The kid never had a chance. Growing up in the tiny Montana town of Gaslight with parents packing the last name of Bacon, you just knew his classmates were gonna start calling him “Beans”, and sure enough, by the time that boy hit third grade, folks had mostly plumb forgot his given name was Joshua, middle initial A. Joshua A. Bacon. The other kids decided the “A” stood for “and”, so he was also called “Beans And Bacon”.
You know. From that saying we have when money is short, about having to live on beans and bacon and damn little bacon.
It didn’t get any better, either. In fourth grade, I think it was, them kids added another layer of kid cruelty, the cruelty of youth. You know that little song:
Beans, beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat the more you toot
The more you toot the better you feel
So eat some beans for every meal
There was five, maybe six of the boys would get to school early just so’s they could sing that song to Beans before the bell rang. It had an effect on the young fella, too. Not right away, but as the weeks and then the years passed, you could see the change in him. He coulda dealt with it any number of ways, I s’pose, but the way he did deal with it was to become more and more of a loner. By the time he was a man full growed, making his own way in the world, Beans Bacon preferred working by himself.
Which everybody else pretty much preferred as well, that he should just outright stay the heck away from the rest of ’em, since he also passed more gas than the average hand. In them days, farting in public was purely frowned upon, and poor Beans couldn’t begin to fully cover up his problem no matter how loud and how often he coughed to try and hide it.
This all led to his becoming a sheepherder, living alone, out with the flock for months on end, nothing but him and two collie dogs and three thousand woollies. The dogs didn’t mind how loud or how smelly he got, partly I s’pose due to their own ways of barking and rolling in dead stuff. The townspeople, looking down on sheep farmers despite their own limited lives in little old Gaslight, wrote the boy off. Made a few jokes about Montana sheepherders, figured a ewe or two was the only females he’d ever do.
Heh. Made a rhyme there, I did. A ewe or two, all he’d ever do. Heh.
Anyway, the good citizens of Gaslight were convinced Beans Bacon, what with his problems and his limitations and all, would never have any sort of normal human wife. Or if he did, she’d be dog ugly, make them collies look like fairy princesses by comparison.
They was wrong.
One year, he was twenty-three or thereabouts, Beans got a sheepherding job with a flock that summered over on Frog Creek. Now, the pasture on one side of Frog Creek belonged to his boss while the grassland over on the other side belonged to a lady cattle rancher, Mrs. Hamm.
Don’t be getting ahead of me now. Let me tell the story, okay?
All Beans knew about Mrs. Hamm was that she was a widow lady, husband had died two years ago, rattler bit ‘im, and that she ran three hundred head of prime beef cattle on her place. Early on, he didn’t figure he needed to know any more than that. Frog Creek was almost a river, ran both deep and strong, made a fine fence between the two properties.
But that summer ended up setting records, hotter ‘n the Devil’s own kitchen and not a drop of rain after June 15. The creek dried up, not all the way, but down to a trickle even a half-grown lamb could walk across without wetting its wool. That scared Beans Bacon right down to his boots. Cattlemen and sheepmen were not good neighbors; in fact, range wars have been fought between the two. Cows crop the grass down only so far, then they move on to greener pastures. Sheep eat down to the dirt.
Sheep destroy pasture grass. Which is one of many reasons big flocks of the woolly, bleating buggers need a herder, to move ’em along when they’ve done enough damage, before the range is ruined to the point it won’t ever recover. Beans was, quite honestly, afraid one of Mrs. Hamm’s cowhands would just ride on over one day and start dropping first the sheepherder and then the sheep with his trusty .44-40 Winchester.
He needn’t have worried.
One fine fluffy-cloud day, just as he was urging the flock back from Frog Creek after allowing them to drink, a rider did indeed ride across the creek, but the rider was not one of Mrs. Hamm’s cowhands. It was Mrs. Hamm herself.
“Hello the flock!”
“Hello there! You’d be Mrs. Hamm?”
“I would.” She rode on up but stayed on her horse, politely waiting for his invitation to light and set.
The invitation was promptly given. While they talked, Beans made a fresh pot of coffee, mostly to keep himself busy while she explained the reason for her visit to a lowly sheepherder.
“I’ve heard good things about you, Mr. Bacon,” she informed him. “You’ve earned yourself a reputation for hard work, and you lose fewer lambs than anyone else in the business except for Gilly Holloway. I’ve come to make you a proposition–oh, not an improper one, I assure you!” Her laughter tinkled, that’s right, she had a tinkling laugh, okay? Beans heard that laugh, and he saw those deep blue eyes, those crinkly smile lines, and he was in love. Sure, she was some older than him, but still beautiful. Not that he had the chance of a fart in a windstorm, but….
“Frankly,” she went on, “I could use your help.”
“You see, I’ve been having trouble finding good help. Top hands are rare in these parts as hens’ teeth, and I keep having to run off the ones that don’t take off on their own in the middle of the night with as much as they can steal. I’d like to hire you away from your sheep to come work for me. What do you say?”
Excitement grabbed that young man by the throat. “I’d be more than honored–”
And then he farted.
Not just any fart, either. One of those window-rattling, horse-spooking, attention-getting blasts that will remove a man from polite company faster than a speeding bullet. He turned beet red, all the way up into his hairline.
“I’m so sorry, Ma’am! That was–”
“–the most natural thing in the world!” The lovely Mrs. Hamm finished his sentence for him, taking it in a direction he’d never before considered. He almost missed her next words.
“Why do you think I rode all the way out here to hire a sheepherder who doesn’t know a thing about cattle, Mr. Bacon?”
She waved a gloved hand dismissively. “No, no, that’s a rhetorical question. See, I’m a widow, yes, but before he died, the late Mr. Hamm taught me all there was to know about employing ranch hands. He had a little saying, a little rhyme, that explained it quite well.
“A farting horse will never tire.
“A farting man’s the one to hire.”
So there you have it, Your Honour. It wasn’t but a year or two before Mrs. Hamm–Mrs. Honey Hamm, no less–became Mrs. Bacon. And that’s why you have to approve my name change. With all they’d been through when it came to their own names, I’ll never on God’s green Earth understand why they named me Peggy.
Reprinted with permission from Hell Growing Up in the West : A Girl Called Piggy Bacon.