Wednesday, June 3, 2009


There is a story in my family about my great grandfather that gets recounted at least once at every reunion. It's the kind of story that makes children say, "Oh, Daddy, tell it again!" I think the reason it's come to mind today is because I'm listening to Copland's Rodeo at the moment and mine is a tale of the Old West.

My great grandfather was a fast gun. Not a gunslinger, but fast with a gun nevertheless. It was a different time. My grandfather and his brothers strapped on guns with their jeans. It was something so ordinary that no one thought a thing about it. You kind of have to put yourself in that mindset instead of looking back from the advantage of a hundred years or so.

One evening, my great grandfather was playing cards -- no one knows for sure, but it was probably poker, certainly not Bridge -- in a saloon. There was a local gambler in the game and my great grandfather accused him of cheating. A hush fell over the table and the gambler made his first and last fatal mistake: he stood and drew his gun on my great grandfather. The very fact that I'm writing this tells you the outcome.

Over the course of his life, besides having been in a real gunfight, my great grandfather drove cattle (no doubt up the famous Chisholm Trail) married my great grandmother and raised a family of five. He was a real cowboy. Not the kind associated with lawlessness in the films Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, but one you'd be pleased to have as a neighbor -- especially if you're playing cards with a cheap gambler.

His was a heritage he passed along to my grandfather, he to my father, and my father to me. We've all loved horses, known how to rope and brand cattle, learned to remove our hats in the presence of women, and seen the wonder of birth as a colt slips from its mother's womb. We've all loved the freedom of wide, open spaces, the warm embrace of family, and always, the promise of morning.
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