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.
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.
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
“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.
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
shoe horses, don't they?"
2007 Guest Column
Columns by Robert G. Cowser