Category Archives: Michael Johnson

For anyone who has lost a dog…






Our good friend, Michael Johnson, just lost his dog two days ago.  (He had sent the books for the donation for Eddy last week.   We had no idea that Michael’s 14 year-old best companion would leave him this week.)

I received this note titled, “What Love Is.” to illuminate Rowdy’s passing:

WHAT LOVE IS.

Throwing My Loop…
Michael Johnson

THE TIME OF ROWDY

He came into my life just when I needed him most. I was living alone then and welcomed the company. Just weaned and best described a ball of fuzz, the little blue Merle seemed just as happy to be with me as I was with him. Like two new friends do when they are both young, we played constantly and had the best of times. On occasion, however, my new friend would tire of our games and hide. Needing a break from me, he would disappear. I would search the house to no avail. Finally I found him hiding way back in the countless stacks of my books that were piling up in my house in those days, and I remember thinking, “Well, if my books don’t sell, at least my dog will have a really nice place to hide.” Fourteen years ago now. There is no way the previous sentence can be true. Can’t be fourteen years.
Somewhere in those early days, I saw a trainer on television using small pieces of hot dog weiners as rewards for his dog. I thought that was the coolest thing. (I had no idea training a dog would be so easy.) So as soon as possible, Rowdy and I were the proud owners of his own personal package of weinies. Next thing you know, we are heading down the road to a roping – with the Row Cow in my lap eating the entire package. Like most bad decisions in life, it seemed such a good idea at the time. (To say Rowdy got sick is one of the funniest understatements of my life.) Hey, no one told me you can’t feed an entire package of weinies to a puppy. Trust me when I tell you our vet, Dr. Kyle Pratt explained that little piece of knowledge in a way that I could really understand the complete stupidity of such an act. Dr. Pratt kept him for three days. Every time I called him to see if the pup was going to make it, he would say, “Like I told you before, Rowdy will tell us. We don’t know yet.” Two days later I’m driving home from Atlanta, Georgia to Oklahoma when my cell rings. Dr. Pratt says, “I know you are driving 80 to get here. Just slow down.”
“The pup didn’t make it?” I asked.
“The pup made it,” he says. “I’m going to keep him one more day, so slow down.”
“Any other advice when he comes home?” I said.
“Yes,” he says. “Try to keep him away from his owner. He’s an idiot. And don’t ever give Rowdy another weinie!”

And Rowdy grew to be a fine cow dog. Fearless, he went after cattle with wild and reckless abandon. If he got kicked by some big bull, while flying through the air
you could see him moving his body fighting to get back to that bull and mix it up some more. Skilled trainers say their dogs can recognize eleven commands. Rowdy had one down pat… “Get him!” The other ten not so good. I decided at least one of us should learn some manners. We signed up for a stock dog clinic in Amarillo conducted by the master, Oren Barnes.
There were twelve participants in the class. Six women and their dogs, and five guys with theirs. These 11 dogs – and their companions – had won a number of competitions, and these dogs were so smart they could do algebra. And then there was me and Rowdy…who did not know one thing about math or training a dog. Nothing. No problemo. Not knowing how to do something never stopped Rowdy and Miguel from doing anything. But there was one thing. Even though we lacked any skill at this herding dog business whatsoever, Rowdy had a black wild rag around his neck tied just so…and so did I. We looked great! We both thought that was important because we just assumed you have to look good to work cows good. Clinic starts and well, things pretty much went down hill from there.
Mr. Barns began the day with a fascinating lecture about the history of working dogs.
Then he says, “Today, we will begin with a young dog who is aggressive, and hasn’t had much training.”
I’m thinking, “Man, how cool is that? I have a dog just like that. Rowdy and I can learn all kinds of things.”
Then Mr. Barnes says, “Okay, Michael bring Rowdy in.”
I almost fainted.
There were 12 Barbados sheep huddled together in the center of the large round pen where Mr. Barnes was standing. Feeling like a parent at a recital, I walked in with Rowdy. He immediately bolts breaking free from his collar. With one soaring leap, Rowdy lands in the center of the huddled masses and sheep butts go everywhere. Rowdy has them on the run now. After free-wheeling around the pen for several minutes, Rowdy comes over and sits down right in front of me and says, “Pretty good for my first time, huh, Pop?” I wanted to die.
With the kindness of angels, Mr. Barnes took control and soon all was well. The day proved to be one of the best in my life and in Rowdy’s, too. At the end of that day – only because everyone else was so much better than us – Rowdy and I were named “Most Improved Team,” and presented with a 50 pound sack of dog food. One of my most cherished awards I’ve ever been given…until Rowdy ate it all in the next few days.
And the days went by and they gathered speed. Rowdy and me flying down the road headed to too many ropings to remember. I wish I had written them all down. Well, not all of them – just the ones when I won something.

That way I could sit on the porch and read them now, and by using that process, become in my own memory a much better cowboy than I ever was in real life.
He went everywhere with me. I would tie him to the trailer at ropings so he could sit outside, and ask some child sitting in a lawn chair – by the arena fence watching her mother and dad rope – to keep an eye on Rowdy for me. They were only too happy to oblige. Once after about two hours into the roping, I rode over and asked a little girl,
“How is Rowdy doing?” She stood up and after smoothing her dress, said in her best “third grade class presentation” voice, “I’ve been checking on him frequently, and I’m happy to tell you that Rowdy is doing very, very well-ly.”
And the days went by and they gathered speed. And now? Now I come to the place where I break my vow. When I began some 20 plus years ago, I was saddened by the unhappiness in the world. I decided that when I would write, the words would be uplifting for people. I would not write about the negative things in life, but rather stories of hope about people, and horses, and dogs who helped me in my life.
And now I break my vow. Now…

Rowdy

Nino Que Amo
(Child that I Love)

Dec. 1, 2005 – Dec. 8, 2019

“To see the light, we must endure the burning.”
— Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Rowdy

Michael Johnson

Big Eddy is a gorgeous, huge blue roan who was gathered by the BLM in his elder years – and deemed worthless due to his age. Well, he isn’t worthless. He survived all these years in the wild. Eddy is the epitome of strength and knowledge. Let’s give him a new freedom… let’s allow him to learn the ways of his new world so he can be adopted into a wonderful, forever home! Thank you so much!

DID YOU SEE OUR DECEMBER BUCKET FUND STORY?  If you missed it, click here to read about our beautiful, elder gentleman Eddy.

All donations are 100% tax deductible.  No donation too small, it all adds up!

Click here to donate!  THANK YOU!

Our good friend, Michael Johnson, has sent to me 25 hardback books of “Susie, The Whispering Horse” to sell to benefit our December Bucket Fund Horse, Big Eddy!

100% of sales of these 25 books will go to Big Eddy!  Each book is $25, which includes shipping in US).

Click here and I’ll send you a book today!  Thank you for helping Eddy!!  And thank you for fostering the love of the horse in your special little humans.




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THE BOY WITH NO SHOES by Michael Johnson. A story of kindness, hope, achievement and humility.






A great missive to ponder while moving into the freedom of the weekend.

 THROWING MY LOOP…

Michael Johnson

THE BOY WITH NO SHOES

 

                  Had you seen him standing there just shy of 19, him with his

             tattered shirt and trousers, his rope belt and no shoes…what would

            you have thought of him?  And then he says, “I want to come to

            the college here, sir.”
“Have you formal education, young man?”

           “Not much sir.  I was born in Pin Hook, a small community

           north of Paris, Texas.  Our school was only open three months of

           the year, and I didn’t get to attend every year.  My father died when

            I was very young, and I had to help my mother.  But I had a friend

           there…an older man who cut cross ties.  He didn’t read very well

           himself, but he had 25 books and he let me read every one of them.

          Can I come to school here, sir – here at East Texas State Normal

          College?”

               What would you have said?

               Thank goodness someone said, “Yes, you can come.”

               The young man’s name was William Owens.  The year was 1924.

         William Owens would become one of the most revered writers ever

          to come from Texas, and rise to one of the loftiest heights academia

         has to offer – professor of English and dean at Columbia University

        for over twenty-five years.

 

A FRONTIER BOYHOOD

 

               The year was 1966 and I was just shy of 19 myself.  Raised in a

         small East Texas town, I was blessed with a good family.

         Unfortunately, I wasn’t so much so.  After two years of college, I

         had somehow managed to string together 13 consecutive F’s and

         attain the rank of “rodeo bum.”  My father died suddenly, and

         after a period of mourning – a too long period – I decided to make

          amends.  I would return to school and do better.  Little did I know

         I was about to be introduced to that fellow from Pin Hook.  I

        would learn all about the life of young William Owens from two

         legendary professors who taught at that same university who took

        William Owens in when he needed it most.  Dr. James Byrd and

        Dr. Fred Tarpley would do the same for me.  Required English

        classes meant that I had to take them both, and that was one of the

        best things that ever happened to me.

              In 1966 William Owens had just published the first volume of

        his autobiography, This Stubborn Soil: A Frontier Boyhood. And

        even though Owens had experienced success with earlier books,

        Tarpley and Byrd, teaching different classes, both began with

        This Stubborn Soil: A Frontier Boyhood

              I was filled with fear during those first days.  After all, these  

         were two famous professors and I had never experienced a single

          ounce of success in any classroom.  As the days went by however,

         my anxiety drifted away carried by the words of their lectures.

        The bible calls it “The Gift of Exhortation,” and brother, both

         Tarpley and Byrd had that gift.  Their lectures seemed almost like

         some old time gospel song – so comforting to hear.  They both spun

         tales of Owen’s book – a gripping and powerful thing with not one

        vulgar word; just clean and to the bone prose about Owens, his

        mother, and brothers literally trying to claw food out of the ground

       so they could stay alive.  The lectures were an hour and a half.

       Seemed more like twenty minutes, and often when we were

       dismissed, I would walk out on legs so shaky and weak.  And

       hearing from them what Owens went through, the thought began to

       whisper in my mind, “If he can live through all that, maybe I can

       do a little better, too.”  And then in future classes, Tarpley and Byrd

      got even better.

             They told us how after Owens attended East Texas State

      Normal College, he would receive his bachelor’s and master’s from

      SMU in 1932 and 1933 respectively, and obtain his Ph.D from the

      University of Iowa in 1941. 

              In 1953, Owens wrote Slave Mutiny: The Revolt of the Schooner

      Amistad, which provided much of the material for the Steven

      Spielberg  1997 film, Amistad.  Perhaps one of his finest novels,

     Walking On Borrowed Land (1954), would tell the story of a black

      teacher hired to be a principal in the “Little Dixie Section” of

     Oklahoma.  That work would gain Owens The Texas Institute of

      Letters 1954 Prize for “Best First Novel by a Texas Writer.” In

      1973, Owens would write the second volume of his autobiography, A

     Season of Weathering, about his early years spent teaching in small

     schools in Texas, and his words about those days sound so

     surprisingly familiar to the same problems of the modern day

     teacher.  Tell Me a Story, Sing Me a Song (1983) would be the third

     volume in his autobiographical series describing his time in the

     thirties collecting folklore and folksongs, and teaching at Texas

     A&M University.  In the fourth and final autobiography, Eye Deep

     in Hell, (1989), Owens shares his experiences of World War II in the

    Phillipines. 

            After making his way to the Ivy League university of Columbia

     in 1947, Owens would remain there teaching English and writing

     until his retirement in 1974. He died in Nyack, New York in 1990

     leaving a remarkable body of work and an indelible memory in the

     minds of those who read his words, including Dr. Fred Tarpley, Dr.

     James Byrd, and especially me.  The life of William Owens –

     folklorist, professor, storyteller, and in his early years, a most

     resilient child.

            I spoke with his nephew, Joe Owens, in a phone conversation

     recently.  I will always consider that an honor.  Joe lives in

     California now and has been most kind to our university, Texas

     A&M – Commerce, once known as East Texas State Normal College.

    The place where a young man came long ago and asked if he could go

    to school there, and even though he wore no shoes, thank God

    someone said, “Yes, you can come.”  The people at that institution

    changed his life.  While my writing will never approach the skill of

    William Owens, still I know how he felt.

    They did the same thing for me. 

 

                                                                       –Michael Johnson

 

Ed. Note – Dr. Michael Johnson is the author of eight books, and winner of two National Literary Awards.  In 2008, Michael was named a Distinguished Alum of Texas A&M University-Commerce.

    

    

    

    

    

 

 

 

              

 

                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

      

 




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