My dad’s uncle was an interesting fellow. He lived with his pleasant and kind wife, Irene, on the outskirts of Grand Junction, Colorado. It was a dry sagebrush landscape dominated by the presence of the Colorado River and the surrounding mountains. They had a small farm in a cluster of other small farms in a relatively flat area alongside a canal. They had chickens and a horse. They had ditch water on the backside of the house. He didn’t say much to me, but he was always tactful and direct. Other people had conversations with him when I was around, including me. And, this is much of what I got out of it:
Years before the family had a place on Roan Creek (“crick” it was called) where they raised cows, sheep and chickens on the small ranch in the dry mainly sagebrush hills. Looking at it from afar it would be hard to know that a rich microclimate nurtured by the many dams on the crick in the many small valleys alongside made for a nice place to raise a family in the years after the Civil War. I was fortunate enough to visit the area once when I was young, catching a brook trout in a small clear pond on the crick.
The family Franklin prospered in the crick drainage, albeit modestly. They ran cows, they were real cowboys and cowgirls, and rounded up wild horses on the mesa top desert above. Horses were part of life, and Dwight always had at least one on hand. I often thought of myself as a cowboy in those days, like my Great Uncle Dwight was. He let me ride at least one time solo.
Of course, I was just a skinny little 10-year old at this time when my dad was off in Vietnam, but after some gentle but serious instructions from my uncle, I felt every bit a cowboy as I rode Dove on the dirt track along the canal. I was alone, which was like many a TV cowboy I had known. I felt normal and at home riding, and didn’t have a care in the world. Looking back, I think people that saw this sight of a full-sized horse with a tiny kid on its back wondering along the banks of the canal might have been a little curious, if not concerned. I don’t recall being allowed to solo again there.
Usually when visiting I spent many hours playing with the water striders, we called them water bugs, skating on the water surface. I’ll tell you something that comes to mind about the visits and my studies of the water bugs, which I would be quick to spot even as I was floating a stick down the ditch. I played all kinds of sports growing up including football, American football many would say. What I learned watching the little critters moving about the surface of the water, I put into play on the football field. Again, I was a tiny little guy, but whether I was leading my flag football team to a championship or running in touchdowns in little league or just playing touch football in the backyard, I tried my best to dart around unpredictably to the opposition. It worked really well. I recommend studying those water bugs. It’s amazing what one can learn.
Dwight was very cool and generally slow to get excited. You could tell he loved and cared for Irene, and you could tell she reciprocated his feelings. My parents admired them. I only felt comfortable visiting there, if not a little bored as they had no other children around whenever we were there. I learned a lot even there though I spent so little time with them.