Best of Friends
My brother, Ralph, age 17, was finally on his way home. For a year and half, he had battled leukemia, and was returning from Seattle where he had received a bone marrow transplant. We were in the dead heat of summer, guest ranch in full swing, and I was anxiously awaiting my brother and mom’s arrival. Six months earlier, I didn’t know if I’d ever see my brother again. But as their car turned the drive, my heart filled.
Ralph stepped from the car and tears rolled down my cheeks. He was home. He stood before me pale and weakened from months of chemotherapy, radiation, and medication, but he was there alive, hat crooked sideways and a smile on his face.
Summer rolled on, and Ralph became restless. He had strict instructions to be careful in the sunlight; he had a weakened immune system susceptible to infection. The barnyard was the last place he was supposed to be, but Ralph needed to breathe fresh air and touch a horse again. During his treatment, his horse had gone lame, and had to be sold. It was yet another blow, as Ralph loved his horses.
One afternoon lent itself to a car ride to town together. I had some errands to run for the ranch, and Ralph decided to tag along. We discussed girls, music, and inevitably…horses. Our conversations frequently turned to the favorite subject; confirmation, bloodlines, dreams of owning a ranch. Stopping at a gas station, we picked up a paper to glance over horse ads, and one piqued our interest. The errands would have to wait.
We drove along looking for the correct address. As we pulled in the drive, two chestnut horses picked their heads up, watching us as we got out. The older of the two approached us at the gate, the younger observed from a distance. The owner greeted us, carrying a halter with her. Catching both horses, I asked questions, and looked them over. The younger one, “Cruz”, caught my eye. As Ralph pet the younger of the two, he looked at me with that crooked grin. The horse turned to sniff at him. At that exact moment, I knew this horse was coming home with my brother. Cruz had been a college girl’s project at Montana State, and she now needed the funds to finish school. If we weren’t sold already on his looks, his disposition had us writing the check. Cruz came home with us.
Cruz’s name was changed to Emmitt via a long discussion of names on that car-ride home. Emmitt stood for Emmit Smith, Ralph’s favorite childhood football star. And it fit.
As we pulled in the barnyard, we were welcomed by Mom, Dad, and the whole ranch gang. Everyone knew what it meant to Ralph to have this horse. I was able to be a part of something special. I couldn’t be there for Ralph during his treatment, but I could be there to start a new chapter of his life.
It’s been years since that day Ralph met Emmitt. It’s still one of my favorite memories with Ralph, and their relationship still grows to this day working cows in Florida. It’s a partnership built on bull-headedness, heart, understanding and true grit. And it’s my favorite story of a man and his horse.