOT to a heros welcome. He said people spit on them when they got off the plane, and chanted at them, calling them murderers and baby killers.   It was sad. America dropped the ball that day on ALL OUR VIETNAM VETS.  Those young men didn’t ask to go there. They were FORCED into that situation.

The rest of the day we did more exploring and now and then he would shake his head and say “I cant believe I told you all that stuff about Nam”. I soaked it all up and still today I feel that God placed me there, at that time, in that moment, so Larry could release and heal from the PRIVATE HELL that kept him a captive prisoner in his mind. HE needed to be able to speak about it, lay it down once and for all and move forward.  And He did. From then on when he would call me He would tell me little things like…”I haven’t dreamed of Nam in months, or he would say I stopped seeing the horror movie in my mind. He felt the relief and he was grateful for it.  I was thankful to be able to be of some help to him. He also told me that he had mailed letters to his siblings, that hadn’t talk to him in years  and was in hopes that a few of them would respond and they could re connect as a family. His youngest sister came back around  and stayed in his life. She flew out  every summer to visit him and he loved that.

GOD didn’t give Larry a daughter but He did give him a  Granddaughter.  And one day while we three were in town Larry wanted to stop by and show her to us. He stepped inside that door and yelled “Haylie Marie come see your Papa” and just like that a little 4 year old girl with long brown pig tails wearing only her panties and a little t shirt came running down the hall and leaped into her Papas arms. It brought tears to my eyes watching it.

Larry and I quickly became the very best of friends. There was no subject we couldn’t talk about….and we loved so many of the same things in life.  Thom and I left that weekend to return to Michigan…and it was an emotional, sad  good bye. It felt like I had just found a long lost brother and now I had to leave him.

We talked via emails and letters every day . For a short 15 months Larry and I shared a beautiful, powerful, deep friendship and then late one night  on November 14, 2003 ,Larry was killed in a car accident.  He was turning into his driveway , (which was over two miles long and curved and made twists  up to where his homestead was).

According to his wife who survived with minor injuries….Larry paused to make a left hand turn, saw nothing and began his slow methodically turn as he did everything……. when a young man going 95 miles an hour in a Jag topped the hill. He was on top of them before Larry had a chance to get across the road.  Both drivers were killed instantly. And just that fast…Larry was gone.

I felt like someone had just crushed my chest. It was impossible to believe and impossible for me to breath. It was opening day of Deer Season here….I sat out in the woods that morning, against a tree and cried for hours…I couldn’t have shot a deer if the largest buck in history  walked right up to me. Couldn’t have lifted the gun. I was too  devastated.

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I could have missed this kind of hurt if I hadn’t gotten to know Larry, but  I WOULDNT  have missed knowing him for the world. Before our friendship …He would have been a distant cousin like we all have, that we sort of know, understand the blood connection but its not a spirit felt connection.

With Larry, it felt like He walked right up to me…face to face…toe to toe…used both his hands and pulled each side of my chest open, stepped inside and we both simultaneously exhaled and were breathing for the first time, together,  but separate bodies.

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FIFTEEN  months wasn’t long enough, why did it have to happen, why did God create it so that we would be so close just  BEFORE  he passed.  I don’t know. I do know I miss him, I miss his smile, his laughter, the sound of his voice when I would call  and he would answer “Hello this is Larry”.  He LOVED my soaps and kept himself and half his workers at ALLISONS TRANSMISSIONS stocked up with it.  He heard me when I spoke, there was nothing too silly or ridiculous, or unimportant to him…He wanted to hear anything and everything I wanted to talk about. Oh the beauty of the memories, the strength of the bond.

Whenever we walked down the street , He would never say a word but would just step behind me and end up on the “Street Side” of me, saying ” Out here, woman don’t walk on the curb side of the road, same with planes. No matter what the ticket says….the women always give a man the isle seat.”.

Larry Served His country proud in Nam, and he truly is one of the last REAL COWBOYS I had the PLEASURE and BLESSING  to know. He fit the bill of everything a cowboy was.

I flew out to Nevada one last time for his funeral. My Dad and Uncle also flew out with me. Nothing,,,,,,,prepared me for seeing him laying in a coffin.  I stared at him, till it hurt to bad to breath and took the nearest exit out of that little white church. It was hot and dry outside and his sister was standing outside smoking a cigarette. It was the only time in my life that I wished I smoked. Cant even explain why…I just remember wishing i did at that brief moment.

In the hot Nevada sun we attended his memorial service.  Through a flood of my own tears I had to laugh and whisper   “OH Larry, you would get such a charge out of seeing all these woman here crying over you”…and the men in wranglers and Stetsons never stopped walking up to the graveside. It was an awesome site. Couldn’t help but  wonder if this was the same scene that we would have viewed   at the funeral for Wyatt Erp or Tom Mix.  It was that real, that authentic, that true blue western saga. The stuff that legends are made of and books are written about.

Larry died at 54. He was much too young to leave this world.  Much to young.

Today He would have been 67.

HAPPY HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY MY DEAR COUSIN. I love you always…look forward to having another cup of coffee with you one day. Save me a seat, and get a large table. I am sure that our friend Burt and your Dad and Mom, our Grandparents   and our uncles and aunts will WANT to join our circle.

Larry Karl Haas   June  20, 1949 – November 14, 2003

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