By John Thomas Tuft

The origins of the legend of Bill and Bob are buried deep in the minds of the children who lived through it. From deep in the bowels of a simple carriage house apartment on the North Side of Pittsburgh in the very early 1950s while their father attended seminary at Xenia, the story was born in the active imaginations of the children. Fair warning, if you don’t learn through stories, this may not be the place for you. Paul, Janice, Susan, Daniel, this is for you, and children of all ages:

The blizzard came in out of the northwest without any warning. Bill and Bob hunkered down in the comfortable log ranch house, venturing out only when necessary to bring in more wood for the fire or pull down more hay for the horses in the barn. The wind tore through their heavy coats and tried to snatch the cowboy hats off their heads as they fought their way to the barn, kerosene lanterns swinging wildly, around six that evening. Trigger and Black Star each received an extra ration of oats, the two stallions that got them around the 1500 acres of pastureland, woods and streams. The two siblings worked well together at the Circle T, protecting the cattle herd and flock of sheep against rustlers and assorted outlaws. The Colt 45s slung on their hips never came out of the holsters unless they needed to be used. Only then and with deadly purpose.

“I could sure go for some of Mrs. Cook’s biscuits and gravy right about now,” said Bob, who always minded his stomach. Mrs. Cook’s cozy diner was conveniently located right near the gateway to the ranch, and the kindly warm woman who ran it reminded them of their mother. The taciturn and bossy Bill, grunted and pointed to the evergreen waiting next to the barn door. “Let’s get that inside and decorated,” he said. “The townsfolk are coming out for the Christmas BBQ and we’re not near ready.”

They were dragging the tree toward the house when they heard it. A cow bawling in pain down near Cutter’s Creek. Bill whistled for their trusty dog, Tin Tin, who tore out of the barn, barking to beat the band, as he disappeared in the swirls of snow toward the animal in distress.

Bob leaned the tree against the log wall and went back to the barn to help Bill saddle up their steeds. They urged the horses out into the bitter winds and followed the sound of Tin Tin in the distance. The horses snorted, sending up clouds of vapor through the glow of the lanterns as they plodded through the deep snow, Bill and Bob hunched over in the saddles trying to stay warm. They tugged their bandanas up over their lower faces to cut down on the chill. After an arduous journey they reached the hillside above Cutter’s Creek. One of their best breeders was down, tongue lolling, as she struggled to give birth to her calf. Bill and Bob knelt down beside her, Bob at her head speaking in soothing tones, while Bill got in back and pulled on the reluctant youngster.

After one last mighty heave, Bill got the calf out. Bob offered his bandana to help rub down the newborn, who struggled to stand in the fierce winds and snow. “We got to save her,” cried Bob. Without a word, Bill picked it up and placed it over the neck of his horse. As Bob started to remount he thought he heard Tin Tin barking down near the frozen creek. “You go on, Bill. I’m gonna check this out,” he insisted. As Bill set out back to the warm house, Bob led Black Star down the slope to the creek. Through the blowing snow, he spied a new lamb out on the ice, her momma on the banks bleating her heart out. Without a second thought, Bob dropped the reins, and began to crawl on his belly over the frozen creek. Inch by inch he crawled, the sounds of the ice cracking no louder than the pounding of his heart.

Finally, he reached the frightened lamb who was now so weak she could no longer stand. Bob carefully picked her up, unsnapped his cowboy coat and tucking the lamb inside against his own body heat. Then he turned and ran for the creek bank, the ice breaking up as his feet flew as fast as he could run. With one last giant jump Bob landed safely, climbed on Black Star, whistled for Tin Tin and headed for home. He checked on his passenger, nestled close inside his jacket. “Welcome to the world. It’s Christmas Eve.” Then he noticed that the snow had magically stopped, and he could see the moon and stars overhead as he made his way back to the ranch house.

The next morning the household was awakened by knocking at the door. It was the townsfolk come to celebrate Christmas at the Circle T. Mrs. Cook bustled in, warm cinnamon buns and fresh cookies in hand only to find Bill and Bob sound asleep under the half-decorated tree. Beside them were a newborn calf and a weary little lamb being licked by Tin Tin. As the ranchers stirred, Mrs. Cook turned back to the door and motioned for a young boy to come on in. “This orphan has nowhere to stay. Why don’t you two take him in?” And they knew better than to argue with Mrs. Cook. Especially on Christmas morning…

And that, Brother Dan, is how you got to be Little Joey in the adventures of Bill and Bob.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.