There is a recurring condition in the life of the cowboy when bravado, belligerence and bent judgment overcomes the normal human self-protective instinct.
If medals were given for placing yourself in harm’s way, deliberately sticking a porcupine down your shorts, or being wounded in action, Jack would be a highly decorated veteran. In addition to surviving such feats as riding his horse into a mud bog till they were both buried up to the head, rolling off a 30-foot embankment, then landing feet in the stirrups but on the horse’s belly, and splitting his pelvis not once, but twice, Jack continues to walk that fine line between crash-test dummy and fishing with dynamite.
Buddy Red was Jack’s archenemy. He was a non-descript, long-eared mule who had been sold three times but was returned each time before the check cleared. A few weeks after Jack’s second split pelvis incident, he waddled out to the mule pen to grain Charlie Brown, a mule his nephew Lon was taking hunting that day. Uncle Jack was graining him before daylight so Lon could load him and go.
It was black as the inside of a cattle buyer’s coin purse in a gun safe at the bottom of Lake Michigan when Jack, sans flashlight, felt his way to the corral in his pajama bottoms and flip-flops. With a bucket of oats he strode into the corral. The three mules crowded around, but Jack couldn’t tell which was which.
He felt for Charlie Brown’s soft brushy mane on the first mule. Not him, so he popped that mule on the nose with the flip of his hand. The second mule was Buddy Red. Jack popped his nose. Buddy backed up, switched ends and kicked Jack with both feet square in the groin and propelled him backwards like a Kleenex being sucked into a Shop Vac. In agony, Jack rose, turned and stooped to pick up the bucket, when Buddy Red planted two mule-sized hind feet on Jack’s hip pockets and airlifted him into a full one-and-a-half flip.
When Lon showed up at dawn, he found Uncle Jack crawling slowly toward the house. His pajama bottoms were hanging by one leg, his flip-flops still lay side by side in the corral where he had left them at take-off, and there were two lucky horseshoe prints emblazoned bright red against the shiny white moon.
Eventually Jack sold Buddy Red to a hunter who asked if you could shoot off him. Buddy was back in three days. “I thought you said you could shoot off of him!” complained the hunter with the fresh cast on his right arm.
“You can,” said Jack. “Once.”