Old Saguaros

Old friends looking up to watch the birds holding arms to climb a curb
Old friends oh old friends
Lord when all my work is done bless my life and grant me one
Old friend at least one old friend – Willie Nelson

Two really nice guys I kind of knew but never visited them socially died this last Thanksgiving holiday.  Both were younger than me and died suddenly.  One was only twenty-eight, the other, 50 or so.

My heart dived into sickness when I heard the terrible news.  A friend called to tell me about the tragedies while I was outside smoking the turkeys for the special day.  As we were speaking, a movement made me glance at a special chair in a special spot in The Blue Bar campground in our back property.  I could see him.

I could see him sitting upright and tall in the chair so many Thanksgivings ago.

A friend, named Heck, told me as one gets older you get to go to more funerals than births.  He was right.  I used to go to the birthing of my friend’s children.  I haven’t done that in such a long time.  All my friend’s kids are older now.  I guess I need younger friends or maybe the friends I do have just need to change it up.  More frolicking and fun will keep you young.  Not sure if it will work because we’re all older anymore.

I did get to go to my first Granddaughter’s birth but was sick for the second one and couldn’t take the altitude.  Those girls are so different and are both so special.

— Time Travel Time —

I stood firmly in my Converse high-tops looking up at my Dad.  A giant of a man toppling the 5 foot 8 inch summit by a half an inch, maybe more .  I’m not sure but I’m pretty sure there was a glow behind his silhouette.  A hellish aura of oranges and reds.  Heat came from the luminesce.  The man demanded respect and never once laid a hand on me.  A couple of times later when I was a teenager it may have been a fist but never an open hand.

IMG_3503“Billy, what’s the rules?” he demanded an answer.

I looked down at my highly-cuffed leg openings of my 501’s.  I pondered what to say as I stared at the supply of hardened Chinaberry tree berries I kept in the cuff as a stockpile of ammo to use against the other boys in the neighborhood.

I hesitated on purpose.  Dad liked to watch me sweat young-boy rules.

“The rules?” I muttered.  “The rules.” I dragged out the word so it didn’t sound like a question.  “Oh yeah, I know the rules.  Never lie, steal or smoke cigarettes.”

“Good job,” he said through his grin.  “Go play.”

He knew I knew by heart Dad’s rules only because this was the four-hundredth time he put me through the ‘Drill of Rules’.  The question became a game as time went on, I’d say something smart ass like, “Never leave a garbage can without a lid.”  Then he’d smack me on the top of my head and walk away.

I think he admired my wit.  Eventually I broke the rules, one by one and all of them.  I even made up ones so wittingly obscure that I was positive Dad wouldn’t like them.

I never let the tall respected-requiring man know I smashed them to pieces.  He probably figured it out when he caught me smoking.  Mom thought I was an angel until then too.  I never did get any kudos because I didn’t lie when he asked me as I walked by him to go to the beer-ladened ice box.

“Hey Big Guy, you smoking?”  I smell something.”

Dad was a heavy smoker so I knew he couldn’t smell a stuffed with ammonia rotten potato.

I knew he must have saw me and the boys gathering up and flaring up a coffin stick.  He knew all right and the lying, numero uno of the rules, was being tested.

I could tell an ass-whooping of galactic proportions would rain upon my me like a tornadic hail the size of canned hams.  My eyes must have blinked fifty times while pondering the hatred about to hit me.

Then an absolute jarred through my body, “Yes Sir.”

“Good job.  Don’t smoke in the house.”

Mom could be heard screaming in their bedroom, “What!  You told that delinquent, don’t smoke in the house?!  After all that other stuff with the girls we’ve been through.  Don’t smoke in the house?  That’s where my money in my purse is going.  His habit.”  Don’t let her fool you.  Mom had the same habit.  “God, have mercy on this pittiful family.  Don’t smoke in the house?”  The house noises went silent.  He must have heard her prayer.

She wasn’t religious just so you know.

— Time Travel Time —

“Okay kids, what’s the rules?” I asked.

The smart one answered correctly, the less-smarter and older one looked at his Nikes.  Did he have some chinaberry ammo hidden in his jean’s cuff I asked myself caustiously.

I could tell right then who the smart-ass was going to be the family.  Turned out opposite.  There goes that disease again I have called Badjudgmentitus.

The last time I saw Dad I was seventeen.  We were angry.  I learned of his death  a few years ago through his sister, Midge, who I had spoken to a few times.  My most respected saguaro-sized man took his final breath and I wasn’t there because I was still angry.  How stupid was that?

— Time Travel Time —

So I’m driving down Scottsdale road and another giant is lying on the edge of the black top and no one is paying attention.  This year, a non-typical year for me and my family, filled with health challenges, bone breakages and a dozen or so, more-than-an-old-man-can-take, self-inflicted drama moments overcasting the fact that I haven’t hit a big one all year at the track, was a tough one.

I’ve always thought the number 14 was a lucky number for me.  Not typical at all.  Everyone thinks 7 or 2 or 9 or any number to 10 is theirs but I took the unbroken trail and chose the path to 14.  I was right for so long.  Finally!

15?  Not so bad if you say it fast.  2015, soon to be 16, and I’m standing vertical.  Vertical is a goal of mine but not a goal of success by the old saguaro lying next to the bike lane on the road.  The old tired cactus had fallen and not many cared.  I did because I’ve seen so many this year lying on the ground.  They’re should be standing tall.  Standing as a sign of a huge life so many take for granted.

— Time Travel Time —

I couldn’t believe how tiny the trailer the Seger’s lived in while at the Centennial horse racing meet in Littleton.  The trailer park had spaces large enough for a full-sized single wide on the north side.

The park was split.  North side of the washhouse was the upper class and south of the tracks, the washhouse, was small grass-covered postage stamps.

We, as did the Seger’s, opted on the grassy side due to the fact that Willie was a jockey and his wife, Muggs, was small enough to be a jockey but chose not to ride the ponies and decided she’d be a teller at the track.

I knew she couldn’t see over the counter so she must have had to be standing on a milk crate or sitting in a really high stool.


Muggs was bigger than life itself, that’s if life is four-foot eight then it would be one inch shorter than her.  I’d walk by her working the teller window and say hi almost every day.

“Hey Muggs,” I’d say while waving whichever hand was not grasping all of my collected tickets I had picked up off the concrete around the apron of the track.

 I was always hoping for0. someone to toss the winner away thinking it was a loser.  Then I’d score and Mom could cash in the bankroll for me.  Oh, yeah!

“Billy,” she answered with a nod.  “You being a good boy today?”

“I am.  Look how many I got today.”

I’d raise the bounty of colored tickets so she could see as I strutted by.  Such a shame, tickets nowadays are just a white pre-printed pieces of cheap paper.  Bring back the old and taken-for-granted tickets.  Please bring back the throwback tote tickets.  Show the NFL that we’re better!

 She had to be tired of me doing this because she would look up, smile and say the same thing every time.

“You’re already a winner.”

On the days I wouldn’t walk over to the track, I would spend time with Sandy, Muggs’ daughter in their trailer doing nothing special.  Sandy was never much for the track.  She was a hippie.  I learned so many important life-lessons from her.

Special things like how to wash someone else’s hair in the wash houses outside sink.  Or even how to run to the store for her and be back within ten minutes with whatever she said she wanted.

I would always try to please her wishes.  I had a young boy’s crush going on but she had a boyfriend back in Phoenix so I had no chance besides she was much older than me it seemed.

trailerI think it was in July around when Neil walked on the moon when Too-Many- Cocktail Dad shoved me out of our trailer door for being a smart ass.  It was really dark outside and in the summer next to the South Platte, the mosquitoes acted like they were in love with you.

Fighting off the onslaught of malaria I went directly over to the Seger’s and knocked on the door.  The door opened quickly because the trailer was so small that anyone inside had to be within a foot from it.

“Billy?  What are you doing out this late?” Second- Mom asked.

“I don’t know,” I said not admitting to why Dad decided to rid our home of me.

“Is Sandy up?” I asked staring up at the super-sized woman.  She was at least five-foot nine now because the trailer’s floor was twelve inches off the ground because of the tiny tires.

“Go home Billy,” she said as the door closed.  I could hear her latch the lock.  I slapped hard at my neck.  A hummingbird mosquito had pierced my skin and the itchy wound was already growing into a hump.

— Time Travel Time —

Sandy and her family lost touch.  We finally found each other and Muggs was still the same.  Had some very special times with them and will never forget those times.

Then the terrible phone rang.  I hate that phone now.  On the line was Sandy.  No words came through the earpiece until I could hear her take in enough air to say.

“Mom is gone,” she said through her torment of tears.  I couldn’t say anything, I couldn’t catch my breath.  An instant flush of tears flooded over me.

Another giant had fallen and I wasn’t there again.

— Time Travel Time —

It all started this way.

The huge one, and I mean huge, saguaro stood magnificently in the neighbor’s back acre then fell one day in January while I was in the garage cleaning up a mess I made while doing a project.  The concrete footers of my house crumbled as if we were centered on the epicenter of the 5 point Arizona earthquake.

“Gotta be a bomb,” I muttered out loud, “Gotta be.”

I walked outside the door of the garage and looked.  “No smoke, bombs make smoke,” I assured myself from the threat of all kinds of desert-dwelling terrorists.

I walked out to the edge expecting to see a small airplane smoldering in the desert.  I sniffed the wind and found nothing of anything at all.  “Hmmm? I wondered.

I turned slowly around expecting a surprise at the last moment. Crickets in my ears?  I took one more slow step to go back to the brutal cleaning when I heard a man’s voice, “Holy crap!” echoed through the garage opening ricocheting off the drywall and into my left ear.   I spun on one toe of my boot and shuffled unsuspectingly toward to the view of the driveway.


The neighbor who I dislike a little bit, okay I was kidding, a lot, was standing out in the desert behind his house that was across the street and was staring at the behemoth cactus that once guarded his ground with greatness.

Ol’ Spike Top had fallen.  I asked my daughter to take a picture later in the afternoon because  I didn’t want to have to speak to the neighbor if I could help it.

The next day I walked over to see it for myself; to see the dead mammoth cactus that tested my home’s core foundation.  Sadness overtook me in an instant with the first glance of the death.

The titan was so prestigious.  A life so big and mighty yet was now gone forever.  I knew it was there but I took it for granted.   A Sequoia  of desert proportions.

“What’s going on!” I said as I entered the back door of our home.

“What do you mean,” Kim asked from the kitchen.

I quickly rounded the corner leading into the kitchen with my arms out and my palms facing up.  The water was running and the dishwasher steam was rising around her.

“Why are all the old saguaros falling down this year?”

Kim put another glass away in the cupboard, “Because they’re old.”

The shear profoundness of her answer caught me off-guard and only led me into another thought.

“No, really, I mean like really, really.  This is happening daily.  I see one everyday that has fallen down.  It’s starting to bother me.  It doesn’t bother you?”

“Babe, why do you think I pester you all the time to take care of yourself.  Stop doing all the stuff you do that could cause you to fall down and die.  Look at you, you’re as big and rounder than a saguaro.”

Her jab at my weight stuck me like a cactus thorn.  “Look, this isn’t a normal year.  Something is happening to the saguaros.  Most people in Arizona take them for granted, especially if they were raised here.  Not me!”

Her silence made me feel my declaration had fallen on deaf ears.  She put another glass away and closed the dishwasher door.

— Time Travel Time —

I knew he was sick but I thought he was getting better.  I was out at the smokers, cooking the turkeys for our feast to come.  Gary sat in the chair by the porch and never walked around.

I didn’t make much effort in talking to him as there was always someone else sitting in the chair next to him having a conversation.

Earlier in the year, Gary was diagnosed with cancer and had an operation to fix it.  He looked good I thought as I stood there with my tongs in hand attending to the golden-brown birds.  I thought I’d talk to him later in the day after we had eaten the great feast.  I have plenty of time to take care of this part of my life.

Gary did everything big.  Not a tall man but a giant of a person.  His houses were always bigger than he needed but big was a good thing to him.  Fast cars, bad-ass bikes and boats.

I liked the fact that he lived bigger than most.  I admired his life’s story.  To know Gary was to know what it was truly like to have a successful life.   Before we would talk or go golfing but once Gary got sick that all stopped.

Let me tell you because I’ve tried it.  Hear no evil, see no evil is a myth.

We still talked but only during times when the families got together.  Why not?  We’ll have all the time in the world.

“I’ll talk to him later,” I murmured as the smoke billowed out the chimneys of the smokers, “I’ll sit down across from him and see how he’s doing.  He looks good.”

Well I didn’t make the time to talk that day.

Gary never got up from the special chair in a special spot in The Blue Bar campground in our back property that day except to eat.  I noticed he ate very little; not the usual large helping I was use to seeing.  Not at all.

“He looks okay, he’ll be fine,” I knew in my heart as I shoveled another scoop of mashed potatoes in my mouth.  “He looks good.”  Besides, he was too much of a giant to be broken.

Gary fell down later that year.

Nowadays a group of my closest friends send each other every month a meeting notice to get together for breakfast or happy hour.  The subject line is always the same, ‘TBFF’ or Too Busy For Friends.  We make it a point to talk.

— Time Travel Time —

This Thanksgiving holiday, a friend called to tell me about two heart-wrenching tragedies while I was outside  in the back yard at The Blue Bar smoking the turkeys for the special day.  As we were speaking in disbelief, I looked across the backyard at a special chair in a special spot in our back property.

I could see Gary sitting there so many Thanksgivings ago.  I shook my head,  “TBFF.  That’s not going to happen ever again,” I reassured myself.

That moment of the vision of an old fallen friend, an old saguaro of mine, sitting in a special chair in my special campground, changed me.

Every day I see the old saguaros while driving or walking.  I take them for granted.  Granted that they will always stand tall and vertical.  I looked right through them before and couldn’t really see them.  That was until they fell.

I visit or talk to my old, whether age has anything to do with it or not,  friends when I can.  I talk to them sometimes which isn’t very often.  They are taken for granted unknowingly.  My fault.  They ‘re just old friends.

That has changed.  If you too, see through yours as I saw through mine, , , change that  before they fall.

I have two old friends named Omer and Tom.  I call Omer, ‘O’ and I call Tom, Tom.  Tom is one of my best friends ever.  Omer is one of my best friends ever.  Both mentored me through my career and throughout my lifetime.  I truly love them both.

Days earlier, days before when Gary’s soul sat again on my porch, I made a call.  The phone on the other end rang only twice.

phone call

“What are you doing!” the man on the other end answered.

“Hey O, how are you doing?”

“Doing great.  It’s really good to hear from you. What’s up?” Omer asked.  I could tell he thought there must be a special reason to call him as the truth is that personally I fall way short of keeping in touch.

The conversation continued for another fifteen minutes or so and we both agreed to talk to each other again.  I hung up and dialed again.


“Tom, how are you doing?”

“Well I’ll be,” Tom erupted without answering my question.  “Long time no see.  We’re in Michigan.”

That started a conversation lasting for thirty minutes or so as we talked about his traveling and I talked about nothing important.  But the fact is we talked and that is what is important.

I hung up and find Kim standing at the bar.  She was listening like a Cat’s ear.  She had been harping on me for over a year to give Omer and Tom a call.  She was looking for my gratification ceremony of following her advice.  I could see it in her eyes.

“So who was that?” she pushed the question and asked slyly way.  She already knew and was probably standing there the whole time eavesdropping.  “Who was on the phone?” she asked again.

I set the phone on the bar made of Wichita, Kansas, Lineman crosssarms used on the power poles and was given to me to make into useable furniture as a friend and what I today convent so dearly in my home while trying not to look in her correctness and yet direction.

“Oh, nobody in particular, just one of my old saguaros before they fall.”

The End

“The best part of life starts at the top of the stretch.”
The WiseGuy

Click here to read more stories of The WiseGuy

3 thoughts on “Old Saguaros”

  1. That was lovely…although my heart skipped a beat at the mention of Muggsy. Loved here dearly and last saw her last year. Was saddened to hear of losing her. Another Saguaro.. Thank you for sharing with me. Jody is doing “all right” in Denver, socializing in the home, making crafts and playing bingo. Short term memory giving her problems. Received a Christmas card with scrawling handwriting, yet it was still her hand! Still have both Bob and Jody’s pics in my office, in the jock’s room and, of course, the Pocket Knife…

    Stop by sometime….I’ll get your multi colored mutual tickets!




    Bucky Huff Turf Paradise Horsemen’s Bookkeeper Tel: 602-375-6404 1501 W. Bell Rd. Phoenix, AZ 85023 bhuff@turfparadise.net

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