He should have been in the circus

When my Uncle Jack was a very little boy, he’d get out of bed very early in the morning and toddle barefoot out to the stables, carrying his bottle with him.

Once there, he’d grip the nipple of his bottle between his teeth and crawl up Queen’s foreleg until he could grab her mane and pull himself up onto her back.

He was a wizard with animals and completely fearless.

Queen was Granddaddy’s special pet. She competed on the racetrack in sulky racing. A sulky is a two-wheeled, one-seat lightweight cart, and Queen won a lot of races.

Racehorse though she was, she was amazingly gentle and patient with Uncle Jack. He was a towhead with curls so light they looked white. Although he looked like an angel, Grandmama always said he certainly wasn’t one. He wasn’t a bad little boy, just full of mischief — always up to something.

He had a gift when it came to animals. He was fearless and could do anything with a horse.

He always had a good saddle horse.

One Thanksgiving when I was about 9 years old, we were all gathered at Grandmama’s house. Uncle Jack called all the children out into the front yard.

He was riding Dick bareback and pulled him up in front of the porch.

He took off his shoes and pulled up his legs until he was squatting on the horse’s back. Then he clucked to Dick and he started walking down the driveway.

Uncle Jack spit on his hands, rubbed the bottom of each barefoot and slowly stood on the horse’s bare back. He circled the front yard gathering speed, then dropped the reins and stretched his arms out to the sides, balancing perfectly.

Then, as he circled again, he dropped back down, gathered the reins, and stopped in front of the porch.

He dismounted and tossed each small child onto Dick’s back and led the horse around the yard. It was thrilling. We felt like we were in the circus.

The older children were allowed to ride alone. That Thanksgiving stands out in my memory as special.

Looking back from the perspective of adulthood, I can see how special he was. He was energetic, hardworking, smart and good-natured.

He was one of the quick-witted ones who always saw the funny side and loved a good joke. And he had a million of them. He never came home from town without a great story or a new joke he’d just heard.

He seldom took a vacation, because there was seldom an opportunity to leave the farm. Something always required his attention.

I do remember driving down to the beach for a Sunday picnic. We always traveled down with ripe tomatoes and fried chicken. That was the trip Uncle Jack had a Mason jar full of iced tea in the front seat. He was drinking from it when he was pulled over by a patrolman, who thought he might be drinking and driving. After learning the truth, we were allowed to continue our journey.

But we all got as much fun out of that incident as we did from our day at the beach. And now it’s just part of family history. We all adored our Uncle Jack. As long as we tell these stories, he comes to life for the next generation.