I always wanted to be a cowboy, but once I lost my enthusiasm for being one — all on account of Dolly Jo.
Now, a fellow can’t depend on his eyes when his imagination is out of focus, and at age seventeen, I imagined Dolly Jo was the most perfect female the Lord ever created.
Back in those days, Mississippi Delta farmers held rodeos on weekends — not big, western-style rodeos, but every bit as much fun. With small arenas, bleachers, and concession stands, the rodeos attracted folks from miles around, eager to watch calf roping, steer wrestling, and bull riding.
It was a fine September afternoon, and we kids were watching the bull riders, when Dolly Jo crooned, “Those men are so-o-o brave! I hope I marry a man that brave.”
That’s all it took — I had to be that man. When I told my boyhood best friend and mentor Jaybird I would show that gorgeous babe that I was brave by riding a bull, the old black man said, “Boy, you have lost yo’ mind! Take my advice: Think no mo’ o’ Dolly Jo.”
Every time I ignored my mentor’s sage advice, I paid an awful price, and would do so the very next weekend when I got in line with the other contestants and drew a bull named “Die Young.”
With my hat pulled down tight and a red bandanna around my neck, I glanced over at Dolly Jo as I straddled the roaring beast. She shot me back the most perfect look of love a man is ever likely to get in this life. I was scared stiff, but remembering that famous cowboy saying — when you ain’t got no choice, be brave — I yelled, “Let ’em rip.”
What I expected was bucking; what I got was a whirling dervish. That bull’s feet never left the ground. All he did was rotate so fast that before I knew what was happening, instead of me riding him, he was riding me!
When I staggered to my feet, I saw Die Young making a victory lap around the arena with my shirt flapping from his leg, and the crowd’s laughter was rocking the bleachers.
They were laughing because the only thing I had on was the bandanna! My pants were down around my boots, and Die Young had trampled my hat to shreds. Instantly, the bandanna and I became the same color.
As I jerked up my pants, I glanced at Dolly Jo. Not only was she howling like a hyena, but also she had her arms around Brander, our football team’s quarterback.
Jaybird was sitting in his front porch swing when I limped up the steps and plopped down beside him. My heart was broken, my body was bruised, and my pride was destroyed. I didn’t have to tell him what happened; he knew.
The beloved old black put his arm around me, pulled me close, and said, “Maybe now you’ll take my advice: Think no mo’ o’ Dolly Jo.”
Oxford, Mississippi, resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, and retired Mississippi Delta cotton farmer Jimmy Reed is a newspaper columnist, author and college teacher. His latest collection of short stories is available via Squarebooks.com at 662-236-2262.
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