The Quiet ManThursday, July 29, 2010
The cowboy, Michael East, is 66 years old. Like Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. up in Austin, Michael East is a creature of routine. Every morning (except for one where Michael woke me up at five) he is up by 7:30. From my bedroom I could hear the dragging of his boots and the jingle of his spurs. By 8 we were all having breakfast. Rebecca was reluctant to get up and most angry when I would insist she have breakfast with us.
Oneida or Michael’s partner Letty would prepare scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, juice, coffee and beans. There was always some sort of fresh hot salsa on the table. One morning he opened the bottle of maple syrup and tasted it with curiosity. He then poured some more and lapped it up with his toast.
Michael East’s most useful accessory to run the Santa Fe Ranch is his iPhone. Instructions are given in Spanish to his capataz and other cowboys. They call frequently and he invariably answers, Mexican style, “Bueno.” He usually finishes with a "Está bien."
I noticed that Michael wears the same type of shirt every day. It is red-clay colored, it is made of heavy canvas cotton and for protection from the sun it is long-sleeved. The canvas like material protects Michael from the thorns of the new growth of mesquite trees.
Michael does not carry a gun but in his Toyota Twin-Cab he has a bolt-action rifle and a small .410 shotgun for rattle snakes.
His doctor has told him that he has to be more careful about his health. This means that there is less meat and more fish at dinner and he no longer chews tobacco. He is allowed to smoke one cigar (Kinky Friedman Cigars) a week but I suspect he breaks this recommendation. When Rebecca was in the truck with us, Michael had the cigar in his mouth and did not light it. On the days that I was the only passenger he would smoke it. Kinky Friedman’s are nicely aromatic. I almost broke down and asked him for one.
Michael has two obsessions. The first one is understandable as I too am enamoured with my iPhone. But in his case he is constantly checking for messages as dropped calls happen often in the brush of South Texas. His second obsession is very much like mine. He is always looking for an opportunity to visit his son Johnny (who is doing just fine helping Michael take care of the family business) and wife Summer. They live about a mile away. Any excuse to see his two young grandsons, Quinten and Joaquín is welcome. Rosemary and I are always cooking up reasons to visit Hilary so we can see Rebecca and Lauren.
Michael is a man of few words. We would sit in the many available corners (all with comfortable wing chairs, piles of magazines and lovely books about Texas and cowboys) and sometime the silence would prolong and almost make me uncomfortable. But then the silence would be broken by a question, “Are any parts of Canada similar to Texas?” Or he might ask about a mutual classmate from St. Ed’s, “Was Salinas a boxer?” In my memory I now remember that Michael was in the St. Ed’s boxing team.
In the four days that I was at the Santa Fe Ranch I never heard the patrón utter one word of criticism on anybody or anything. I never saw him get angry and he tolerated Rebecca’s tantrums with a smile behind his dark glasses.
This quiet man lives an idyllic kind of life because his partner Letty sees to all his needs. Quinten chatters in Spanish with her. In fact Spanish is the lingua franca of Santa Fe. Sometimes when her Spanish fails her Letty resorts to her own brand of delightful Spanglish.
After a day of driving around or riding Michael returns to the main house and indulges in a shot of ice cold El Patrón Silver Tequila with a Bud Lite beer chaser. By 9:30 he is ready to call it a day.
Michael talks at length with his cowboys and is into the smallest details, even perhaps the state of health of yet to be weaned calf part of a heard of thousands. In person he deals with them as a friend but I notice that the cowboys still treat him with a standoffish respect.
Part of the reason is that in Texas in 2010 there are few real cowboys left. Few can do the tasks on a horse. There is respect in knowing that the Patrón is as good as they are if not better.
I watched Michael train a three-year old mare, Ribbon (seen here with Juan Ramos and in the first picture Michael poses with one of his best cutting horses, Gramercy Flow) and it was a sight to see how he could make her go back and turn on a dime. He was training her to cut. Michael is a non-pro (they don’t call them amateurs) cutting horse trainer and rider. In cutting a rider has two separate a yearling from its herd in an allotted time without controlling the horse with his hands. I watched Michael gently push Ribbon so that she would understand what her task to be was. One at a time, Juan Ramos would allow a yearling to enter the corral as Michael would prevent it from joining a herd.
As I write this Santa Fe Ranch now seems to be a mirage of memory. The only reminder of the fact is Rosemary’s constant questioning, “What did you eat? Did the towns have little streets? Who built the main ranch house?” I found that this second time around (I visited Michael last year in June) I could ask a few more questions but I still felt that I was intruding on the life of a private man. Perhaps next year, if I return for a visit I will ask a few more.
As I write this I find that Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C and Michael East share many qualities that make them comfortable in being who they are. As Brother Edwin told me, “I never taught Michael but he certainly had a way about him that was special.”