In case you forgot, it’s the first night of Chanukah and out here on the prairie that calls for a little celebration, some sweeter than usual wine and – yes- cowboy poetry. So, nu, enjoy this little bit of Okie Judaica and fry up some latkes to go with your beans and biscuits. Happy Chanukah, one and all!
It was late one afternoon when we stopped to make our camp
We’d hobbled all the horses, added oil to the lamp
The biscuits and the pinto beans were cooking on the fire
The sun was dropping downward as we readied to retire
A stranger rode up slowly, attracted by our smoke
He nodded in a friendly way before he ever spoke.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to stop and let me pony rest,
and find a spot to lay my bed” we said, “stranger, be our guest.”
The stranger’s face was creased with time and dark with sun and dirt,
His hands were square and strong as he uncinched his pony’s girth.
He doffed his hat and we could see the silver in his hair,
And from his saddlebag he drew a kit, and opened it with care.
Inside he had a bible with its cover cracked and worn.
A candlestub, a cup, a cloth with edges frayed and torn;
And as the sun was setting and the mesas turning red,
He took a circle made of silk and put it on his head.
He poured some wine out of a flask into the metal cup,
And lit the candlestub and got his bible opened up.
We bowed our heads respectfully and waited for the prayer.
We hadn’t been to church and men of cloth out here are rare.
Although we’d long forgotten how to pray, we could pretend
It was easy to remember they all finish with, ‘Amen’.
So dutifully we waited and he started by and by
It kind of sounded something like, ‘baruch ata adonai’
I stole a look at Jack and then he stole a look at me
It sounded more like singing, kinda in a minor key.
The stranger’s prayer was nothing like I’d ever heard at home
Instead of ending with ‘Amen’ he said, “Shabbat Shalom”.
The stars were filling up the sky, coyotes commenced to wail
As we shared our beans and biscuits with the stranger on the trail.
But when we woke at sunrise and began to roll our beds
The stranger’s place was empty where his bedroll had been spread.
He’d never made a noise and he was gone without a sign
Except a pool of candlewax, t’warnt nothing left behind.
When we think it might be Friday, and we’ve settled down the herd
And the biscuits get to baking and the pinto beans get stirred
When the shadows start their creeping and the light begins to change
We think of that old hombre out there riding on the range.
We hope he finds some other camp where friendly cowboys hail
And think back on the night when we shared Sabbath on the trail.