And then Weasel was gone too.
Weasel was a short man whose swagger told you he was tough. He said what was on his mind, even when his words made him unpopular. Folks always knew where they stood with Weasel because he said what he thought needed saying.
I met Weasel at the Bridge, the place where I met many of the people I hold dear in my heart. He sold old beads, new drums made by a local Native man who was his friend, and whatever little odds and ends he thought would bring in a few bucks. He’s an old horse-trader, people said of Weasel, although there never seemed to be actual horses involved.
Weasel fathered a child late in life. I heard stories about how that had come to pass too. By the time I knew Weasel, he and his son’s mother had made their peace. Weasel sure loved his boy. He was always proud to talk about the kid’s achievements in the classroom, Boy Scouts, and 4-H. On the rare occasion that Weasel brought the boy to the Bridge, both of them beamed. The love and respect they felt for each other was obvious.
Some of the other vendors told me Weasel had suffered a heart attack a few years before I arrived on the scene. He’d lost a lot of weight, I was told in 2012, and he was more careful about what he ate. He seemed to be doing a lot better, everyone agreed.
I’ll never forget the pep talk Weasel gave me in the early days in my life without my ex. I was homeless—didn’t even have a van back then—and carried everything I owned on my back. I slept in a picnic pavilion at a rest area at night and spent my days selling the hemp jewelry and sage bundles I constructed. I was trying to make my way in the world, just like the other vendors at the Bridge.
I’d gotten a late start on this particular day. I wasn’t able to squeeze in between William and Tommy like I usually did, and I ended up in the slower sales area next to Weasel. I couldn’t afford a table yet, and my sage branch display barely kept my bracelets and necklaces out of the dusty New Mexico dirt. When there was a lull between customers, Weasel came over to talk to me.
He’s been watching me, he said. He saw that I showed up every day to sell the things I made. He saw I worked hard to make my own way. You don’t ask nobody for nothing, he said. He saw that in a community where some folks seemed to enjoy making trouble for others, I minded my own business and didn’t try to cause strife for other vendors. He told me to keep doing what I was doing. He told me that I was going to be ok. Then he bought me a meatloaf sandwich from the woman who made her money selling lunches to the vendors. (Not too many weeks later it was Weasel’s birthday, and I had enough money in my pocket to return to the sandwich favor.)
Five years later when I returned to the Bridge with The Man, he and Weasel hit it off. Weasel may have been a horse trader by profession, but his art was carving. The Man was just starting his journey as a carver when he met Weasel. One morning Weasel stopped at The Man’s table and told him he was doing good work. Weasel wouldn’t say that if he didn’t mean it, I told The Man.
Last summer when he left the mountain, The Man ended up at Weasel’s place. Weasel was starting a retreat for artists on his land. He’d bought a couple small travel trailers and stocked them with beans and rice and coffee. He wanted artists to have a place to work where they didn’t have to worry so much about food and shelter and money.
The Man and I were in southern New Mexico when Weasel passed. We were planning to head up to northern New Mexico as soon as it warmed up. We were going to stay at Weasel’s place in one of the travel trailers.
The Man talked to Weasel on the phone on what turned out to be one of the old horse trader’s last days in this world.
What do you need? Weasel asked after The Man identified himself. Weasel was ready to offer help.
The Man explained our situation, and Weasel said sure, come on out. He said he’d be in the city the next week for a doctor’s appointment and a visit with his son and his son’s mother, but we were welcome to come over whenever we wanted and hang out at his place until he returned. He even made sure The Man remembered the combination to the lock on the gate.
I don’t know what the doctor’s appointment in the city was about or if Weasel made it there. Five days after The Man talked to him, Weasel was dead.
He was at his son’s mother’s house washing dishes when it happened. He mentioned that he couldn’t catch his breath, then collapsed. The EMTs arrived in an ambulance 14 minutes later, but it was too late. His heart had given out on him one last time.
I was sad when I heard the news, and The Man took it really hard. Weasel was his friend. He’d planned to spend more time with Weasel, carve with him, help him make improvements to his homestead. He missed Weasel, but I think he was also sad for the possibilities of the friendship that never came to fruition. It was going to be such a great summer with Weasel, The Man said wistfully.
Maybe it’s the missed possibilities that make us saddest when someone dies. We regret the words we never said and sometimes the words we did say. We regret the things we never did together, the lessons we never learned, the help we never gave.
I hope that Weasel died with no regrets. I can’t imagine he left this world with words unsaid. I hope he’d at least made a try at all the things he wanted to do.
Weasel was not a perfect man. He was a fighter and maybe not always for a righteous cause. I would have never wanted to be on his bad side. He could he harsh, and I witnessed some of his business dealings where I felt he was being a little slick with the truth. However, at his core, he was a good man. He was a loving father and a true friend.
I feel saddest for his son. At 12, he’s on the cusp of the years when a boy particularly needs a positive role model to teach him how to be a good man. What’s that kid going to do without his father? Yet, he got 12 years more than a lot of kids get. He got 12 years with a father who loved him and enjoyed being with him. He got 12 years with a father who was firm, but fair. He got 12 years with a father who respected him and was his biggest cheerleader. He got 12 years with a man who’d grown up enough to be not just a good father, but a great father.
The Bridge won’t be the same without Weasel. Who will throw lucky pennies in front of vendors’ tables? Who will walk down the row of vendors wishing everyone a good morning? Who will fight the good fight when the powers-that-be tell us we can no longer make a living selling our wares to visitors? We don’t have Weasel anymore, so we’ll have to do those things ourselves. Weasel respected self-sufficiency. He’d be glad to know he taught us something.