That summer I met a man named Ed McQueen. He drove a ’54 Studebaker Commander and smoked Old Gold cigarettes. He wore Tony Llama cowboy boots and Wrangler jeans with an oval belt buckle in silver. He favored snap-button shirts with the sleeves cut off. He liked to play Marty Robbins songs on a Gibson guitar. He had a jailhouse tattoo on his left forearm that said “Lucky One” in black ink. A lot of women were attracted to him; my married aunt being one of them. That summer he killed two people that I know of.
McQueen and I worked on a haying crew for a rancher named Leo Pine. This was up in the Thompson River country, midway between Libby and Kalispell. Middle of nowhere. There were five of us. The job lasted about six weeks, but it occupies a much bigger place in my memory. That’s how it is with things lived as a teen-ager. There was a girl, too. Anna Caldwell. For awhile there I thought I was in love with her. But it was a short relationship and the last time I saw her I didn’t know it was the last time. Easy to idealize something like that, I guess.
For me, the smell of new-mown hay evokes a lot of images, sometimes opposite emotions. Sometimes I’ll smell it driving down a highway and think of stinging sweat and the dust and the hay hooks flashing in the summer heat. Sometimes I’ll think of fevered sighs and a lit match in the twilight. Sometimes I’ll see the long shadows in the morning, cast by bales the weight of tombstones. And sometimes I’ll think of Anna, that scented soap she must have used and the slight taste of tobacco on her lips. Those were the days, all right. Hadn’t been for that night at Whispering Pines, it might have been a pretty good summer.
I hadn’t seen either Ed McQueen or Anna Caldwell in 43 years. After the Internet came along I’d occasionally try to find some trace of them, but never did. At some point, maybe five or six years ago, I finally figured McQueen was dead. A guy like that, it was fine with me. It never occurred to me that Anna Caldwell might be dead too.”