Dennis Gaines Jim
J. D. Reitz Christmas Eve at the Silver Dollar Saloon
Jim Quarternight's Gift
Ride on, ride on, Jim Quarternight, another lonely ride.
Stars shine bright in the cloudless night, and Time is a pleasant blur.
It's Christmas Eve, and family and feast await at the fireside
To crown the year with love and cheer and the welcome warmth of her.
Age-won wisdom whispers dark and melancholy songs
Of a time when Fortune's promise lured your willing heart astray,
And the romance of the ranges led you knowingly along
As a temptress or mirage that flirts, then gently fades away.
Does your Stetson cover memories of a gay and reckless youth,
Or simply serve to shelter silver hair from snow and cold?
Does the wistful want and longing in your eyes bespeak the truth
Of a quiet resignation at the deal the dice have rolled?
Lord knows you've seen the elephant; the Prodigal's your kin,
Though a fatted calf won't mark the mortal ending of your ride.
But Fate can be capricious, and She throws a whimsic spin,
Why, picture old Jim Quarternight with Hannah by his side!
Hers a world of joy and love, who knows not care nor worry;
His the weight of fifty years, but tall he rides tonight.
And his pulse begins to quicken, and his horse's hoofbeats hurry
'Til he reins up at the homestead in the lantern's welcome light.
A bait of grain and Christmas apple saved for Dancy's feast,
A blanket and a sheltered stall to pass the night in style.
Solemnly Jim tips his hat toward the starlit East,
Then steps into the cabin, wreathed in finest Christmas smile.
A hearty cheer and handshake for his younger brother Paul,
While laughter, hugs and kisses come as gifts from Sue to Jim.
But gala airs can't hide the knowing glances in the hall,
Or the sheer delight that fills his soul when she runs out to him.
So young, so young, so soon they learn to snare an old man's heart,
With innocence and faith and trust that swell a man inside.
And he knows it's not forever, and he knows they'll someday part,
But soft she nestles in his arms, and glad he made the ride.
And I've often heard her speak of him with tender tones and tears,
How he smelled of burnished leather, of campfire smoke and sage;
With no regret for beauty lost beyond the veil of years,
Of long-loved scents of plug tobacco, homemade soap and age.
Gifts are given, gifts received, but none so rare as this.
Jim Quarternight holds Hannah tight, and memories weave and wend
To that Christmas Eve when fear and anguish stole away the bliss,
And his brother's wife screamed out and prayed the fearsome pain might end.
A freighting trip took Paul away to pay the banker's due,
His hopes and dreams entrusted to a brother's faithful care.
But Sue broke early, body wracked by spasms through and through,
And placed her life in calloused hands and desperate, whispered prayers.
A midwife's ministrations couldn't be more true nor kind.
"Why, it's just like pullin' calves," said Jim, and blushed upon the saying.
With her precious maiden's modesty relieved and thus defined,
She laughed at his embarrassment, but never ceased her praying.
And they named the baby Hannah, who was given gifts by God
And taught that gifts received may be returned.
They give the most that have the least and know not Wealth's facade;
This lesson shall redeem them yet, if nothing else they've learned.
For one there was who gave His all, though He had naught to give
But His life to save us from our earthly sin.
And Hannah, darlin' Hannah, in the four short years she'd lived
Redeemed a lonely cowboy's soul and found the love within.
Jim's anxious fingers fumbled through his tattered saddlebags,
Past shirt and soap and sundries cast aside to claim the prize.
A silken wild rag worn behind a thousand dusty drags
Held the treasure he had made for her -- a doll with emerald eyes.
I've heard it told so often I believe that I was there;
How he cut up Cookie's apron made from flour sacks he'd saved.
How Dancy's sorrel mane was gleaned for softest, shining hair,
And why he swapped his six-gun to an old Shoshone brave
For a soft and supple buckskin cured with all the ancient skills,
To fashion dress and moccasins with fringe and beads of blue.
How his patient fingers stitched and stuffed with cotton from his quilts,
And how she gazed in wonder at those eyes of emerald hue.
Those eyes, those eyes; swift recognition flashed across Paul's face,
Recalling how a ring adorned the finger of his mother,
Who lived with quiet dignity and died in solemn grace.
No greater love could Jim bequeath the daughter of his brother.
And in the reaches of the night Jim woke to reminisce
And ponder how he might have lived his life another way.
Memory's taste is bittersweet for chances known and missed,
But profit comes not from regret for chances thrown away.
His bed he'd spread beside the hearth and Hannah's downy pad
And smiled to see her clutch the doll with honest love and pride.
Too late he knew the loss of wife and child he'd never had.
"God bless you, girl," he whispered low, then turned his head and cried.
She told me how he spoke to her of life upon the range,
How he loved her true, but loved it, too, and time had come to part.
His salty tears as he held her near seemed not so very strange,
For nothing else but truest love can break a great, good heart.
Jim Quarternight was killed next spring at a round-up on the Red,
When a fool green kid tied hard and fast to the outlaw bull at dawn.
Death rode hard, but Jim rode harder; he took the horns instead.
Ropes sailed true and six-guns crashed too late -- old Jim was gone.
She remembers him now in his boots and spurs and hat placed upon his breast;
So proud, so strong, so peaceful, and yet -- how could the story be told otherwise?
As they lowered the lid on the old cowboy and sang to his final rest,
Clutched in his good right hand was her gift -- the doll with the emerald eyes.
© Dennis Gaines, November 20, 1991
Read more poems by Dennis Gaines here.
Christmas Eve at the Silver Dollar Saloon
(A Christmas Ghost Story)
It was Christmas eve in that small Dakota town
And I was stuck here with a truck that was busted down
Seemed to be a fittin finish to what had been a tough year
To wind up in this little town called Fort Pierre
I had just finished working for an eastern South Dakota Co-op
It was the only way I had to get the bill collectors to stop
What with a dry year and the selling price of stock
A whole bunch of us small ranchers were going into hock
So I went east to work and support my kids and my wife
It sure wasn't what should happen in a ranchers life
I'd called my wife and told her I was trying to make it home
Sure didn't want my family to spend their Christmas alone
On that small towns street there wasn't a single person in sight
Seemed like every door was locked up tight
An icy wind was blowing, bringing in a storm with its icy chill
And I knew I have to find a warm place for a few hours to kill
Then off in a distance I spotted a light as bright as the moon
As I neared it, I saw a sign that read,The Silver Dollar Saloon
But even as I reached the door, I still felt a sense of doubt
I figured that the owner had just forgotten to turn the light out
But on that door was a note that filled me with a little cheer
The sign said, "all troubled and tired cowboys are welcome in here"
When I entered, the icy chill left and warmth hit my face
The Silver Dollar bar surely was a cheery little place
Behind the bar was a little bearded man in a white shirt and red vest
He said, "welcome cowboy, come on in and take a rest
As I looked around I noticed that Christmas decorations seemed to fill that bar
And from the center of the ceiling there hung a bright golden star
The the little man said, " what can I get for you son"
It seemed that his cheery ways was putting my blues on the run
Sir, I don't drink anything that contains alcohol
"No problem, he said, I'll put on coffee, ain't no trouble at all"
"We'll just sit here and talk, it will help pass this cold night
It's funny how just a little talking can help set some things right"
I asked him has name and he told me it was Nick
It was about then that my mind did a funny little trick
Well,the time passed and I was sure being put at as ease
Nick could tell and he said, "here, at The Silver Dollar, we aim to please"
"while we were talking you told me a little about your life
About missing your kids and you pretty wife
And I know that it's sure been tough to be stuck here on Christmas eve
But I think that I can help you out before you leave
Sometimes things like this are only a speed bump in one's life
Most of them are not serious enough to cause real strife
It's the good things in life you do that the real thing"
I was thinking over what he'd said when the telephone gave a ring
Nick said, "I called a freind, your truck will be fixed in a short while"
And on his bearded face was a big wide smile
"But before you go, I got something for you to pack"
Smiling again, as he handed me a big red sack
"This is for you and your family, just tell them it's from Nick
Now you better be going before the snow gets thick"
"Take care, my cowboy freind, out there on the road
It's been my pleasure to help lighten your load"
Then he kinda shoved me out the door, as he reached to turn out the sign
"Take it easy out there son, and things will turn out just fine"
I again found myself alone on that dark small town street
But there sat my truck, all fixed and neat
Then I got to thinking, sometimes my mind is so thick
I had plumb forgotten to say goodnight to Nick
But, then up in the sky I spotted a flash of red and white
And I heard a voice saying, Merry Christmas And Goodnight
I could have sworn that the voice sounded like that of Nicks
Must have been my mind doing another one of it's funny tricks
Well folks, I did make it home to the family on that Christmas eve
And the rest of this story is for you to believe
A few years later, I again returned to that small Dakota town
But I couldn't find the Silver Dollar and I was feeling a little let down
ThenI met an old fellow setting on a bench during the hour of noon
And I asked him if he knew of a place called, The Silver Dollar Saloon
The answer he gave me made my heart take a little jump
As he continued his story, to my throat, came a lump
"The Silver Dollar Saloon burned down many years ago, he said
And amongst the ashes lay Nicks body,dead
We buried him on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River
On his stone we carved, Here lies a good man, never a taker, always a giver"
But, this is not yet, the end of this story you see
So it came as no surprise what the old man next said to me
"Folks said that Nick was the Lion that could lie down with the Lamb
He was always helping folks out of some jam
Never expected that he'd ever be paid back, it was just his way
Yes, he said, I knew Nick and it was a pleasure, I must say
And it's always around Christmas time that his story again comes alive
That's why memories of Nick will always survive
Because on every Christmas eve on the dark street
Some lonely cowboy will see a sign as bright as the moon
A sign that reads, The Silver Dollar Saloon"
J.D. Reitz & The Pocketmouse
Please remember this, The Silver Dollar Saloon was real, Nick actually lived. I leave this question up to you. Is this a cowboy ghost story?????
Read more of J. D. Reitz' poems here
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