The line was long at the post office and all I could think of were the numerous other errands still in front of me. There just didn’t seem to be enough time in the day to accomplish everything that needed to be done. I was about midway up to the window and feeling a little exasperated with all the waiting when I heard a pleasant jingling behind me.
I turned and saw an elderly man wearing pressed Wranglers, a khaki workshirt also ironed smartly, and a worn but still proud brown vest. On his feet were well lived boots, the kind with the fit you can only get by wearing them day after day. The jingling I heard came from the spurs on those boots.
“Pan de campo?” He queried the people at the of the back of the line. In his hands he had large, wrapped rounds of pan de campo, camp bread, that was still warm. He was selling them. His straw cowboy hat was under his arm. He spoke genially to the people in Spanish, asking them how their day was going, and if he knew them, more questions about their families.
I recognized him as Lolo, a man who is legendary in our parts for his cowboy work and his talents in making horsehair braided hat and watch bands, leather belts, and other ranch arts. His spine was a bit crooked, no doubt a result of the rigors of a lifetime of riding horseback every day of every week almost from the time he learned to walk. He stepped forward with a limp, and I noticed his fingers were gnarled. I remembered reading in an article about him that he said he’d broken every finger on both hands at least twice, mostly from roping cattle.
I heard him tell one of the men behind me that he’d already been out for a good ride that morning. In Spanish, he laughed as he said, “Macho and I are both old, so we can take our time. He still loves to get out, and although it takes me a little longer to get the saddle on his back, he doesn’t seem to mind.”
The pan de campo he was selling is traditionally made in a skillet or dutch oven over an open fire. Cowboys ate it on the range as a quick and filling breakfast, sometimes stuffed with sausage or bacon. People today still enjoy it as a side to any meal.
He reached the woman behind me, obviously a relative of his. “Tio, how is tia?” she asked him.
“Well, you know, she has her good days and her bad days. But every day we wake up is a blessing.” They finished their conversation and I was happy he still had one left for me to buy.
We chatted a bit and I asked him about his pan de campo making. “Times are tough everywhere. I’ve seen times like this before, and I know they will get better; they always do. In the meantime, I remember what my mama used to tell us. ‘Good, hot food can always make a person forget about their troubles, even for just a little bit.’ If I can make someone forget about their troubles this morning with my pan de campo, then I will be a happy man.”
With a nod of his head and a smile to me, he made his way back to the door. He paused and affixed his hat back on his head and slowly made his way out and down the steps. I watched him with his limp and his slightly bow legged stance until he was out of sight, his spurs still jingling. The warmth of the pan de campo reminded me he was right.