You can’t live as long as baby boomers have lived without a few characters coming into your life. From Silver Spring, Maryland, communications specialist Larry Checco writes about three who came into his life. Two were four-legged, the third was a man with a gun.
We met while I was staring down the eight-inch barrel of his .357 magnum six- gun revolver, complete with wooden handle.
It was the summer of 1982. My wife Laurie and I had volunteered with the National Forest Service to spend a month clearing trails and doing odd jobs just outside of Yellowstone National Park.
After spending one of our days off in Bozeman, Montana, we had just returned to our very remote cabin in the woods— 30 miles outside of town, with no electricity or running water. It was 10:30 pm. A pitch-black rainy night.
From our headlights Laurie noticed a trailer, then a horse hitched to one of the posts that held up the overhang in front of our cabin. I spotted a dog that looked more like a wolf, lying chained under the trailer, large but quiet. On the porch, under the overhang, was a hulk wrapped in a blanket.
“Howdy,” I yelled to the hulk from the car.
“Are you the ranger?” the hulk responded.
“Is the dog OK?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s OK,” the hulk said in a raspy, sleepy voice.
By the time I made it to the porch I noticed this large pistol that had been tracking me getting put back into its holster.
“Hey, you didn’t have to do that,” I said leaning back, with a slight quiver in my voice.
“Didn’t mean to scare ya, but you can never be certain out here.”
And so we met Pat.
He was very apologetic about “bargin’ in” on us. Yet here was this stranger who stood over six feet tall, weighing over 200 pounds, with a pock-marked face, a few teeth missing, an unkempt beard, and a wool cap covering his scraggly hair… not to mention packing a gun he wasn’t hesitant to take out of its holster.
Laurie was still in the car. What to do?
Sifting through options, my mind was racing a mile a minute.
I could play the heavy, tell him to take his horse and dog and move on… and risk raising his ire. Or welcome him in out of the rain and go with what I hoped would be a positive flow.
Besides, I rationalized that if he was truly up to no good he could have easily busted the lock on our cabin door and made himself comfortable right from the start. Quite frankly I felt cornered.
So, with fingers crossed I called Laurie from the car, stoked the cook-stove with wood, boiled water for tea… and the conversation just flowed from there.
Pat said he found out about our cabin from someone in town who had given him directions to get there. How he found the place on such a dark and rainy night still baffles me.
He told us that he and a couple of his buddies had started a packing/outfitting business that guided wealthy folk during the hunting season and that he was traveling to northern Montana to meet up with some clients.
The hours went by quickly, and surprisingly we talked about everything from literature to the arts, science, and music, and whatever else came into our heads.
It was getting on to 2 am. Feeling much more comfortable than when we first met, I offered Pat our loft for the night. He politely refused.
“You’ve got grizzly bears around here. Bears and horses don’t mix well,” he said, smiling. “I’d feel better sleeping outside with my horse and my dog.”
Truth be told, I slept with one eye open that night.
Next morning, however, Pat and I caught 15 six-inch rainbow trout in the beaver pond just a hundred or so yards from our cabin. We grilled those trout on our cook-stove, put on a pot of coffee, and the three of us enjoyed a midday meal worthy of our mutual experience. Extraordinary!
Pat left shortly thereafter. “Now all I need is another place for a man, a horse and his dog.” He hugged Laurie, laughed, and said she must have the patience of Job.
And off the three of them went. Laurie and I wish we could live it all over again.