The stately county courthouse was their usual meeting place,
a shaded downtown refuge, and a lovely public space,
to sit upon their benches under lofty pecan trees,
wood shavings on their ankles and some cedar twixt their knees.
Those old boys were called the whittlers, but that was a disguise.
They came to speak of mice and men and hang out with the guys.
Born long before the TV went and addled peoples wits,
they sure could tell some stories that would cause your sides to split.
They'd kid me 'bout the pile of books that I had just checked out.
Said I was sure to ruin my eyes and fry my brain no doubt.
But I guess they got a kick out of their devoted fan,
'cause they'd trot out all their stories and tell them all again.
There were stories of big ranches and oil boom shanty towns,
of work on rigs as roughnecks and touring rodeo clowns,
and how they used to ride the rails when no work could be found,
but the way they spun those stories had me rolling on the ground.
And in between a whittle and another spit and chew,
they showed me how to whet a knife and tie a buckaroo.
Though they had so many stories and lessons to impart,
I'd have to hear the cowboy code before I could depart.
"You give a man a good hard shake and look him in the eye.
If you mess up, tell it straight, never cover with a lie.
Always give a full day's work and live out each day with heart.
A man's no good without his word, so finish what you start.
Protect the weak and help them, and respect your elders, too.
Never leave a friend behind, nothing else will ever do.
And when your days on Earth are done, according to God's plan,
you can face up to the reaper, and meet him like a man.”
If that was all I learned from them, that lesson was enough.
For a kid without some guidance, this life can be quite tough.
I guess the folks made fun of them, and thought them no account.
For me they were the heroes I would trade for no amount.
The stately county courthouse still stands strong upon those grounds,
although now those shaded benches are nowhere to be found.
And where once the mighty whittlers would carve and hold their court,
the squirrels now gather up pecans and chase around for sport.
© December 28, 2013