Uncle Rog would be 93 years old today. I can hardly believe he’s been gone for ten years. There’s seldom a day that goes by that someone doesn’t say, “you know what Rog would say about that…”
He was my Grandma’s uncle, which I guess, would make him my great, great-uncle. Uncle Rog and my Grandma were only five years apart in age and grew up together. He would always say he thought of her as more of a sister than a niece. His obituary read like this;
Roger Claytor was born May 23, 1923, in Alcova, the son of Mattie (Ervay) and Leon Claytor; was raised and educated there; and spent most of his life in Alcova, with the exception of his military service. After graduating from high school in 1943, he entered the U.S. Navy and was honorably discharged in 1945.
On June 25, 1951, he married Margaret Jepson at First Christian Church in Casper.
Known as “a true cowboy,” he loved the ranching life and working with livestock. He had been employed by Miles Land and Livestock for the last 54 years.
Survivors include his wife of 54 years of Alcova; son, Elmer Taylor, and his wife of Kaycee; three grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; two sisters, Eva France of Belgrade, Mont., and Anne Miles of Casper; and numerous nieces and nephews.
An unremarkable life, it seems. Except that, it wasn’t. It was remarkable and extraordinary in so many ways. Not in the big, flashy, Facebook post, viral sort of ways, that seem to be common these days but in humble, quiet, old-fashioned ways.
The first thing you need to understand about Uncle Rog is that he was a Cowboy. A real, rough around the edges, tough as nails Cowboy. He could ride anything, rope anything and fix anything with barbed wire or bailing twine….seriously, anything. He worked for my Grandparents on their ranch for 54 years but before that he worked at the 9A, the Circle Bar, and the Bug ranches. He was always given the outside circle – the hardest, longest ride – because everyone knew he was dependable and capable and wouldn’t come back until the job was done. He lived through some remarkable times, WWII, the Great Depression. He helped Ben Roberts trail 1700 head of cattle to the Big Horn Basin during the Blizzard of ’49. Those are a few of things that got him inducted into the Wyoming Cowboy Hall of Fame last year.
But these are the things that I will always remember about him.
He was always the first one to the barn. No matter if we started at 6:00 am or 4:30 am, he was there at least an hour before anyone else. By the time the bleary-eyed cowboy crew stumbled out to the corral, Uncle Rog would have wrangled and fed the horses, caught and saddled his horse and the boss’s, done whatever other chores needed done and be sitting in his pickup drinking coffee from the lid of his thermos. You could count on that as sure as the sunrise.
He didn’t say much but what he did say was memorable.
He expected people to be ready to go in the mornings, after all, he been ready an hour or more before any of the rest of us had even thought to get out of bed. So he was never pleased to see someone fussing with their equipment when it was time to mount up. If anyone made the mistake of trying to adjust their stirrups or fix a bridle rein, he’d very pointedly tell them, “you know that’s what the night before is for” and ride off without them.
Rog did whatever work needed to be done. From time to time, there would be someone working at that ranch who only wanted to Cowboy and would look down their nose at irrigating, building fence and working in the hayfield. Rog would just shake his head at them, say “you know it all pays the same” and get to work.
“Suit yourself” was one saying that meant the opposite of what it implied. If there were any debate or questioning going on as to what the right decision was in a given situation, he would usually say something along the lines of “this what would I would do but suit yourself.” The implication being that he didn’t have much of an opinion on the matter but what he meant was more along the lines of – if you do it the way your thinking, you’re dumber than that fence post over there, but you’re not going to listen to me anyway. He had a way of getting his point across.
One time when Dad asked him if he was going to the funeral of someone who Rog was not especially fond of, his reply was, “no but I’m in favor of it.”
Other often quoted Rog sayings include, “we’re burning daylight“, “you can’t save ’em all”, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, Jesus Christ can’t we do that tomorrow!“, “suffering Christ Almighty!” “Don’t be tying that coat on, you left the barn with it on, just wear it.” “It will rain someday, it always has.” “Two men can do anything if they just work together.” ” It’s not what you put in a horses mouth; it’s how you use it.”
He could swear like no one else I have ever known. It wasn’t even the words he used; it was the way he said them. In fact, some were entirely made up, on the spot, in a fit of frustration, and would not ever be found any dictionary. And he put his heart and soul into it. He could swear with his whole body. I have the clearest of memories of watching Rog swear while holding herd, not being able to hear a word of what he was saying but knowing exactly what he meant. I can still see him in the distance shaking his head, taking his rope down because now he was going to have to get back some cow or calf that someone else had let get through. More often than not it started off with, “Jeesus Christ!”...but then again maybe that was his way of praying.
He would always close his eyes when he told a story. I don’t remember him being a big talker, but if someone asked, and eventually someone always did, he would tell stories about the “old timers.” He would tilt his head up and squint his eyes until they were almost closed like he was watching the memories replay in his mind as he talked.
He could make do with anything. Everything he owned was worn out. His gloves always had holes in them. So did his shirts and his boots. His saddle would always have baling twine tied to it and you were never sure if it was just tied on in case he needed it some time, or if it was holding the saddle together. It wasn’t that he didn’t have newer things. Every year everyone gave him new gloves, jackets, shirts, all kinds of things. But he just wouldn’t use anything new until he had gotten every single ounce of use out of something else first. He probably had 50 pairs of brand new gloves but would wear the ones that the fingers were totally worn through because they were still technically holding together. Once, someone noticed his boots had a hole in them and said, “Rog, I’ve got a pair of boots you can have. What size do you wear?” His reply was, “I can wear anything from a 7 to a 91/2.” Maybe it was having lived through the Great Depression, maybe it was just Rog, but he used things completely, wasted nothing and was not taken in by things just because they were new and shiny.
He kept a rolled up pancake in his shirt pocket in case he got hungry and an old Clorox jug filled with water in his pickup in case he got thirsty. And he would always offer to share his pancake with you, although I don’t recall anyone ever taking him up on that offer.
One time, Dad, Rog and I were trying to load a mad cow at the calving shed. It was not going well, and there was a lot of cursing and a lot of head shaking. We finally got her run onto the trailer, but as Dad dismounted to shut the trailer gate, he landed wrong and went down hard. Luckily, we got the gate closed before the cow could run back out over the top of him but it quickly became clear that he had broken his leg, badly. Rog said some words and shook his head and hurried off. He came back with a full 5-gallon bucket of water and set it down next to Dad. “There!”, he said, “now I better go radio your Mother and get her to come haul him out of here.” I still have absolutely no idea what on earth I was supposed to do with the 5-gallon bucket of water.
And then there was the goat incident. When my sisters and I were in high school, we had a goat that we used to practice our goat tying skills. The goat was a huge pain. He would eat anything and everything and wreak havoc wherever he went. One day Rog’s favorite horse was tied in the barn. The goat ate the horse’s tail. I’m not sure why the horse didn’t kick him across the barn, but he didn’t. By the time anyone noticed what was happening, the horse had very little hair left in his tail. This was not a good situation. There was some epic swearing that happened, which started with, “The ONLY thing a man gives a GOD DAMN about and the GOD DAMN goat eats its GOD DAMN tail off!! Suffering Christ Almighty!!” We walked on egg shells and steered clear of Uncle Rog as best we could for weeks. But this is when I realized how much Uncle Rog loved us, despite his cranky exterior because that goat survived unscathed.
Uncle Rog didn’t have a lot of money, never owned land or cattle, wasn’t famous and never won any awards, but he sure did leave his mark.
He found something that he loved in life, and he did it well. He worked hard and did his best even when things were challenging, especially when things were challenging. He helped people whenever he could. He never tried to impress anyone. He never tried to act like someone he wasn’t. He was content to just be Rog and to be doing what he loved. And in the end touched more people than I’m sure he ever realized.
That is the biggest thing I learned from Uncle Rog. You don’t need awards or money or any of the trappings of what we consider as”success” to make an impact in this world. You just need to find something you love to do, do your best, work hard and treat people well along the way.
The day we gathered to say goodbye it was standing room only, and there were even people standing outside in the cold January wind, so that they could show their respect and say thank you. Cowboys don’t often cry but that day, with their hats in their hands and thier heads bowed, tears streamed down the faces of two generations of cowboys and cowgirls.
During the funeral Bob Cardwell told a story that I’ve always thought says a lot about who Rog was (my apologies Bob if I’m not remembering it correctly). Bob said that he had given Rog a new headstall for Christmas one year because he had noticed that Rog’s was getting worn out. Rog thanked him, and that was that. Several months later Rog had gone to Cardwell’s to help Bob move some cattle. They hadn’t gotten far from the trailer when Bob’s headstall broke and he got off of his horse to try to repair it. Rog said to just hang on and he trotted back to the pickup. Bob expected to him to show up with some bailing twine but instead he showed up with that brand new headstall and said, “here you go, I want you to have this.” Bob said, “Rog I can’t take that. I wanted you to have it.” Rog said, “But I’ve been saving it so I could give it to someone who needs it more than me.”
He was a gruff old cowboy with a big heart and a memorable way with words. He taught by example, things both practical and profound. A life well lived and always remembered. Here’s to Uncle Rog on his birthday and now we better get back to work and stop “burning daylight”