I feel foolish to say this now, but after meeting Gap Pucci in March of this year I worried about him fairly consistently. He was 80 years old and living all on his own up an isolated canyon. He had 10 Morgan horses, 20 plus peacocks, a handful of chickens, a dog, and an Alpine goat to take care of. He was all too happy for my company and some help with the chores and I was all too happy to spend time with him. As a retired hunting outfitter that spent 40 years in the Gros Ventre wilderness; he had so many stories to share. I worried that his story might die with him. I worried that he might die alone. I worried that he was lonely. I just worried.
After a month or so I realized that Gap was pretty well looked after. Each time I would call to arrange another chore day on the ranch he had some sort of engagement; a young nurse coming out to learn about shooting, another lady coming out just to visit, delivering his autobiographical books to local bookstores, etc. I started to feel that I would have to fight for Gap’s time rather than fill it.
I finally ran into him again at a mutual friend’s memorial service. I was planning to attend in any event but I was especially planning to be there for Gap’s solace; that was until I saw his escort. I had been stood up by a beautiful blonde woman in her 60s! Luckily, I liked her and she liked me. We hit it off quickly, both being hunters and shooters, it wasn’t long before we were talking over Gap’s head (literally).
It was a good lesson to me. I realized I should not worry about Gap so much as simply seek out his company. Every moment I spend with him, every moment I speak with him, every chore we tackle together; I learn something that will better my life. Selfishly, I realize that I am not worried about Gap. I am worried about the life lessons I might miss out on if I don’t chase his time.
So, I committed myself and my daughter to an afternoon and evening on Gap’s ranch. We drove up to the familiar sign at the ranch gate, “You are now in Gap’s sights. Proceed with caution.” I asked the short kid if she could figure out how to open the gate after having seen me do it on other occasions. Her reply was “yes” and I shouldn’t have doubted her.
We drove in and found Gap inside the cool of his 1920’s cabin. We were ready for chores in the heat but he had other plans for us. He said, “It’s hot. Let’s let it cool off before we do the chores. I have something you might like to watch cued up on the VHS.” So, at 4 pm in the afternoon, I sat in Gap’s log cabin living room with a glass of wine and began to watch a video on Big Horn Sheep he had made in the early 90’s.
As Gap refilled my wine as fast as I could drink it, I dizzied myself with the thought that I was sitting with the man who produced and starred in this documentary while I was also surrounded by the evidence of his pursuits. To my right was the full body mount of a Big Horn Sheep. On every chair or couch was draped the pelt of some sheep or bear. The short kid would move from Gap’s lap to the sofa where she covered herself with the pelt of a huge black bear. It was surreal.
This could have been it, the pinnacle of the afternoon. I could have gone home from here. I had been in the mountains with Gap. I had watched him help his client harvest a sheep. I had watched him teach on how to skin the sheep for a full body mount. I had done all of this while sitting in the same cabin he had lived in for 40 years; before indoor plumbing had been enjoyed. This was my element and I was rolling in it. But chores had to be done and the heat had subsided by about one half a degree.
We began with the horses. The corrals needed a major scraping; with rakes to start and a tractor to finish. The short kid even chipped in for a while in fancy dress and fashion boots and the attitude to overcome it all. I realized quickly, though, that I was under dressed for the occasion. I was in my “town” clothes. A bright pink tank top, skort, and flip-flops were not well suited to the type of nitty gritty we were getting down to.
Gap had a brilliant solution, though. He suggested he had some work clothes I could borrow. Here I might ask, have you seen the pictures of myself and Gap? Is it wrong that I thought to myself that I am as wide as he is tall and he is as tall as I am wide? Ok, that is an exaggeration but he does have the same body type as my own father and my inseam is quite a bit longer than my waist.
After being bitten by horseflies and mosquitoes for an hour I was willing to try anything and I dressed myself in Gap’s costume of a cowboy in the mudroom of the old cabin. I smiled to myself as I joined him back in the corral. I thought it was pretty funny; the baggy jeans just a bit too short, the leather belt more than a bit too long, and the western shirt doing nothing for my figure. It was funny to be sure, but nothing prepared me for the guffaw that came out of Gap and the teasing tug on the end of my belt as he said, “You look cute”, with a rakish sort of grin. Really? Did I just blush from the compliment of an 80 year old?
I had no excuses now and so the work became steady and worthy. Together we cleared a whole corral of almost a winter’s worth of decay. I raked and pitchforked and he operated the tractor. It was the type of work I love. It involved sweat, heat, the smell of manure, and the company of a good friend and a mentor. The hours flew by all too quickly and the hungry pangs of myself and the short kid ended our evening too soon. We drove out of the ranch, the short kid opening the gate, and talked about how much fun we had had. We had barely left the ranch and were already desiring to return.
I worry about Gap, for sure, but not because I worry about him in particular anymore. I worry that I won’t have enough time with him; to learn from him, to love him, to work beside him, and to be his friend.
Life presents these moments that are so easy to pass by. A quick conversation with an “old man” could have ended there. Instead, my life is enriched by Gap Pucci; the Sicilian I fell in love with.