The first thing I see every morning, right at 5:30, is my lapdog’s brown eyes staring into my soul from her perch on my chest. There is never a need for an alarm clock except for the first couple of days after daylight savings or its reverse kick in. No way do I understand how she does it, but I am pretty sure that breakfast is the motive force.

The second thing is a picture hanging above my writing desk of a 70-year-old fellow in a straw hat, denim shirt buttoned at the wrist, Wranglers and roper boots, sitting astride a silver grulla stud horse, hands folded over the saddle horn. The picture was taken at Moss Springs campground above Cove, a couple of years before prostate cancer knocked the rider into eternity. I can’t remember the horse’s name, but the man was Dewie Lovelace, my pal and the origin of a bushel of campfire stories.

The first time I met Dewie there were 13 of us living in a little cluster of log cabins high in the Salmon River Mountains of central Idaho where we were snowed away from pizza joints and polite society for six months a year. Five of the 13 were under the age of 5. Dewie lived down in the Snake River country of Eastern Oregon but had a mining claim 10 miles away from our camp.

I happened to be standing down by the barn when Dewie showed up with the goat in the back of his old Dodge pickup. He introduced himself and presented the goat to me. It was a fresh milker named Mandy that he had bought at auction so our kids would have milk in the coming winter. Dewie always thought of the kids first. He announced that on Saturday night he was throwing a corn feed on his claim, for us to bring what we had for a potluck or not, that there would be plenty of boiled corn for everyone, and maybe some trading stock.

I think I attended 30 corn feeds, the first 15 up high in Idaho, the rest at Moss Springs after the Forest Service clamped down on recreational mining and made us tear down the cabin on his claim. The format was pretty much the same at all of them. Dewie and his wife Carolyn would bring three or four gunny sacks of fresh corn from down in the Snake River plains and a 10-gallon steel pot for the boiling over an open fire. There was always a table of salads and beans and hot dogs and buns, and too much beer.

Dewie was the consummate master of ceremonies. He paid attention to everyone and made sure the kids were having safe fun, particularly during the trading stock portion of the feed, which really was a chance for Dewie to give presents. He particularly liked pocket knives, and several times I watched him flourish a little knife and whittle hot dog sticks until some kid showed interest in the knife, then he would trade it to the kid for a shiny rock or twisted tree branch.

I have worked with folks who are probably better cowboys than Dewie, but never someone who was a better horseman. Like he said, he always had a few more horses than he could afford and that about half the time you can be smarter than a horse but you will never be stronger. When my daughter was 12 and spent most of her time drawing horses, Dewie showed up on the ranch where I worked and backed a sorrel quarter horse mare named Mary out of a two-horse trailer then handed my kid a couple of pieces of orange hay string, saying that she shouldn’t need much more tack than that and showed her how to fashion a hackamore from the string. Mary was the kind of kid’s horse that would move back under the rider if she felt that the kid was in danger of falling.

Dewie called me 15 years ago and informed me that since I had stopped drinking I was no longer expected to pull a pint of whiskey out of his boot and pass it around at his funeral, but that he had some not-so-good news and cancer was getting the best of him, so would I build one of my little dovetailed boxes for his ashes. I delivered it to him at our last corn feed. By the next spring, he was gone.

His funeral was a potluck corn feed affair in the park by the Cove hot springs pool. After folks had eaten, Caroline motioned to me and her grown kids and we carried the little box up to a set of rocks above the park. We didn’t have words to express our sorrow as we began sprinkling Dewie’s ashes over a small cliff. Then a pack of 6- to 10-year-old kids spotted us and came stampeding up the hill, wondering what we were doing. Carolyn explained that we were giving Dewie back to the land. They asked if they could help. In the most fitting funeral I’ve attended, Dewie Lovelace was sent into the winds by the little hands that meant the most to him.

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J.D. Smith is an accomplished writer and jack-of-all-trades. He lives in Athena.

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