It was a typical July day in Gravelbourg, hot, and dry. Me and Denis Bouchard had just finished a game of snooker and paid our two bits for it to old man Lenoir, Gisčle Lenoir’s grandpa. He was a big, slow moving, extra quiet guy. He always sat in an easy chair in the corner of the pool hall facing the tables. After closing, he might have played a little poker in the back room. That room was off limits to kids but stories about money changing hands filtered out to us enough to make it a place of legend.
As we came out into the bright sunlight, Butch asked me if I wanted to go to the fairgrounds. Denis' nick name was Butch. Butch was also his older brother Al and his younger brother Gil’s nick name. In fact everybody in town called his dad and even his mom Butch. But as far as I was concerned the only real Butch was Denis.
According to Butch there was horse races going on down at the fairgrounds. Not sure if we called it Heritage Days back then but anyway, we had corn husking some evenings and pancake breakfasts some mornin's and it just about seemed like the whole town from doc Morin to Mother Sainte-Alphonse, the French teacher, showed up.
The wagon train had pulled into town the day before after it’s re-enactment of the old time wagon trains, following the wagon trails for seven dusty days. There was cowboy stuff happening all over the place and a lot of it happened at the fairgrounds.
Butch was casual about going, didn’t care one way or another. We both had a wad of bubble gum and were chewing and blowing bubbles, squinting at the sunlight.
I hemmed and hawed for a while in front of the pool hall door, I’d seen lots of horses and stuff lately.
Finally I said “ok let’s go” and we turned left and started walking, crossing the street past my dad’s bakery, heading to the north-west corner of town where the fairgrounds were.
We were both wearing more or less the same thing, sneakers, blue jeans, t-shirts; mine white, his green, and the blue baseball cap of our pee-wee baseball team. I played second base and he was short stop, sometimes third base.
Butch was a little guy, smaller than usual for a twelve year old but real wiry and tough. That was part of the reason for the family nick-name, it was a tough family.
When we got to the fairground, we sat down cross legged along the track. The crackly voice on the loudspeaker was calling for the runners in the next race to get ready.
A guy I knew only from having seen him around town came up to Butch and said he needed him now. Butch said “yah ok” and the guy, whose first name was Matt, turned and went back to his horse. He was harnessing it up with a small square piece of leather that was sitting on the ground about two and a half meters behind.
Butch was real agitated and started cursing and swearing after saying ok to Matt’s request. He spat his gum out as though disgusted, acting really pissed off. I was completely baffled.
Before I could ask him what was going on here, Butch got up, threw his cap to the ground beside me, and stomped over, behind Matt’s horse. He got down on his belly on top of the buckskin and grabbed hold of the ropes at the front edge of the buckskin.
A shot was fired and hell broke loose. I was sitting close to the track and the dust from the buckskins carrying boys being dragged along at top speed behind the horses on the dirt track was choking me and getting in my eyes.
Through the cloud of dust I could see ol’ Jack, clutching the hand holds of the buckskin with his face twisted and teeth clenched as he bounced wildly along hooves pounding all around him.
When they got to the end of the track, Matt pulled his horse, making it almost scream, into a steep u-turn.
Don’t ask me who organized this insane race or thought it up to begin with but I swear this really happened.
Butch was hanging on for his life and never let go as the horse pulled a hundred and eighty turnaround at full gallop. He was hurled, rolling and tumbling over and over, dust flying off him, until, with a hard jerk, the rope pulling him in a twist, he was hauled back the other way again at top speed in the opposite direction. Somehow he managed to twist himself into position and keep the buckskin underneath him.
Matt and Butch won the race for the very good reason that while all the other riders were careful to gently make a turn that wouldn’t kill the poor guy hanging on in back, Matt pulled that turnaround at full speed.
Butch’s t-shirt was torn to shreds. He was covered in dust from head to toe. Grumbling and muttering to himself all the way home, he wouldn’t answer any of my questions but ignored me as I walked beside him.
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