A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas

A Noel Guthrie Acrylic on canvas
The Cockabully Hunters --- from an original painting by Noel Guthrie

Monday, 14 November 2016

Gilbert


Gilbert

From an acrylic on canvas painting by
Noel Guthrie



“Who’s that funny little man?” I asked my grandmother during one of my visits to her farm.   “What are those things around the bottom of his trousers?” 
“That’s Gilbert,” she replied, “he’s the new cowboy and those things are bicycle clips.”
That was the first time I saw Gilbert.  I was about six or seven years old.

He was an odd little man.  Ginger hair poked out from under his battered felt hat and tufts of ginger nasal hair extended from his nostrils.  His face was all wrinkled and dry, like a weather-beaten leather boot.  A couple of small pieces of tissue stuck to his chin reminded me of my dad when he has cut himself shaving. 
He was a small man and had the bandiest legs I had ever seen.  Later, someone told me he had been a jockey in his younger days.
To me, he looked over the hill.  Yet I suppose to most youngsters, anyone over the age of twenty looked old.   For all that, his blue eyes sparkled when he smiled.  
Between the wrinkles, large freckles adorned his face.  With a serious expression, he informed me those freckles were fly dirt. I was never was too sure if he was pulling my leg.

 “What are bi?. . . bi?   Aw, what did you say those things were Grandma?  Are they to hold his spurs?  What colour is his horse, have you seen it?  Is it like Trigger?" 
I was excited; I had never seen a real cowboy before.
Grandma ruffled my hair with her hand and she laughed. 
“No.  Those are to hold his trousers from getting caught in the bicycle chain when he rides to work.    He doesn’t have a horse and who, for goodness sake, is Trigger?”
I sighed.  These olds, they don’t even know the name of Hopalong Cassidy’s horse.
Beside my bed at home were picture books and comics, all portraying those exciting exploits of Hopalong Cassidy and Tom Mix?  Their pages regularly thumbed night after night, before I went to sleep.
Grandma smiled.
“I have made your favourite.”  She said opening the cupboard and placing a cake tin on the table.
I loved her shortbread squares.  They were better than those my mum makes.  She always made a little shortbread man, especially for me.   
 “Where’s Tom?”  I asked, biting off the little man's leg and licking crumbs off my lips.  Taking a drink of raspberry grandma gave me. “I’m going to tell him about the new cowboy.  He’ll know who Trigger is, you just don’t understand Grandma.” 
I turned to run through the orchard on my way to the garden.
“Tom is not here,” Grandma said to me as I dashed out the door and jumped up to swing on the low branch of an old peach tree.
“No matter Gran,” I shouted over my shoulder.  “I’ll wait; I’ll go and chase sparrows away from his strawberries."
Taking large strides, I started off down the dirt path, my chest puffed out.  I had an important assignment to fulfil before Tom returned.
“Wait!”  Grandma raised her voice so I would hear her.  “Tom has gone; he’s not coming back!”
In midstride I stopped.  Mouthing silently, Tom is not coming back?   A feeling of disbelief swept over me.  My head cocked at an angle, I stood there hands hips, not fully accepting what grandma was saying. 
“Tom’s not here?  But he is always here when I come to visit.
Don't be silly Gran; Tom will be back.  You are just tricking me, aren't you?”   
Grandma knew I usually rushed down to the garden or waited out by the cow bale to see Tom.  With a sad look in her eyes, she said. “He wanted to go and work on another farm.”
“But he can’t have, he told me we were going bird nesting next time I came."  Tears began trickling down my cheeks.
“Perhaps Gilbert will take you bird nesting,” Grandma said in a soothing tone.
“Aw. What would he know about birds nesting, he's a cowboy?   Cowboy’s don't climb trees."
“Tom was a cowboy.” 
"No, he wasn't," I blurted, wiping at the tears with the back of my hand.  
"He was a.  . .  He was.  . .  Tom’s always here!  He’s not a cowboy Grandma, he’s too old.”  I said, sniffing and wiping at the constant flow of tears with my shirt sleeve.
Turning abruptly, tears blurring my vision, I ran through the cow paddock to the cow bail, where I helped Tom milk Betsy, the cow. 
Betsy was there, in the middle of the paddock, her eyes closed, chewing her cud and swishing her tail quite unconcerned.  
Tom’s milking stool lay on its side against the fence.  I picked it up and sat, resting my arms on the bottom rail of the bail to watch Grandma's hen’s scratch in the dirt. 
I wished Tom were here.  There are so many things I needed to tell him, like the little rabbit he caught for me.  I called it Flossy and wanted to tell him that my dad had made a hutch and I fed Flossy every day.

A shadow drifted into my line of sight.  I felt a soft touch on my shoulder.  Gilbert smiled when I looked up.
"Now, what's all this about, young fella," he said to me in a comforting voice.
"Aw, nothing,” I sobbed. 
“Oh, I thought you must have hurt yourself?”
“No, I haven’t,” I snapped, brushing away a fresh surge of tears. “My friend has gone away, who will milk Betsy?"
Rubbing his jaw, Gilbert squatted down, to sit on his heels, I could hear his knee’s cracking. 
“Mmmm, that’s a tough one.” Lifting his hat he scratched his head.  "What say we ask Betsy, see if she will let me milk her?"
“Don’t be silly,” I said giggling through my tears. “Cows can’t talk. I was looking at the hens having a dust bath.
Anyway, you're a cowboy and cowboys don't milk cows.”  I sniffed. “Tom was going to take me bird nesting.”
Digging into his pocket, Gilbert pulled out a little round tin of tobacco and began to roll a cigarette. 
"I'll take you bird nesting." He said, licking the gummed edge of his tissue paper. 
Cupping his hands around the match flame, he drew smoke into his lungs.
“Aw, it doesn’t matter.”  I watched fascinated as he blew out a stream of smoke, making smoke rings in the air.  “I’ll just help you milk Betsy and then I better go home.”
“Just as you like, little fella.”  Gilbert began to stand up.  He groaned as his old joints cracked from squatting down.  “By the way, did Tom tell you how to climb a tree and get down again, carrying the eggs in your mouth so they would not break?” 
"No," I said.
“Did he show you how to make a hole and blow the eggs, before fitting them on a string, without breaking the shell?"
I looked at Gilbert.  My mouth fell open in horror. 
"No.  .  . No.  You can't do that.  What about mother bird?  She will not have any baby birds, and I won't see them fly away up into the sky when they grow big."
"Oh. ... Sorry." replied Gilbert.  "I never thought about that.  Well then, what if we mark the nest with a piece of string and then you can keep a watch, to see all the babies grow up and fly away."
“Can we?” I jumped up off the stool with excitement.    “I’ll keep watch and count how many baby birds grow up and fly away.  I’m going to tell Grandma that you are going to take me bird nesting. 
Now, you just hold on to Betsy, until I come back to help.”
Gilbert stood to attention.  He gave me a salute. “Yes. . . Sir.” He laughed.
Giggling at him, I strode through the long grass towards the house.  Reaching the orchard, I shouted over his shoulder.  “You are my best friend. I love you, Gilbert!” 








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