HOISTING A STIRRUP-CUP
It was an uncommon funeral service.
The mourners, most wearing cowboy boots and ranchers' rough clothes, sat in makeshift pews at the rear of the cavernous Matt's Saloon on Prescott's Whiskey Row.
The honoree was Dave Horn, an old horse lover and racetracker. For years, he ran the tote board at Prescott Downs and other tracks around the Western part of the country. Now, at 63, he was dead.
"No matter where racetrack people gather," Sam Steiger said, "if they mentioned Prescott Downs, they always spoke of Dave Horn and his skill at running a tote board.
"There might have been a lot of things that didn't go right at the track from time to time, but if Dave was there, at least the tote board worked." Horn was also a regular at Matt's Saloon for 30 years before succumbing to cancer.
So now, 50 or so of Dave's drinking buddies had come to the old watering hole to lift one last glass and bid farewell to a man whose warm presence had lighted up the saloon since the Sixties.
Jim Garner, peripatetic newspaperman, now editor of the Prescott Courier, was first to speak.
"Dave would not like us to sing any sad songs," Garner said. "He has left for that great racetrack in the sky, and it is our duty to wish him well and remember the good times we had with this guy." There was not a sound in the saloon. The mourners listened intently to every word Garner spoke.
"Long before there was a television show called Cheers, most of us remember that show originated right here in the Sixties when this place served as a security blanket for a lot of us.
"There was Matt and Brother Jones . . . Bobbie Brown, Hotdog, John Ludwig, Corky, Dwight, Emerson, Gene and Sam Steiger.
"And there was that guy who used to call long distance and buy the whole house a drink. We kept hoping he would call more often. We never let a drink go dry in those days.
"I can recall many evenings sitting over there in one of these booths with Dave and ruminating about the sorry state of politics. That hasn't changed much, has it?
"And I remember cursing Matt for daring to raise the price of mixed drinks from 60 cents to 65.
"In retrospect, there was nothing complicated about life in those days. And nothing complicated about Dave Horn. He was a gentle man who walked through here doing what is expected of all good citizens and performing admirably well." The room remained silent. In more raucous places, Garner's remarks might have brought on a roll of applause.
Garner hesitated as if not sure to leave the podium. But he remained to say one final thing:
"So, old friend Dave, we say to you: `It's only a blink of the eye, and we'll all be hoisting one for the road again with you.'" Horn's family sat in the front rows. They were visibly moved.
Two other friends, Bill Warren and Jim Elwell, spoke next and they were eloquent, too.
Finally, Steiger, always rambunctious, but on this occasion, uncommonly sentimental, got up to speak.
"I don't suppose many of you have ever been to a memorial service in a saloon," Steiger began.
"But what you have to understand is that this is, in many ways, as sacred and meaningful as any kind of formal ritual we might have gone through.
"Dave Horn gave me this shirt," Steiger said, pointing to the plaid wool shirt he was wearing under a heavy wool hand-knit sweater.
"I can't tell you why he gave it to me," Steiger said. "He just did. Probably, he had bought it for himself and it didn't fit." For the first time, snippets of laughter broke out among the mourners.
"I never gave Dave anything," Steiger said. "He was one of the very few people who never asked me to do anything for him, ever . . . even when I could have done something for him." Steiger stood there glowering.
"It was a very big deal to me. Dave and I were friends simply because we enjoyed each other and respected each other and not because of what we could gain. That's so rare today. I don't have to tell you that because you understand it." Steiger pointed out that Horn was a truly great racetracker, but a failure as a horseman.
"He wanted to be a cowpuncher, to trade horses and to get along with mules," Steiger said, "but he just didn't have the judgment for it. But he kept trying and over the years, it caused him some small pain--and I don't mean emotional." Steiger reminded the group that Horn also had been a terrible saloonkeeper:
"He owned the Log Cabin for a brief and unhappy time. One of the problems was that he felt obliged to demonstrate to each patron that what they was drinking was okay because he'd drink it with them." Steiger looked out over the room at all of Dave Horn's old friends.
Steiger shook his head, almost sighing.
"David would have been pleased that you were all here. He would also have been surprised. You see, David didn't believe that this many people would actually assemble on his behalf."
"I think it's great we had this kind of turnout. I know you join with me in wishing him Godspeed wherever he goes . . . "
The service in Matt's Saloon was over. Silently, the mourners moved over to the bar for one last round of drinks.
Dave Horn's drinking buddies had come to the old watering hole to lift one last glass and bid farewell.
"We never let a drink go dry in those days."
"He felt obliged to demonstrate to each patron that what they was drinking was okay because he'd drink it with them.
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