Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson


     Two who had a powerful impact on me.  Jesus and The Rifleman, I mean.  And so many more.  Seems recently I’ve aged more than in all my previous years, and when we do that – get older - we start thinking and like old people are prone to do…we start reflecting.  Find my self thinking a lot these days, and reflecting…about yesterday.  I’ve always resisted writing about that. 
     To me, when people write about that subject, there’s always an air of complaining that runs throughout the piece.  I made a promise to myself long ago to never do that.  I wanted my work to offer hope – to point out the good in the world.  Some preachers tell us how awful and disgustingly bad we are.  Hey, I already know that!  But others, like Max Lucado, tell us why God loves us anyway, and why there’s still hope.  I wanted to write like that.  People who write about “yesterday” and how great it was always made my butt hurt.  Here’s why…because if you write about how wonderful everything once was, and how lousy it all is now – then you don’t have to do anything today!  You can just spend all your time whining about how bad young people are, how business people are not honest anymore, and how everything has just “gone to hell-in-a-hand basket.” 
Some would-be cowboys are the worst in the world at this.   A prime example is the semi-star who gets up in front of people and bemoans the fact that “bobbed-wire has ruined the west.”  We hear a thirty-minute diatribe about “how concrete is destroying the land, how the open range is gone, and the bison roam no more.”  I could stand all that I suppose, but what really irks me is after crying in their beer about how “technology has ruined the prairie” – when the show’s over, they pull out in their air-conditioned truck and fifth-wheel – both nicer than the house I grew up in – and drive off into the sunset, all the while talking on their cell phone and watching satellite TV.  Most of them don’t even own a horse. 
     I always resisted writing in that style because my strong feeling was this is the time the Lord gave us to live.  Maybe it was all fun and games in 1886, (‘course it wasn’t) but that is not the time the Divine chose to place us in the universe.  To constantly complain about the current day seemed…well, ungrateful to me.  Seems petulant to me to go around saying, “Why aren’t things like they once were?  Oh, why can’t it be like it was?”  Yet, I’m slipping.  I’m falling into the very trap I promised to avoid.  There was something wonderful about yesterday.
     When I was little, my grandmother watched wrestling – and I mean she really watched it!  On Saturday afternoons - at five o’clock – everything stopped.  Supper was already prepared waiting in the kitchen, and if it wasn’t quite ready, the preparations might well be interrupted.  Everything was put on hold because at five p. m. Saturday, Rasslin’ came on!  And just above her bed, in that little lime-green bedroom, Jesus watched over us all.  (The same large actual photograph of our Lord and Savior your grandmother had in her bedroom – every woman in the South had the same one.)  Just across on the other wall, hung one other picture - the ever-present rendition of the Lord’s Supper.  Looking back now, it seems such a soft and wonderful time.  Indeed, it now seems all the images and incidents of those days worked together for good.
     The Rifleman – set in the small New Mexico town of North Fork - aired from 1958 ‘til 1963.  During that time, Lucas McCain, or “Lucas Boy” – as Sheriff Micah Torrance called him, killed 2.3 people in every episode, but still had time at the end – right after the last commercial break - to give Mark a moral lesson about why it had to be done.
     Paladin was a hired gun, but never shot anybody.  Instead, he resolved whatever the difficulty might be with words instead of gunplay.
     Even though Matt happened up on the supposed killer and caught him red-handed, the Marshal still saw to it that the “kid” received a fair trial.
     Both Roy and Gene had a “Cowboy Code.”  One item on the list I’ll always remember…  “Cowboys are kind to old people and help them across the street.”
     The president actually warned us about “the military-industrial complex.”
     Television shows had a moral message. 

     In some ways, the time seems a little silly and too innocent, but still, I miss it all so.  The Rifleman, Chuck Connors, was rough as they come – and deadly with that rifle.  (He could shoot it twelve times in five seconds!)  But even with all those bullets blazing, during the course of that show, he provided a perfect role model for the father we should all strive to be.  Sometimes, often in fact, he told his son, Mark, that he loved him.  He wasn’t the least bit ashamed to say right out loud on television that he thanked the Lord for his son, Mark, and for his farm.  He actually hugged Mark from time to time, and after surviving the rattlesnake bite – or a gunfight with a human rattlesnake – the Rifleman wasn’t even ashamed to kiss his son on the forehead.  One hundred and sixty-eight episodes spanning sixty months – all of which fell right in the middle of my wonder years.  Only now do I see how much that production and cast of people shaped and influenced my life.
     Chuck Connors died in 1992.  Son, Mark – played by Johnny Crawford - said, “He was the same in real life as he was on the screen.  He was my hero.”  These days, Johnny tours conducting his own big-time, old-fashioned, swing and dance orchestra band in Southern California.  And I don’t believe that about Chuck’s passing.  He can’t be dead.  He’s on the Western Channel every day at six p. m. – and Mark is right there with him.  And Mark hasn’t aged a day.  He’s still 12 years old. 

     The Rifleman taught us a better way to live, and so did Ozzie Nelson, and so did Robert Young – ‘cause in those days, the message was “Father Knows Best.”  The way fathers are depicted in movies and television these days, the message seems to be that fathers are just fools.  How sad that is, and how wrong.
     Gary Cooper taught us how to live as well.  In High Noon, he stays to protect the lily-livered townspeople who won’t stand up with him, even though certain death awaits them – and their wives and children - at the hands of the gun-slingin’ evil-doers.  He stays against impossible odds, even though Grace Kelly asks him to flee to safety with her.  I’m not a bad person – I mean I wouldn’t want the yellow-bellied townsfolk to be killed, but if Grace Kelly asked me to go somewhere with her, I’m going.  But not Coop.  Coop stayed…simply because it was the right thing to do.  And old Tex Ritter was in the background the whole movie singing, “Do not forsake me, oh my darlin’.”  Naturally, Grace does not.  She stays as well.  And the message was clear.  “Stand up for the downtrodden.  Defend the helpless and the weak.” 
     Roy, Gene, and The Lone Ranger did the same – constantly reminding us to become better and be more.  My friend, Neal Hughs, said as a child he was simply afraid to do anything too evil because, “I knew if I did anything really bad, my mother would call Roy Rogers!”  

     So I have surrendered.  Time to admit it.  I miss the old days.  When I was young, working cattle was magical.  The branding fire smelled of wood smoke, the barbeque pit smelled of sirloin and pecan wood.  Horse sweat was in the air, and ice crystals formed in the no-pop-top beer resting in No. 3 washtubs.  Now days, it’s chemical branding, four wheelers instead of horses, cold pizza, and luke-warm pop.  Not quite the same.
     But this is our time.  This is the time the Lord has given us to live, and if we wish the world to be better, then we have to be.  I complained for years.  Just sat on the couch whining about how good it all once was.  Then everything changed.  Something asked me a question.  Something whispered to me, “What are you doing to make it better?”  It was that picture.  The one that hangs in our farmhouse now.  The one I retrieved from my grandmother’s home – that actual photograph of Jesus.  At least, some things never change.  After all these years… 
     He’s still with me.  

                                                                                             -- Michael Johnson



Michael's latest release, Reflections Of A Cowboy, is currently available in audio book form. The two volume set consists of articles, essays and excerpts from radio performances about good people and good horses in the life of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately 8 hours in length. Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form is scheduled for release in the summer of 2005. Order from Michael's website.

Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

Healing Shine


Please stop
and sign our Guestbook

Send Michael
an Email

Michael Johnson Books
1172 CR 4122  Campbell, Texas 75422  (903) 862-2082

Copyright © 2003 Michael Johnson Books. All rights reserved.
webmaster pswope@candw-webmasters.com