Uncle Clay was our Family Cowboy
By Justin Isherwood
Once, or so it seemed, every family, at least every farm family had its cowboy; an uncle, a grandfather, an aunt for whom that long and sincere age of horse yet maintained a mind/body connection. At their core that the horse ought never have been supplanted by the motor car. To their philosophy, a state of grace was present in horse power, when time and its urgency were more humane, when the size of planet Earth was 10 times bigger, maybe 20 times, when wars were genteel, maybe even honorable. Blitzkriegs were hard to come by on horseback, same for saturation bombing. And while you can deliver nukes on horseback it’s a more enterprising strategy, and even nuclear equipped cavalry would not much disturb world peace.
My family had its personification and victim of horse in our great Uncle Clay, short for Clayton, our grandmother’s younger brother born in 1880, least thereabouts, he never married, to suspect from a young age he was betrothed to his horse. Uncle Clay was a lean man going on gaunt, he had on him the look of prairie grass and corn stubble. Our mama believed he had a tapeworm for when he came to our house he ate with a palpable ferocity, two portions, maybe three, followed by pie, several.
Uncle Clayton farmed on the far end of the Buena Vista Marsh, a land holding that at the time was thought expansive. On a couple thousand acres he raised grass-fed beevies long before grass-fed had a dietary cachet. Uncle Clay farmed by horse well after the tractor was the acknowledged heir. He had correspondingly the unique talent to instantly relate to any horse he ever saw. Wasn’t a horse or horse temperament he couldn’t put at ease within minutes, a trait even for those who knew horses believed uncanny. He broke and sold horses, every kind, plow horses, quarter horses, track horses. It was said of him, “he is able to bring a horse around,” even horses deemed hopeless.
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