(Also published in today’s Abiquiu News
Please check it out for further info)
& You wouldn’t think a fella would have much nice to say about another guy who rode off into a thicket of juniper, disappearing without a word, leaving you standing there, horseless, picking cholla barbs out of your butt, would you?
Well, you’d be wrong.
I do have a few nice words to say about a guy who did just exactly that to me. His name was Mickey Simmons. I say “was” because Mickey Simmons is a piece of the past. He died last Monday. Back in Pennsylvania. His heart gave out. They tried; couldn’t save him.
It wasn’t much of a surprise – his ticker had been heading south for a good while. But it was a loss. It was much, much of a loss. He gave mucho to the Abiquiu community.
The obituary, if anybody writes it back there in Amish Country, will say he was: Born 75 years ago in Leesburg, Virginia, and fully named Myron Perry Simmons, graduated from the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia Law School, a Philadelphia lawyer and corporate executive, the owner of a coffee roasting company in Philly and a metals recycling operation in Salt Lake City. That obit probably wouldn’t say he was the mayordomo of the Ferran Acequia that runs out of the Rio Chama downstream from Abiquiu. (“The what of the what that runs out of what from where?” That’s what the Pennsylvania obit writer would be wondering, right about now.)
He would report that Myron Perry Simmons leaves behind his wife, Sharon Burkard, two children – Peter Simmons and Ashley Grimes – five grandchildren – Jesse, Alexa, Hudson, Lily and Onyx – all of whom live back east, except Jesse, who hangs out in California. But he’d leave out some other important survivors – five good four-legged friends munching by the hay pile – Cisco, Laveau, Pawnee, Dakota and the three-year-old Caboose, who everybody thought was going to die of a bad, bad leg injury until Mickey rescued her and nursed her back to a romping good health – and three others curled up on the couch – Bob, Zeus and Tex, all rescued from the clutches of the dogcatcher.
They’ll all miss him. He spoiled them rotten. Abiquiu’s been missing him now for a couple of years, when he and Sharon ended their 13 years as New Mexicans and headed east. During his stay, without saying much about it, Myron Perry taught little kids to ride big horses, helped big people fix little things, volunteered his legal talents to wounded warriors, worked with child advocacy programs, sat on the board of the El Rito Library and the Abiquiu-based non-profit Tres Semillas, and donated to several causes, including, on occasion, a reasonable sum to the winners of a monthly card game. (He could do a lot; just not at the poker table.) He was a good cowboy, OK as an old-timer movie extra; not much with a harmonica, and accomplished at marryin’ and buryin’ – he had some sort of authority to conduct a wedding — and started a cemetery on his land which, at last count, contained the remains of one cat, two goats, two geese, three dogs, seven horses and one human.
Along the way, he picked up a few nicknames, aside from Mickey. Georgia Smith called him Squint – Squint Simmons – because his eyes turned to slits when he smiled. We called him Sheriff, because he was always out in front of our little posse when we’d go riding up the arroyos and over the ridges around Abiquiu, riding out front and not saying much. “Where we headed, Sheriff? No answer. Where we going? No answer.” At most, he’d point, and ride on. I don’t think he had an idea; we were just going. And, whenever we rode, he took us somewhere interesting. That’s what made it good. Most of the time.
Which brings us to that that moment when I landed in the cholla needles. We’d been riding through the Santa Fe Forest stretching south of Abiquiu when my horse Grayson – just arrived from Santa Fe – had spooked. He went left, I leaned right, the saddle slipped, rolled and dumped me in the cactus. Grayson took off like a Derby winner, disappearing in the juniper forest, heading for his old home 40 miles away with a saddle bumping under his belly. Right behind him, also disappearing in the trees, was Mickey, firmly seated on Cisco.
Gone! I was left alone, spitting dust and gingerly extracting cholla spears, feeling like the cartoon coyote after another run-in with the roadrunner. I walked a mile, trying to follow them through a two-mile-long maze of trees. No luck. I yelled. No response. Finally, I gave up, hobbled a couple of miles to the ranch of Lucas Cordova, who didn’t say so, but thought the whole thing was pretty funny. (He’s been living here a long time; got a whole lot of stories about people doing funny things.)
“Well,” he said, “Mr. Seemons (Lucas, older than Mickey, nonetheless always called him “Mr. Seemons”) will find your horse. You want a beer?”
Two hours later – three, maybe – and Mickey had not returned. He had been swallowed in the Santa Fe Forest. After I’d called the sheriff and the forest folks to report a missing horse and a missing cowboy, I took a drive along the forest boundary fence to look for my horse. Instead, I found a deputy sheriff and a couple of riders. I pulled up, rolled down the window, and said “I’m looking for a horse.”
“We got a horse,” said the deputy, “we’re looking for a rider.”
As it turned out, a nice lady named Star York had found old Grayson, about two miles from where he’d left me in the dust. He was standing under a juniper, shivering, with a saddle dangling under his belly.
Late in the afternoon, Mickey, dejected, came riding out of the sunset, shaking his head. Said he’d ridden miles, all the way down past Medanales, almost up to the four-mile road. “No Grayson.” I told him the horse was safe, in a corral, and I needed a trailer to go pick him up.
“Let’s go get my trailer,” said Mickey, sighing slightly. We hooked up his trailer, drove down the road, picked up the horse, and got him back in my corral. Mickey said he was tired. “Gonna go home and put my feet up.” I waved goodbye, went inside. Fifteen minutes later, Mickey’s knocking on my door.
“Truck ran out of gas,” he says.
Some days are good days, some not so good.
Yr’s Truly spent a lot of good days with Mr. Seemons, for which I am grateful.
“He was a good man,” said Señor Cordova. And that summed it up.
Mickey gave much to many, right up to the end. He was an organ donor, and the folks at Gift of Life have reported that they harvested enough of his parts to help 50 people keep on living a better life. That which remained has been cremated, and Sharon says she plans to place his ashes in the graveyard at Rancho Viejo in June. “We’re gonna have a big party.”
& Knowing that The Sheriff would like that, because Abiquiu is really where he left his heart, I’m outta here.