My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
Just a short time ago, I had an afternoon performance scheduled for a large educational institution. As I often do, I sat in on the morning session to listen, learn and participate with the other teachers before going on stage with my own show after lunch. The morning presenter did a wonderful job and as the session progressed, he had us do a most interesting exercise.
He asked that we form groups by the decade in which we graduated from high school. So, those who graduated in the 50's gathered together in one corner, the 60's grads formed a group, the 70's and so on. To my surprise, there were a number of teachers in a group who graduated in the 80's, then I really got depressed when I saw a large group of young people standing over to the side who graduated from high school in the 90's and were now teaching school! Man, I felt old.
Then the presenter gave us a series of questions to answer. He asked that we discuss and answer, "Who was your generation's favorite recording artist? What movies did you watch? What did you do for fun? And after a series of other questions, he concluded by asking, "Who were your heroes?"
We really had a good time laughing about drive-in movies, double features, poodle-skirts and all of the memories we grew up with. The 50's and 60's group all agreed our heroes were cowboys. I found myself enjoying the session and at the same time, I was profoundly interested in what I was observing. The presenter had done a wonderful job of showing us how the world around us influences our view of how we should live, how we should treat others and what external forces affect our lives. And then
He came to the 90's group and asked for their answers to the questions. A young teacher stood and spoke for the group reciting the responses to each. When he came to the last question, we all waited expectantly to hear about the heroes of this youngest generation and the young teacher said, "As far as heroes go, our group unanimously agreed
we had none." Then he sat down.
After that, I didn't hear much of anything that was said. I sat in that auditorium with all those other teachers feeling a great sadness. "No heroes?" I thought to myself. "These kids didn't have heroes? Who do they talk to their students about?
What kind of mental blueprint do they use to offer lessons in living?" Then I began to realize the explanation for this sad state of affairs.
These young teachers had grown up watching so-called "sports heroes" being indicted and arrested on the evening news. These fellows were often in jail as much as they were on the playing field. They saw basketball stars who, while making millions of dollars, were crying about "no respect" and head-butting referees. And of course, let's don't forget the tennis stars who screamed obscenities at the line judge on national TV. No wonder this group responded, "We don't have any heroes."
Made me sad, but you know, they're wrong. We still have heroes and there are plenty of them. We are just looking in the wrong places. Let me tell you about a few
I had a ton of them when I was a little kid and they are still with me. My first ones were my Dad and uncles. They were cowboys who rode and roped and branded all day. Certainly, these men had faults, but they had honor as well. And they all had dogs and horses that could do anything. Man, I loved them.
The movies were full of good role models too. Roy always saved the day with Gabby Hayes at his side as his trusted companion. Gene always won the shoot-out with the bad guys, and even if they 'got the drop on him,' he would slip up beside his horse, Champion and use the two little pistols hidden on Champion's bridle to get them to throw their guns down into the dusty street. Shane saved the town and Gary Cooper whipped 'em all in High Noon with ole' Tex Ritter singing "Do not forsake me, oh my darlin'," in the background. Now there are some heroes.
Then, after sitting in that big, dark movie theater all Saturday afternoon, I would go home to my Granny's and there I would join up with my REAL heroes. I mean they were not in a movie
they were REAL heroes. They were alive and you could have them come and see you right in your Grandma's barn courtesy of Wrangler Jeans.
I would go out into that barn and clear a big patch right in the middle, moving all the loose hay around on the barn floor which suddenly and magically transformed into the biggest rodeo arena you ever saw, complete with a huge crowd.
Over to the side on a bench, sat my competitors all in a row, waiting for the big event. To an adult, these cowboys would have looked like small 4 x 6 inch comic books that came on a new pair of Wranglers
but they weren't. Not when I was nine years old. They were really there and I had to ride against them in that big rodeo in my Granny's barn.
I was always worried that she was going to come out of her kitchen and tell those people in the stands to "hush,"
'cause I'm tellin' you, it was thunderous loud in that barn.
When Harry Tompkins lost to me by a point in the opening round of the bareback riding, you could hardly hear yourself think.
The crowd went wild when Dean Oliver and I tied, (yes, I said tied, can you believe it?) on five head in a match roping. We were both 49.9 on those five and the announcer (which I had to pull double duty on that job too) explained to the crowd that we would return tomorrow for a one-head, winner-take-all. People were on their feet fightin' for a ticket.
Saddle-bronc ridin' was next as I carefully placed Casey Tibb's little book in the chute. (I even pulled his bronc saddle for him
as the announcer explained to the crowd, "That's what good cowboys do, they help their opponents and never root against them.") I bested Casey that day and some said it was the judges pullin' for me 'cause I was a little kid, but I knew in my heart my bronc bucked just a little bit better. I even offered to give Casey half the winnings, but being the competitor he was, he turned it down and said, "Naw, kid, you keep your money. You won it fair and square and good luck to you." Yep, Casey was quite a guy.
Then, the Nesmith boys beat me in the dogging, but I really wasn't concentrating 'cause I had my mind on the bull-riding.
I was worried 'cause over there on the end of that bench was the MAN
Jim Shoulders right there in my Granny's barn. It would take all I had to beat him.
I have to admit my confidence was shaken as I looked at that Wrangler book. His whole life story was in there. About how he had won All-Around so many times, about all of his World Championships
could I do this?
Jim looked flawless on his bull and I knew my Granny was coming when the announcer called out his score
Highest ride ever in our barn! A barn record! (Which still stands 'til this day.) The fans were a howling mob as I settled down on my bull.
Grown-ups might have thought the bull I had drawn was just a six-foot long stick, about three inches in diameter, but they would have been wrong. I was sitting on the baddest hombre that ever lived. His name was "Blue-Bell Wrangler" and he had killed the last cowboy to try and ride him.
Suddenly, Jim was by my side. "You sure you want to do this, Partner?" he asked quietly. I looked around at all those people in the stands. It was so quiet in the barn now. Thousands of people and all you could hear was old "Blue-Bell" breathing heavy and a cricket chirping over in the corner. I looked up at Jim and said, "Mr. Shoulders, I have to try." He shook his head and smiled and said, "Good luck, son." I pulled my hat down over my eyes, got a deep seat and a far-away look
then I nodded my head just one time. And they opened the gate.
I don't remember much about the ride. Some said I looked good for a while, but "Blue" was way too much for a nine-year old. I vaguely remember Mr. Shoulders helping me out of the arena as the crowd gave me a standing ovation for even getting on that evil devil. I was limping pretty bad as I walked out of the arena, but I knew I had done my best and had been beaten by the best.
As the crowd filed out of the barn, (My Granny never saw them, thank goodness) I put my cowboy heroes away in their shoe-box. The last one to go in was Jim. "Good try, partner," he said as I closed the lid. "Maybe next time," I heard him say.
"Yessir, Mr. Shoulders," I said. "Maybe next time."
I barely could get into the kitchen when my Granny called me for supper. As I made my way painfully to the table, my Nanny said, "What you been doing, Dumplin'? (Southern women always call you by the name of some food group.) I tried to break it to her gently. I said, "Been at a big rodeo, Nanny. I did pretty good, but Mr. Shoulders beat me in the bull-ridin.' I sure didn't want to tell her I had drawn ole' "Blue," 'cause I knew she would be worried.
I went to bed early that night. Needed my rest 'cause come sun-up, this cowboy had to face the greatest livin' calf-roper in the world in a one-head, winner-take-all, match roping. I looked over at my Wranglers on the chair and it dawned on me that we wore the same britches. Me and ole' Dean Oliver wore the same britches and the last thing I thought before I went to sleep was, "Maybe I can beat him
and I sure hope none of them fans drive over my Granny's flowers."
I wish those young teachers had my heroes in their life when they were growing up. They would have had somebody to believe in and to help them see how to live. People like Roy and Gene and Gary Cooper and all the rest. They were wonderful heroes on the silver screen and what a shame we don't have their equivalent in movies today.
There is some good news however. We still have heroes. We still have good parents who love their kids and take care of them. We have good teachers who try against difficult odds, but they still try. We still have good preachers, good business men and women, and sales people whose word and handshake still mean something. That's a blessing and we should be mindful of all such blessings.
And best of all, we still have real-life heroes
cowboys. Cowboys who play the game fair and square, who don't scream at judges, who know little kids are watching them every second and they still behave like gentlemen. They are a blessing too.
And we still have Wranglers. I have been in over 200 schools in the past couple of years and while I think kids are much better than most adults realize, I know when I see a kid in a pair of Wranglers, the probability is high that youngster will say "Yes Sir and No Sir," and the teachers will be impressed with that young person, just like you and I always are.
And because of their manners, charm and respect, those kids will do better in life. That is, of course, one of the great secrets of all truly successful people. Good parents, good kids and Wranglers have something to do with all that.
Still lots of blessings and lots of heroes. Many things to be thankful for
like cowboys and Wranglers. I'm glad we still have them. I just wish we still had those little books.
Look for Michael's latest release, Cowboys and
Angels, named "Best Non-Fiction Book of 2002" by the
Oklahoma Writer's Federation at fine bookstores.