Billy Don Weathers died April 14.
He was 79 years old. He was my husband for nearly thirty-five years and the father of our four children. It was a strange and wonderful marriage. Probably more strange than wonderful at times. There were good times and bad times and, in the end, it was best for me to move on. I don’t regret my decision, but you can’t stay married to someone that long and not feel a hole in your soul when they die. So it’s been this week.
I’ve waivered between carrying on as normal and weeping for a man I loved and wished I could have kept loving as I once did.
His father was fifty years old when he was born. Bill Weathers was born in 1890 and was straight out of the old west. He was an old-time cowboy. Your word was your bond. Your name means something. Do your best. Work hard for what you want in life. The world owes you nothing, but you can earn anything.
Don’s sisters often told me about Bill sending them to a nicer clothes store in downtown Odessa and charging a dress for a special occasion. “You don’t need money. Tell them you’re Bill Weathers’ daughter and they’ll give you anything you want.” And they did because they knew Bill Weathers would never cheat anyone out of anything.
This was the world Don grew up in. He woke up early to milk cows before school. His hands were always black in that webbing between the forefinger and thumb from the milking and no amount of scrubbing would ever get it all off. His hands were cracked and bleeding from the milking and scrubbing, but for seven-year-old Don, this was expected and he wanted to be Dad’s shadow.
His dad worked for one of the largest cow ranches in west Texas and Don grew up cowboying. He was a cowboy and a horseman all his life. He had a way with animals that comes from watching and understanding them. He could read them like a book, but that was about the only book he read. He did read The Giant once because someone left it in a hotel room and he had a broken leg.
He rode bulls and worked for Beutler Brothers Rodeo. Don was quiet, easy going, had a keen sense of humor, and didn’t get riled often. He was like one of those characters out of an old western.
He was also one of the toughest men I ever knew, and I’ve known some tough ones. Brandon may be tougher, but they are cut from the same cloth, just sewn up a little different. Don hung up to a bull that battered him pretty badly. He had a collapsed lung, but refused to go to the doctor. He sat in a hot shower at the motel room until he could breathe again. Leave it to Doctor Don. He rode another bull the next day and this one hit him. Hard. No, no. Of course, he’s not going to the doctor. He borrowed some pain pills, helped load bulls and started driving. A few miles down the road, he pulled the truck over and fell out of the truck, vomiting. They hauled him to the hospital. His kidney had been dislocated in one of the adventures and was ruptured. Thank God for him it was the correct kidney. One was malformed and wasn’t really a functioning kidney.
He was in the hospital six days and unconscious most of the time. Not surprisingly, he convinced them he could get someone to come pick him up and he’d be lying down, so they released him a few days later. He called a cab and caught a bus home. I’m pretty sure that’s not what they had in mind.
Don was tough. That’s not always a good thing. It was impossible to get him to go to the doctor or take a day off when he was sick. I can remember less than five times in 35 years he took off because he was sick.
When our daughter Mirinda died, he was in Washington. Things were going well, but they knew she had hyaline membrane when he first talked to his nephew Lanny. The next morning, she was gone. He tried to get a flight out, but the airlines all up and down the west coast were striking. Another driver was broke down. Could Don load up his truck and bring it in? The other driver could drive Don’s truck in so he could fly. He wasn’t crazy about someone driving his truck, but he agreed.
He drove down the coast to the next airport they sent him to. No, no seats and no idea when they could get him out. Try _____. So it went down the coast of Washington, Oregon, and northern California, trying to get any kind of flight out. Willis hadn’t told the other driver why Don needed to get back in a hurry and Don didn’t tell him either. The man was a chatter box and a truck stop Romeo. He wanted to stop every hundred miles because, “ol’ Thelma works there and—”. Don was about ready to throttle him and only trusted him to drive when he needed to sleep. It took him five days to get home.
I’m sure he was about to lose his mind.
When he came to get me at the hospital, I was wandering down the hall looking for coffee. They were keeping me so doped up I couldn’t feed myself and the only way I could stay awake long enough to try to function was to beg some coffee. I saw him coming down the hall and ran to him. He held me so close I thought I might smother and didn’t care if I did. Then I started crying.
“Don’t cry. If you do, then I’ll cry and I can’t help you.
I don’t know if he ever cried over Mirinda. I’m sure he did, but he didn’t do it in front of me. I was too busy going insane for him to let his guard down. I wish I had been stronger for him, but I wasn’t. There are so many things to wish for.
The doctor told me I shouldn’t try to have more children, but I always wanted a large family. We had three boys after Mirinda. They weren’t easy, but they were worth it all. Don loved his boys so much and he was so very proud of them.
Don bought me a goat to help keep the weeds down. Annie the Nanny. We had a couple of acres of weeds to eat, but she liked shimmying out of the pen and eating my roses best. I got pretty good at goat roping. It’s not as easy as you would think. When Annie heard the truck coming, she’d lie down on her side and start scooting under the fence so she could run to greet her guy.
Where Don was the quiet Gary Cooper type, the boys all inherited my sense of humor. It was strange. Especially in later years he groused about being surrounded by idiots. One would say something and the other would pick up on it right on cue just like a perfectly timed comedy routine. Then the other would hop in. Dinner and a show. Don would make some remark about them never growing up, but that mustache would be quivering and those green eyes dancing because he loved the show, too. It was never dull when the Weathers boys were together and though he tried to blame their oddball humor all on me, they got a fair dose from their daddy as well.
Brandon told me one time he wished he could have what we had. That surprised me and I asked him what he meant. “You and Dad used to just talk for the longest time, history, politics, current affairs. You’d just hold long, intelligent conversations and they were interesting. It’s hard to find a girl like that these days.”
I miss those conversations. In the early days, I used to go with Don and I’d take books with me to read. I don’t know why because we always talked. He loved history and I did also. He listened to a lot of am radio while he was driving and picked up all kinds of things to discuss. It’s good to just talk. It’s hard to find a man you can just visit with.
Then, he’d see a historical marker somewhere and pull off so I could read it or pull into some little off the wall town that had a little museum and we’d go through it.
He always said he wasn’t a romantic, and he wasn’t in the classical sense, but he did romantic things. He’d buy strange little flower arrangements because they reminded him of me. Sometimes he’d pull the truck over and brave several lanes of freeway to walk over to a multi-acre flea market or antique fair. He’d traipse through all the wonders, though they weren’t wondrous to him at all and find antique butter molds, Degenhardt chicken salt cellars, and antique baby spoons because those things filled me with joy.
He’d buy me oddball cookbooks in little cafes because he knew I loved them. I’d sift through them and try out the cookies, and cakes, and breads and he didn’t mind being the recipient of my experiments.
Every year for a long time he’d bring me crates and crates of fresh apples and cherries from New Mexico for me to freeze and can. Bless him. Plus the cherry and apple cider. Bless him twice.
He’d bring things for the boys, too. They usually had a horse or pony of some sort. We traded a puppy for a POA pony named Taco who was a cute little thing. Don was there for the rodeos and roping. He didn’t understand computers. Will was on his own there. All of the boys inherited their mechanical bent from him. He was always tinkering on something and so were the boys.
Was it all sunshine and roses? Of course not. He swore I tried to kill him a few times. I promise I dropped that electric pole on him by mistake. Same with that massive medicine cabinet. That electric fence I turned on? I had no idea he was going to grab hold of it.
He made friends with an old rancher in Montana who knew all the history of the mines and the mountains around there. Dad, Uncle Bob, and Don spent one summer working the gold mine together and Don would often visit with Mr. Stuckey who liked Don very much. And so Don learned the secrets of the mountains. Years later a historian heard Mr. Stuckey knew all the history and asked him if he would share it. Mr. Stuckey said he didn’t know anything.
Don showed me where the grizzly killed the miner and the miner killed the grizzly. He showed me the shaft where the Chinese miners died. It wasn’t an accident, some say. Don was easy to talk to. He was a listener. People seemed to know he also respected what he was told.
I grieve for Don. I wanted him to live a very long, happy, and healthy life. He loved his boys and his grandchildren so much. He could not have been more proud of them.
I grieve for my boys. This is so hard. I can’t do anything for them to make it better except let them know how much their daddy loved them. They already know that. And how much I love them. They know that, too.
Don wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a good man, and he will be missed.