The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Bone Stranger

By Thomas A. Simpkins © 1986

Issue: November, 1986

We used to laugh at him when I was a kid and he was still an old man. He'd go riding by, that gaunt figure slumped on the back of that half starved old horse. We used to call to him "Bone Stranger on Silver the Wonder Horse." (It was a wonder he was still alive.)

We felt sorry for the horse. He called the horse King and was very proud. We threw apples in the chug holes in the road beside the house so that when Silver stopped to eat them the Bone Stranger, half asleep, would almost fall off on his head.

He came each day, every day, to check his mailbox. He never seemed aware that the mail didn't run on Sundays or holidays, and no one bothered to tell him, not that he would have understood what those days meant anymore. He never got any mail, as I could tell, except his once a month Social Security check, once a season Sears and Roebuck catalogue, or his once a year card from his favorite son at Christmas. He buried the check, looked at the women's lingerie in the catalogue and couldn't read the letter. He'd bring the letter by the house for Mom to read.

He'd been a deputy once and still carried a .38 revolver that they had given him. He was quite proud when Mom wouldn't let him bring the rusty old thing into the house. She made him tie old Silver (who stank like he was rotten) away from the house and hang the gun on the saddle by the string tied to the handle. He never owned a holster. It was so old that she was sure that it wouldn't shoot, but Mom didn't like old guns or old people. She'd read the three or four lines scratched on the back of the twelve cent postcard. He'd chuckle through his snuff spatter whiskers and brag as to how he reckoned he would have to leave all his wealth to his favorite son when he left, although he never seemed to have any clear cut idea as to what his wealth was or exactly where it was he was going to.

One snowy winter day he came late, walking. Silver had fallen into a snow drift. With great effort he had dug himself out and with even greater effort had shot the old horse. It broke his heart, and it wasn't much later they came and took him away. Dad bought his place for just enough to bury him (with money that we didn't have).

His favorite son came in the middle of the night and stole his wine crocks.