"With each wife came a gaggle of in-laws," the professor said.
"And among them a John Wayne look-alike?"
"Yes. Big Burt. Not an actor, but the real thing: a hard-drinking, hard-working Texas cowboy. He was also a farmer, and an oil-field tool pusher."
"The guy in charge on those off-shore drilling platforms. Now, Burt favored me. We hit it off immediately, despite the fact that I was an outsider, a Yankee intellectual."
"It did not make his three sons very happy, that's for sure. Those guys always tried to challenge me, show me up. But I surprised them. Surprised myself, actually."
"It turned out that I had an inate talent for riding a horse. And I also was a crack shot with a rifle."
"The very first time I mounted a horse was down on Big Burt's farm, in a remote area about an hour's drive from the Red River. I instantly felt an overwhelming surge of déjà vu. It felt totally and absolutely familiar, as if I had been riding all my life. Remember that movie 'Patton' starring George C. Scott?"
"Yes, I do."
"That famous scene when he and General Omar Bradley look out at an ancient battlefield. Patton describes the Roman slaughter of the Carthaginians and says: 'Arab women stripped them of their tunics and their swords and lances. The soldiers lay naked in the sun, two thousand years ago; and I was here.'"
"Yes, I remember. In the background of that scene is eerie music."
"Anyway, that's how I felt up on that horse. I knew I had done it in an earlier life. What's more, my resentful brothers-in-law had given me a rather strong-willed and skittish horse, one they were sure would immediately toss me. When I mounted, though, I felt an instant connection with the animal, and I felt it connected to me as well. It astonished those guys."
"What about the rifle shooting?"
"Oh, yes. They got out the guns, put a popsicle stick in the ground, and paced off a couple dozen yards. One took a shot, but missed. I shot and hit it. They thought it was dumb luck, so asked me to do it again. I did. Once more they were not too pleased."
"That's my daughter, one of my favorite snapshots of her."
"She looks so deep in thought. Very sad, actually."
"Yes. It's as if she knew even then the troubles that would eventually come her way."