Dusty and I joined many other writers at a book signing in Branson many years ago
The day of his funeral and I waited in the front row. His closed casket held the cow hide he often had on his book signing table, a pair of his boots polished to a brilliant shine, and his black hat. We rarely saw him without one on his head. My continuing thought. Will I be able to view him when the time comes? The previous week I had been told I could visit him in the hospital that Friday. It didn’t happen, for that day he decided it was time for him to join his beautiful wife Pat, who, only a week earlier, had gone on to prepare their new ranch for his arrival.
He left at 8 a.m. that morning. I never got to say goodbye. So many people have to say that when loved ones have passed. So many times we regret that we never expressed our love. But he knew I loved him. It was a love one would have for a brother. He called me Buddy and once in a while Vel. But mostly Buddy. And that’s what we were to each other. For 32 years we worked together. Learning, writing, teaching. The time passed so quickly from that first day we met.
October, 1985, I approached the conference center in Eureka Springs for the Ozark Creative Writers annual gathering. My three novels written over the past few years proved I could put words on paper, but that was all. I wanted to find out if I was truly a writer. Inside the door were all those people who called themselves writers and standing in the crowd, surrounded by listeners, stood this tall man in a cowboy hat. He laughed at something said, then glanced up. I had to smile, that laugh was so hearty, infectious I guess you’d call it. To my surprise, he made his way through the crowd in my direction, and welcomed me. I think he guessed I was new and nervous from the expression on my face. He made me right at home when he introduced himself. “Dusty Richards,” he said and stuck out his large hand.
Thirty-two years later I’m at his funeral and I didn’t get to say goodbye. All those years are gone, as fleeting as smoke from a campfire. So yes, I will take that journey up front where he lays forever silenced. He won’t be there, he’s already ridden off. He’s sitting on the front porch of the new ranch, holding a glass of lemonade Pat has just brought him. She lowers herself into the rocker next to him, moving like a young woman, and laughs at something he says. Maybe it’s about the horses grazing in the pasture across the way, or who will mend the fence on the lower forty. He turns to her, looking so much like that tall lanky cowboy she met so many years ago. The man she spent much of her life with. Together they watch a colt frolicking across the pasture.
He lays his hand over hers. “It’s good to be home.”
In the front row I smile and slowly join my friends moving forward. When I reach him, I pause and touch his vest. And say goodbye to the best friend I ever had. “I love you, Buddy. See you soon.”