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Francie and Doyle and pie and dominoes

I remember the night I got my invitation to go round to Doyle Beasley's place for pie, and to try my hand and counting ability at dominoes, a game the septuagenarian horseman treasured so well that he kept an old cardboard box wrapped in double rubber bands in his coat pocket. Francie, his saintly and pretty second wife of less than half Doyle's years, kept this small high plateau community in cherry, raspberry, and blackberry pie, out of pure enjoyment of seeing others eat. You couldn't pass by their house, let alone enter in, without being invited to make a choice.

Though I had been there before as an advice-seeker, I had never been a formal guest of Doyle and Francie, nor did I play an exceedingly flashy game of dominoes. Doyle had often come round to our house or passed advice over the fence from the county road in honest amusement as we learned to plow with our team of horses early on, remarking: ''It'd go a lot better if you didn't have your reins inside hooked up backward'' - in this valley where even the oldest farmers have combines that flash and grumble under the midsummer sun.

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For, although he would scorn the term, Doyle Beasley, a slightly bent frame that still reached 6-foot-5, was a true American cowboy, with a bittersweet, weatherbeaten smile that knew almost all you could know about range: horses, grass, cows, weather, sheep, water, trees, wild animals. And yet for all his fine teasing and what today would be called machismo (joshing with ''the boys'' about the ways of ''the gals''), he was a gentleman and friend to both sexes. It was as if he had, as Pound put it, ''gathered from the air a live tradition/or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame.''

For all his years of riding as a hand for the big cattle owners, and once being exported to South America for a polo tournament, Doyle was comfortable with a '62 Chevy truck and a little house as bare and comfortable as a rural Spanish mission. The night I went over, Francie, in her kitchen smock, came out into the dark to see me into the house. The back room, where I entered, was where they sat, a hardwood floor and a rug, three or four hardwood chairs (Doyle was musing in the rocker in front of the brick fireplace), and back windows with flowering Christmas cactus, high geraniums, a potted fir, interspersed with the constellations through the panes above the high ridges. Two dogs were asleep on the floor. A man who rises to work early, Doyle was completely relaxed in his cushionless chair, content to enjoy the pinon wood crackling on the grate. Along the mantel were photographs in frames, people, horses, families, some very modern, by the dress, some as old and standardly formal as the photos I had seen as a boy visiting the family homestead in Norway: faces, and the hair neatly parted, looking as though 30 years later they had just stepped out of a hot bath or been made up.

They were touched by ashes, and as I looked, Francie apologized for the ''dust'' and explained how in winter with the fire going it was useless to wipe them each day. It was not a spotless house, but clean, the kind of cheery cleanliness that is not fanatical but gives you the sense that there is doing every day.

I made my seat next to Doyle at the fire while Francie warmed her back in front of us, then went to the kitchen to get pies. We all forked pie in front of the fire and talked about things round about. Francie moved an old, well-repaired table and Doyle reached for his dominoes, which he had taken from his coat, probably a home habit, and put on the mantel with the photos.

As we began the game together, concentrating on matching the numbers in front of us, the sense of play took over - though Doyle marked each 5 with a half cross and a 10 with a full cross - and someone would win and lose. It occurred to me that I was gaining knowledge of these hard-work-wise people through concentrating on mathematics: Doyle, who appeared to have no regrets in the world, who suffered great physical pain at times, who only complained of not being able to work as hard as he remembered; and Francie, kind-faced, bright-eyed, who joined her life at a young age to a much older, worthy human being. I had hoped that night to make Doyle talk about days in the valley, make him into a kind of personal history book. But he and Francie were much too with-it to want to give my questions anything but the short best answer for the time being. Somewhere in that game, by all of us concentrating on something other than ourselves, I became friends with Doyle and Francie. I believe it's because they wanted me to.

I looked forward to days ahead on the farm getting Doyle to reminisce, but it would surely be on a subject that needed a practical confronting. He and Francie were enjoying the moments that were happening in front of them too well to want to be away from them for too long.

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