We’re all collectors of something in this life, here’s a story from my collection of friends long gone. It’s about a man named Hoss….
Scotty Sherf was born in Wheatridge Colorado in the early 1950’s. His dad was a tough guy as a youth and then joined the Marines and fought his way across the South Pacific as a grunt sharpshooter. Tough was tempered in those battles by unimaginable hardship, death, and gore turning into, well, pure meanness.
Scotty thought it was Iwo Jima that broke his dad of the last bit of human kindness, too much, too hard, too long. So Scott was raised lean and mean and love was shown with a sharp backhand or a hearty kick in the ass. It was consistent though and Scott spoke of him as Godlike and unbeatable in any arena.
His dad worked at Coors but somewhere along the line decided raising Shetland Ponies for a little side cash was the thing to do and Scott at 10 or 11 was charged with feeding and caring for what turned into a good sized herd of those ornery cantankerous hard headed mini-equines.
Along with the horseflesh came the nickname “Hoss”. He loved those little knotheads, probably because he was their King, and their care consumed his youth to the exclusion of all else, especially school and social niceties. Hoss was an animal in his own right, goodhearted but a knothead nonetheless.
There were endless stories of his exploits with these critters, all told with a gravelly voice and sparkling blue eyes that translate poorly on paper but my favorite was about a long ago afternoon feeding.
Seems Hoss and a buddy were out doing chores and carrying bucket water to a trough. One of the Shetlands came up from behind and started nipping Hoss on the shoulder. Hoss was a big old boy with a barrel chest, bulbous sinewy forearms, and meathook hands like good sized Virginia Hams.
Diplomatic discourse being the least of his skills, he hauled off with a right hook and knocked the nibbler straight to the ground. And there on buckled knees was 400 pounds of quivering pony and the friend said, “Damn Hoss, I think you killed him!” Hoss just shook his head and said, “Nah, he’ll get up in a minute”. It wasn’t the first time apparently.
Well school didn’t work out for Hoss, I think probably there were learning disabilities but he left early to forge into adulthood with only the most rudimentary scraps of book learning retained. When we’d talk I’d hear the regret in his voice and truthfully he was a throwback in this digital age and operated as a functional illiterate. But I take that as small measure of a man when it’s heart and guts that really define us.
And guts he had by the bucketful and the heart of a bull. Just a huge man with wild strawberry blonde hair, missing a couple teeth from countless brawls of his youth. He was a lowboy driver for 30 years or so, working for construction and paving outfits, hauling all manner of heavy equipment from jobsite to jobsite. It’s funny he
couldn’t read but yet knew how to operate a thousand machines. Buckets and backhoes, skidsteers and laydown machines, dozers and scrapers. If Cat or Deere or Harvester made it, he could run it.
It was backbreaking work performed in all weather and often in the dark of night. His Virginia ham hands were ripped and torn from fighting binders and load chains, building up oil and dirt stained calluses almost beyond human recognition. He’d borrow the bench grinder at my shop just to grind them down from time to time and his wife Mary finally made him start putting lotion and gloves over them because she said when he got frisky, “It was like getting beat to death with a cactus”.
Hoss finally drank himself to death a few years ago and I suppose it’s sad in a way but he lived life exactly as he wanted and he didn’t hurt anybody along the way except for maybe giving that nibbling pony a helluva headache. I can still hear that gravelly whiskey voice laying into some outlandish tale and the sparkle of those laughing blue eyes. Here’s to you pal, until we meet again.