I had a few people email me off list and say, essentially, "The noseless cowboy?"
And I say, Oh, yes, the noseless cowboy. He really exists, somewhere out in Montana - or he did in 1998.
Here's what happened. I graduated from college with a summer to kill before grad school. My Gram was 83, I was 22, and Mom was somewhere in between. And you know what that meant? That's right.
The theme of the trip was "Everyone should go to a place called Saskatchewan once. Now is Gram's time." We loaded up Gram's Dodge Spirit and lit out for the plains. We had some pretty weird adventures along the way - like the 300 miles we drove with a dead bird wedged into the grill of the car because we didn't have pliers to pull it out; nearly getting booted out of a sacred Japanese temple near Calgary because Gram misunderstood and walked across the floor with her shoes on; and, of course, buying weird potions from a little Chinese lady in Winnipeg. Frankly, all pretty normal for one of our road trips.
But the most memorable part of the whole trip occurred in Red Lodge, Montana. First, it's a beautiful little mountain town, tucked in a valley next to a half-wild river. It survives on the tourist trade in the summer, and I highly recommend going if you were headed to Yellowstone anyway.
So I had just bought myself a pair of amber earrings to celebrate the Bachelor's degree, and we come out to find a horse-drawn wagon in the middle of the street. Well, I'm a sucker for horses, so up we go.
This is where the story gets good.
We're cruising down the middle of the street at 3 miles per hour. It's early evening, the sun is just setting behind the hills, and the mosquitoes haven't carried me off. I feel saucy in my new earrings, even if I am on vacation with my gram. So I'm looking up and down as the town slowly crawls by, and then I see him.
He came around a corner, the golden sun streaking behind him. It's a cowboy on horseback, leading another horse down the middle of the road (because you can do that in Red Lodge. Just try that in Chicago!) And he's wearing a cowboy hat but no cowboy shirt. The sun gives him this golden halo around his carved pecs and sculpted shoulders.
I almost bailed on the ride right then. I mean, he was leading that horse for me, right?
And then it got better. As he slowly - SLOWLY passed the wagon, I realized he was wearing an eye patch. And before my brain could even register how sexy a shirtless cowboy on horseback with an eye patch truly was, I realized it wasn't an eye patch.
It was an eye and nose patch. The stiff black leather was custom fit to his face, coming to a sharp point where a real nose should have been. It was like The Phantom of the Opera with a lasso.
The cowboy had no nose.
Now, I know this all sounds insane. But, ten years out, my mom remembers the noseless cowboy (and, more specifically, she remembers having to peel me off the floor of the wagon). And what's more, my gram - now 93 years old (and darned proud) - clearly remembers the noseless cowboy. (Actual conversation three weeks ago: "Gram, do you remember the noseless cowboy?" Brief pause. "Now, he had on a hat, but no shirt, right?")
That is how powerful the image of the noseless cowboy was. Three generations of women can still distinctly recall the sight of him riding down the middle of the street. I swear, if I hadn't been on vacation with my mom and gram . . .
I didn't think of him much, just every time I wore the amber earrings. But I never forgot him. And as I started this weird trek into writing books, he kept popping up more and more.
A man that memorable needs a book.
So when Mary Beth Hofstetter went West, he was waiting for her. In the book, he's a Lakota Indian from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, whereas he was a white guy from Montana in real life, but the scene of him riding down the middle of the road is the beginning of chapter two of A Part of Her.
Everything after that? Wishful thinking. Trust me, you'll want to wait for it. He's worth it.