"She was a good girl," Grandma Paul used to say, "and then she met the white guy."
The white guy was my father, Arnold Kessler Mint. Arnold Mint was a would-be cowboy, and fittingly enough, he met my mother at a rodeo. He was only a spectator at the rodeo, though he had aspirations of becoming a bronc-busting star, and my mother was selling cotton candy in the grandstands. This was up north in Holbrook, where my mother was living with her cousin Lily for the summer, trying to get away from Grandma Paul and the dusty desolation of San Carlos and hoping to make a little money in the meantime. She was eighteen and probably not prepared for someone as good-looking and charmingly dumb as Arnold Kessler Mint.
After seeing my mother, the first thing Arnold did was buy all the cotton candy she had in her tray. He had just finished a two-month stint on a sheep ranch in Luna, New Mexico, his wallet was fat with bills, and he was working on growing a respectable mustache. He gave my mother a ten-dollar bill, lifted all the cotton candy out of the tray, and squeezed it to his chest in a great bear hug. He looked around, unsure what to do next, then took a big chomp out of the mound in his armsa long wisp sticking to his chin, making him look like Uncle Sam on the I WANT YOU FOR THE U.S. ARMY posterand said to everybody around him, "Boy, I love cotton candy!" This was his way of trying to impress my mother. My mother handed Arnold Kessler Mint his change and went back to the concession stand to pick up more cotton candy. When she had a new supply she went to the far side of the grandstands, as far away from Arnold as she could get, but he spotted her and waved his money in the air like a hankie.
Arnold Mint was trying his best to be the big, brash, the-hell-with-the-rest-of-you cowboy he had always wanted to be. He was originally from Lebanon, Connecticut, about as far away from cowboy country as you can get. He had come out West two years before, thinking he could hitch on with some outfit and become a carefree whistling buckaroo in no time flathe'd read the comic books and every Zane Grey novel he could get his hands on, signed up for the John Wayne fan club and watched all the shoot-em-ups on TV; he believed he was ready and qualified to start punching cattle. No, it didn't go the way he planned. He spent his first eighteen months in Arizona washing toilets and hauling horse carcasses for a dog food factory. There simply wasn't a pack of ranchers falling over each other to hire an Easterner with corduroy pants and a funny accent. Finally, two months before meeting my mother, Arnold, in spite of his corduroy pants, had got a shearing job with a desperate sheep rancher and now that the job was over, here he was at the Navajo County Rodeo, feeling pretty good about himself with money in his pockets (he had already spent thirteen dollars of it on a mouse-gray Stetson cowboy hat), an armful of cotton candy and designs on my mother.
If Arnold had been a true cowboy he probably wouldn't have looked twice at my mother. Among cowboyswhite ones, anywayyou kept to your own kind. Hispanic or Asian girls were okay for a one-nighter, but Indian girls, or Big Reds as most cowboys called them, were pretty much out of the question. According to under-the-hat barstool cowboy lore, Indian women had the unholy power to get themselves impregnated with your sperm one hundred percent of the time, whether you wore a condom or not. This little bit of hoodoo-voodoo, more than anything else, is often whatat least in terms of romancekept the cowboys away from the Indians.
But to Arnold Kessler Mint, who wasn't yet aware of these cowboy codes, an eighteen-year-old raven-haired Apache girl must have been the most exotic thing he could imagine. My mother marched up and down the steps trying to ignore Arnold, but the thick-necked guy in the new cowboy hat (there was still a tag hanging off the brim) would not give up. He waggled his money in the air, whistling and hollering for more cotton candy. By now he was so covered with the fluffy pink and blue stuff he looked like a huge baby bird just out of its shell.
Excerpted from The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by BRADY UDALL. Copyright © 2001 by Brady Udall. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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