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  • Texas | Columns | "They shoe horses, don't they?"


    by Robert G. Cowser

    When I was younger, I could never quite understand how anyone could be devoted to the town where I was born. My birthplace was a farm house five miles south of Saltillo, where our post office and school were located. When I was a teenager, Saltillo also had three groceries and two service stations. The largest commercial building contained a drugstore, a barber shop, and the post office. These buildings were located on U.S. Highway 67, a two-lane road, originally known as the Bankhead Highway and then as the “Broadway of America.” There was also a Cotton Belt depot north of the highway that stood until 1956 when passenger service was discontinued on the route. Obviously lacking was a motion picture theater, which even Larry McMurtry’s otherwise deprived Archer City had until the late 1950s.

    A row of dilapidated brick buildings a few yards north of the highway reminded us that Saltillo had once seen better days. The roofs of two of these buildings, which once housed a bank and a newspaper office, collapsed before I was born.

    Most of my classmates at the high school yearned for the time when they could leave Saltillo. The majority went to the burgeoning cities of Dallas and Fort Worth to seek employment; three or four from our graduating class went away to college. My assumption was that only a few of the elderly were the only ones devoted to the town. It was not until I became acquainted with Clyde Horne, who married my oldest sister, that I learned about a younger person’s devotion to Saltillo.

    Except for these remarks about Clyde, I am not certain anything else has ever been written about him. However, Veterans Administration documents probably contain brief records of his military service and the treatment he received for his war injury.

    During World War II, Clyde was a member of an infantry battalion that saw action in Italy and later in Normandy. After he was discharged, he never found a niche for himself in civilian life. Clyde’s parents moved from Saltillo to Fort Worth during the time Clyde was overseas. He lived temporarily with them and his older brother in Fort Worth. When President Truman ordered the deployment of troops to Korea in 1950, Clyde re-enlisted. “I hated to see them green kids th’own into battle against the Commies without goin’ again myself to show ‘em how the U.S. infantry fights,” Clyde told my mother years later.

    On Hill 598 Clyde fell on an exploding grenade. South Korea litter bearers took him to a mobile neurosurgical unit in the valley. When the surgeons removed as many bone fragments as they could from Clyde’s skull, they inserted a plate of tantalum under what was left of the skull.

    After months of hospital stays in Japan and later in the States, Clyde returned to Texas. The government provided him with a pink Mercury sedan equipped for a driver with his particular handicap. He rented a room in Saltillo from an elderly widow who lived near the stores.

    Clearly Clyde displayed a devotion to the town. He faithfully attended annual memorial services held at the community churches where cemeteries were located. Each community chose a different day for the ceremonies to avoid conflicts. Clyde particularly enjoyed going to the Old Saltillo Church grounds each July. The men of the community were responsible for killing and dressing squirrels so that they could become the main component of a stew cooked outdoors on the premises. Clyde enjoyed the camaraderie existing among the men as they went about their business in the early morning hours of the service.

    A favorite fishing spot was a camp on White Oak Creek about three miles north of Saltillo. Several local men liked to take seines and drag them through the creek in order to net the catfish. They also liked to take beer or whiskey with them. Clyde was not able to drag the seine through the muddy water, but he could take beer or whiskey to the men. He enjoyed drinking with them, sometimes in excess. In a conversation with my mother, a veteran of several South Pacific battles during World War II, once remarked, “If there was ever a man who had an excuse to drink, it’s Clyde Horne.” When Clyde started taking my sister Juanita to the movies, she was attempting to recover from the effects of a second divorce. She was living with my parents and working sporadically in a garment factory in the county seat. After several weeks of going to movies in nearby towns, Clyde and Juanita decided to marry. Because Juanita was a divorcee, it was difficult for them to find a minister to perform the ceremony. Eventually they found a retired Baptist minister who agreed to marry them.

    After their marriage, Juanita and Clyde moved into a rental house located near a pond. The house was located on a graveled road that had very little traffic. The owners had built attractive flower beds in the front yard, some of which were bordered in red brick and others in flagstone. Daffodils, hyacinths, and irises grew in the beds. A serene atmosphere prevailed.

    Sitting before the television in the Hornes’ living room on spring evenings, I remember hearing the croaking of the American toads on the banks of the pond. On occasion, the blue light from the television screen was the only light in the room. I began to associate that light with my visits to the Hornes’ house. Over the sound of music and dialogue from Gunsmoke or The Untouchables, the music building in volume prior to a climactic scene, Clyde would tell Juanita and me about talking that day with a visitor to Saltillo. Usually, the person was a man who came from Dallas or Fort Worth to visit relatives and friends.

    “You couldn’t guess who I saw today at the drug store. T. Young drove down from Dallas for the day,” Clyde would say. Or he would tell us that a man Clyde’s parents had known when they lived near Saltillo was back to check on his property. “Dade Sparks’ lespedeza will soon need to be mowed and baled,” Clyde would say.

    Over the next few years the evidence of Clyde’s devotion to his birthplace accumulated. But it was not until my father told me of the first time Clyde came back to Saltillo after he was discharged that I gained insight into that devotion. At dusk one summer evening my father and I were sitting in the family room of my parents’ house. He mentioned Clyde’s abuse of alcohol. “It’s a shame,” my father said. And then he went on to say that he admired the principles Clyde lived by. We both knew that Clyde charged purchases at local businesses, but we also knew that he always made his debts good.

    As darkness came on us that evening, my father also told me that Ike Horne, Clyde’s uncle, was waiting at the Saltillo station the morning that Clyde returned from the veterans’ hospital. Ike reported that after the train stopped, a porter got off first and placed a stool on the gravel beneath the steps of the coach. Next Clyde came down the steps, assisted by the porter. Clyde was wearing an aluminum brace on his right leg, partially hidden by the leg of his trousers. His right arm dangled from his shoulder, just as it did the first time I ever saw Clyde. The arm reminded me of the broken wing of a quail.

    The porter placed two bags beside Clyde. Then he quickly boarded the train just before it pulled away. Ike saw that Clyde was having some difficulty keeping his balance. Clyde dropped to his knees, and there in the midst of small mounds the ants had built from the red soil, he bent over to kiss the ground.

    © Robert G. Cowser
    "They shoe horses, don't they?"
    September 6, 2007 Guest Column
    More Columns by Robert G. Cowser
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