Traveling throughout the West to ranches, artists’ studios and craftsmen’s shops, I’m constantly reminded of the generosity of those who live the Western lifestyle. Kind folks invite me into their homes and daily lives, share home-cooked meals and wonderful stories, and sometimes present me with pieces of their handiwork. Even though I arrive as a stranger, I most often leave as a lifelong friend.
Last Saturday I’d just arrived at the Reno Events Center in Nevada for the Californios Ranch Roping & Stock Horse Contest. In true journalistic fashion, I grabbed my notepad, tape recorder and camera, and went right to work. My first goal was to photograph the three custom championship saddles on display in the trade show. While focusing my lens intently on the saddles, I felt someone tap my shoulder. It was Karen Ross, also known as Prairie Karen (prairiekaren.com), who just wanted to say a passing hello. Knowing I’d see Karen later and want to shop in her trade-show booth, I quickly acknowledged her with a wave and started back to work.
Before I could pick up my camera again, the silver-haired man with Karen, whom I didn’t know, handed me a brass bell and closed my fingers around it. The random gift, presented by the stranger, took me by surprise. The polite thing to do would’ve been to say, “Thank you,” but the only words I could muster were, “What is this for?”
The man said it was for luck and to scare away gremlins that get in my way, and then walked off. I thought it was a nice gesture, tucked the bell in my coat pocket and went back to work without giving much thought to the tiny token and the influence it would have on my day and week in Nevada.
As I scurried around the Silver State, quickly passing from town to town, and in and out of people’s lives, immersing myself–sometimes selfishly–in my assignments, I sometimes heard that little bell jingling in my coat pocket and would smile and remember the man who gave it to me.
I never saw the man again, and I probably never will, but I’ve since learned that he is Matt Davis, a lifelong horseman and a real-estate broker from Wichita Falls, Texas. He and his wife, Catherine, had come to the Californios to learn more about vaquero horsemanship. They’re known for handing out bells wherever they go.
As I’ve traveled this week with my little brass bell, I’m reminded of the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life in which the little girl says, “Each time a bell rings and angel gets its wings.”