He spent his young life working and performing in rodeos until he attained fame. Working the rodeo circuits, during the 1930s, throughout the West was his world, but his alcoholic habits, his health and his age brought him to the end of his career. He even had trouble keeping a job as a simple ranch hand.
Still, he had to keep going, doing whatever he could do to maintain a living. In spite of the unfortunate turn in his life, his reputation was nearly legendary.
The moment he would put his foot through the front door, home from a hard day on a ranch, he always was reminded of what he had become, a failure in life.
William had his share of bad breaks, and they were taking their toll. His fortitude was gone; his spirit was nearly broken, taking abuse from even members of his family. He was nearly convinced of his short comings.
William gathered what little belongings he had and stashed them in his truck.
He grasped his lariat tightly and held it before him; he stared at it for a few minutes and mumbled, "Ah, they were the days."
He sighed, and tossed it in with the rest of his meager belongings, then drove for 200 miles with this agony and humiliation boiling within him.
The New Mexico sun was just peeping up over the mountain range when William pulled into the driveway of his oldest son. Jerry, his only grandson, ran and jumped into his arms. The soothing reception was like a dose of medicine for William. It was like a treatment for a bad sickness.
With a glowing smile on his weathered face, William looked down at his 10-year-old grandson. "Let’s go to a rodeo," he said. “But first, go ask your daddy.”
William and his grandson were on their way. Realizing that they would have to travel about 85 miles, William decided to take along provisions for a picnic. He knew that there was some lovely scenery along the way, a river where he used to go to relax and do some finishing.
They were bumping along in William's old pick-up truck, when Jerry looked up at his grandfather and asked, "Grampa, why do you carry a rope?"
"Son, that goes back a long ways," William replied. "It has always been a part of me. I carry my lariat everywhere I go, even if I'm going to a wedding."
In a little while, riding along the river, William looked over to his grandson and said, "Son, there's a waterfall just a piece down the river. We'll stop there and have our picnic."
As they approached, they heard the roar of the falling water. The picnic area, being a scenic view overlooking the waterfall, is also for fishing and playing games. There is a concrete landing overlooking an end of the fall where visitors can see the flowing water as it rushes over the edge and falls far below into a ravine, forming clouds of vapor.
William parked the truck in an area near the waterfall, unloaded the utensils and food, and began to spread the blanket while Jerry ran around the area playing. Jerry ran over to where a crowd of people was standing near the edge of the river. They were watching efforts being made to retrieve a stranded deer in the middle of the river.
"Grampa, Grampa!" Jerry screamed. "Come here, come here! There's a deer caught in the river, it can’t get out! You’ve got to help! You’ve got to help!”
William walked over to investigate. There were people trying to pull a deer out of the river before it reached the edge of the waterfall. They were unable to rescue the deer.
“We can’t do anything about it,” William snapped, looking down at Jerry again. “It doesn’t concern us. Let’s go back and have our picnic.”
“But how about the rope you carry all the time,” Jerry asked, pulling at his grandfather’s arm.
“That’s different, son. You don’t understand.”
As they walked slowly back to the picnic, William paused, looked down at Jerry, “I can’t do that anymore, son,” William snapped, perspiration forming on his face. “I just can’t do it anymore. It’s too late. It’s no use. It’s unthinkable. I’ll just make a fool of myself.”
William turned and looked back at the river, then looked at Jerry again. He turned and continued walking to the picnic area with his hands in his pockets, looking down. Clinching and tightening his fist, he turned again and looked at the river, whispering to himself, “I can’t do it.”
But then, suddenly, “Son, go to the truck and get my lariat,” William commanded. “Hurry!"
A moment later, almost breathless, Jerry returned and handed the lariat to his grandfather.
William looked for a suitable place to make his stand, a place where he would have plenty of room for action. He spotted the concrete landing. It was perfect, he thought.
The people were still trying to do everything they could to retrieve the deer before it went over the edge of the fall. They finally realized their effort was hopeless, and began to gather along the edge of the fall and just watch. They observed William as he took his position on the landing.
"What's he going to do?" someone asked. "Wasn’t he a rodeo star?"
The deer was getting closer and closer. William removed his hat and cast it aside. The wind shifted locks of his graying hair about his temples as he comely adjusted the loop of his lariat and dangled it from his right hand, never taking his eyes off the deer. Planting his legs firmly for maximum balance, he waited patiently for that critical moment.
There was his audience. Maybe it was his last chance to convince himself he wasn’t through yet. He must have known there was no margin for error. The deer was coming into his range at a distance greater than he had ever encountered in his career. He began to tense up.
William tossed the loop of his lariat above his head in a slow, whirling motion. He began to whirl the loop a little faster and a little faster. The deer was moving faster and faster toward the edge of the fall. The crowd was getting impatient and getting angry.
They began to yell at William. "What are you waiting for? What are you waiting for?"
William held his calm. There was stone silence as the crowd watched him. The only sound was William’s lariat cutting the wind. Agony, torment and sweat began to show on William's aging face.
The angry crowd, becoming even more impatient, yelled more persistently. "What are you waiting for? What are you waiting for?"
"Not yet," William whispered to himself. "Not yet."
The deer was inches from the point of no return. William released his lariat. It lunged out across the water, and the loop dropped down around its antlers. William, with his remaining strength, gave a final jerk to tighten it on the deer's antlers.
Completely exhausted, William could hardly stand on his feet. The crowd rushed on to the landing. A pair of hands reached around his right side to grab the lariat, a pair of hands on his left side, then another pair of hand — and another, and another.
William, trying to get his breath, raking his hair out of his face, staggered and wavered backwards to watch them pull the deer to safety.
Francis Bond lives in Richmond Hill.