Counting on camels

He didn’t answer the phone like a man who wanted people to come see his camels.
“What the hell do you want?”

I imagined him sitting in a kitchen with a spread of fried okra and two-day old brown beans parked next to a wad of tobacco drying on a broken saucer.
The old man knew his way around a horse, but it was tough to make much money on the kind of horses he could afford. He had a lot of future riding on 30 damn camels.
“Come on down if you want to see the bastards,” he said. “But if you want to spend the night, you’ll have to share a bed.”
When his wife answered the door to the farmhouse basement, she invited me to eat some fry bread she was cooking and reminded me that he cussed a lot due to “the Tourette’s.”
The cowboy had given up on raising cattle when he took that last bad fall from the horse. The weeds took over the pastures. The herbicides made him start cussing. So he switched to goats before deciding to get into camels.
“Wouldn’t you want to look at a camel more than a goat?”
Thirty camels now roamed across the same Oklahoma hills where he once ran barefoot through childhood.

“Every animal on this place has the same name, and it’s son-of-a- bitch,” he told me as we drove through his 1,200 acres. It’s what he would call them some time or another during their stay at his farm. Maybe, it was when the grass dried up in the August sun or when the winter feed bills slammed his bank account. When a fence went down or in the heated rush of breeding season, it was those times that son-a-bitch made the perfect camel name.

The camels shuffled toward the dirty pickup as he explained how he wanted to buy some runts so he could breed the perfect Nativity camel – one short enough to fit through a church door.

He could make a lot of money renting the bastards out for Christmas programs.

He talked a mean talk, but I could tell by the way he smiled at the camels that he was soft on the inside. A man wouldn’t spend this many years taking care of animals if he didn’t like them now and again.

We parked the truck near the gate and watched one of his moneymakers crane his neck over the fence.

“The females are lovely,” he said as I thought about climbing out of the truck. “but the males can kill you.”

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