B y J e f f S m i t h
WELL, I WAS wrong. I said I doubted whether Brophy could ever top the party he threw two years ago with the cash he got from playing host to the folks who shot those Wyatt Earp movies on his ranch--and by any objective standard of whooping it up, that one was a barn-burner--but never count an Irishman out when it comes to showing people a good time.
You could count Bill Brophy down--the man was dead, after all--but not out. He was Irish for one, with all that tradition of shouting at the devil and toasting the Almighty and throwing a hell of a wake; and he lived and loved and was loved and kept lively for 71 years, during which he made more friends than some countries have people. So Bill arranged to have one last fiesta before they threw the dirt over him, and we all went out and enjoyed the sunshine and the cool breeze and the smell of cattle and horses and leather and sweat in the air, mingled with perfume from the necks of a hundred beautiful women Brophy would have loved to have kissed again, each and every one--twice in most cases--and a hint of Old Spice and lilac from the cowboys who got scrubbed up and clean-shaven to see Billy Boy off in proper fashion.
There wasn't a whole lot of solemn speech-making--at any rate it didn't seem like a whole lot. Not any more than anybody was pleased to hear, because Bill was a good Irish Catholic, so the prayers of the priest and the amens of the family and friends fit the occasion and the collective spirit. And the shared recollections of Brophy's boys, and his sister and girlfriend were funny and warm and made us all smile and cloud-up behind our sunglasses. The priest said he knew that we knew that we were all going to get to see Brophy again--it was just a matter of when--and right on cue a plane buzzed the flock and touched down on the mesa, and hell it just had to be Bill again, late for his own funeral, flying in from Gila Bend like he'd done every working day for 19 years.
Then his brother Blake hitched his way to the little altar, with the aid of a cane and a couple of the family, and delivered the best eulogy I ever hope to hear. He told how Bill always wanted to be a cowboy, despite all the advantages of birth and wealth and education and opportunity that fate had conferred upon him, and despite his cattleman father's urgings to the contrary. Frank Cullen Brophy was the very model of the modern country gentleman, but his boy Bill wanted only to be a cowboy. Frank passed along a piece of wisdom that seemed to take with Blake but got lost or ignored with Bill:
"There's only one thing a cowboy knows less about than a cow, and that's a horse."
That may be true, but if it was, Bill Brophy fooled many another cowboy and a lot of normal people with his knowledge of the ranching and feedlot business. They respected his cow sense and horse sense and never had cause to doubt his word, because Bill Brophy was honest and generous and when he told you he'd do something he'd stand hitched.
Which is wonderful and all and makes for a stirring eulogy, but won't draw much of a crowd for a funeral, certainly not a couple hundred or more, and especially when it's in the middle of the week and in the middle of nowhere. But Bill Brophy was more fun four days gone than most of us on our 21st birthday, so the cattle and horses and household chores were left to shift for themselves last Thursday in Santa Cruz County, while those of us lucky enough to have known the man drove out to the ranch, to the chapel on the hill, and said hello and goodbye and goodbye and hello again.
After they put the urn in the ground and the jug of tequila alongside it, and everybody got to toss in a handful of dirt and whatever last-minute reminders Bill might need, we went on down to the big house for something to cool the throat and warm the belly. It was better than any 10 of your run-of-the-mill funerals.
It made me feel very damn fortunate, seeing the folks Brophy brought together one more time, to be a part of this community of spirit, to know these fine people who knew Bill and whom Bill knew and admired in turn. It was remarked that Bill's death marked the passing of an era, but I have to disagree. There were a lot of old-timers standing by that chapel, with a wealth of timeless knowledge and experience under their hats and a lot of energy and time still to be enjoyed, and three generations of their families with the same love of the land and the life that fits it. This era and its heroes aren't done and gone yet. And neither is Brophy: I felt a strong sense that the connection between us all is in no way broken.
But I've got to admit that on a getting-together-over-ice-cubes level it frosts me that it was Bill who died a week ago last Sunday, instead of somebody with less to offer the neighborhood. As many horse's asses as are showing up around here lately, it hurts to lose a man who knew which end to put the hay in, and which end not to fool with.
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