Molly was a gift from a cowboy in Mississippi who loved this little girl from Pennsylvania. Cline’s face was tan and weathered from almost seventy years spent riding thousands of acres of Mississippi pastureland. His right thumb had a scar around the base where it was caught between his saddle horn and rope mid-dally with a two-thousand pound bull on the other end. It has been cut clean off, but in his no-nonsense way, he plucked it up out of the tall grass, put it on ice, and took it to the hospital where they stitched it back on—ready to ride another day. Years later, he used that thumb as a teaching illustration, ensuring that I would never forget to “go thumbs up” while roping a cow.
Cline taught me all kinds of lessons: how to put the right amount of ice in a cup of cheap Canadian whiskey, how to check a pregnant cow, how to brand a calf, and how to play poker. Mostly though, Cline helped me through some of the hardest years of being a kid. Mississippi was far enough away that I could forget how much middle school hurt and come to learn just how much there is to see in the world. Cline took me on the best adventures, and in Molly, he gave my family an adventure that would live on even after cancer took him on into the next pasture.
When we finished the long drive and finally got to the barn on that January day ten years ago, my friend Julie and I immediately discovered a new attraction—there were two litters of puppies fighting over a pan of food in one of the back stalls. Full of mischief and delight, we opened the door and let twenty little Catahoula puppies run wild into the big, open-air arena. We chased and giggled and tried to herd them back into their stall, all while Cline yelled from the tack room that we “had better get all those puppies back in their place!”
As I ran after a group of four little fur balls, I noticed a tan little puppy running alongside me, seemingly trying to help. Even after we got the puppies back into their stall, I noticed that she stood apart, often trying to herd her brothers and sisters. I liked her immediately, and we spent the rest of the week side by side. Each day, after coming back from whatever work we had been doing on the ranch, I would brush my horse down, store my tack, and go find Molly. We would sit in the rocking chair while the guys played poker, or we would run around the barn playing tug-of-war with bits of twine. She had smart, hazel eyes and she always seemed to know exactly what I was thinking or feeling. I had never experienced anything like it.
As the week came to an end, I contemplated saying goodbye to my little friend. I knew there was no way that we could accomodate a puppy at home. And so, on that last morning, I dragged my feet on my way back to the stall, and hesitated before I slid the heavy door back. At that moment, Cline walked up and said, in his miraculously gentle drawl, “You can take her home if you want to.” It was a generous offer—Catahoula puppies have value on a ranch, and I knew that the gift came from the tender heart of a toughened cowboy, but I also didn’t think I could accept. Until dad stepped in. Dad, who always delights in making dreams come true. Dad, full of wisdom. He said that he believed in saying “yes” when opportunity knocks, and that he thought I would regret saying no to this gift. Time would prove how right he was.
Molly rode on my lap for seventeen hours as we trailered our horses back across the Mason-Dixon, and by the time we made it home, the deal was done. We were bonded for life.
These days, Molly’s face has lots of grey hairs, and when the weather changes, her right hip makes her limp. She still loves chasing the horses and running through the pasture, and when I get home, she lets me know with lots of kisses that I’m still her favorite. Last night as I fell asleep with my hand resting on her soft head, I whispered a grateful prayer to Cline, who disrupted our lives so beautifully with this generous gift to a Yankee girl.