- This is my first blog article. Since I’ve got to start somewhere, I thought I would share with you where my inspiration to write and my love of Western stories comes from.
My mother had a degree in journalism from the University of Texas and once had a class with J. Frank Dobie. When I was growing up, she was a reporter who covered the City Hall beat for the Beaumont Journal. She knew the mayor and all the city councilmen (always men), which seemed like a big deal at the time. My father got into the newspaper business later in life when he and my mother took over a weekly newspaper in Houston. He wrote a weekly column called “In Defense of Freedom” which he eventually compiled into a book. I still have it. I’ve gone back to read it and found that it was pretty doggone good. He was very passionate about the topic. My sister is scary smart and has spent much of her adult life as a teacher. Her annual Christmas messages are legendary in the family. How could I not become a writer?
Some of my earliest memories include my dad singing “do not forsake me, oh my darling” and my Mother reading “The Ransom of Red Chief” by O’Henry to me and my sister. I was hooked. When Roy and Dale or the Lone Ranger came on our tiny black and white television set in the living room, I was glued to my chair (I think my mother actually considered doing that but they hadn’t invented super glue yet). I find it interesting, in light of all the controversy about violence in our society and the impact of the of media on it, that so many of us watched Roy, the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry and many more engage in pitched gun battles every week, yet we did not go on to become serial killers. My theory is the part we internalized was that good guys…who were WAY cool…protected the vulnerable folks and stood up to bad guys. As we got older, we learned that life is complex. There are often shades of grey in situations. We learned to be reasonable. We also learned to use spoken and written words to combat injustice. The bottom line, though, is that you stand up for what is right. You fight against what is wrong.
My friend, Sheriff Jim Wilson, maintains that the Star Wars movies are Westerns. He says that Westerns are morality plays and since Star Wars is also a morality play, it is, therefore, a Western. It’s hard to argue with him (particularly since he’s always packing and he’s a great shot!). Some of my favorite stories…the “Lord of the Rings Trilogy”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”…are not technically Westerns. They do, however, reflect those values that I first learned about from Roy and Dale and the Lone Ranger. I still get choked up any time I think about the courtroom scene in “To Kill a Mockingbird” when the black minister tells Scout to stand up because her father is passing. I wanted to be Atticus Finch. I wanted to be Roy Rogers (still do, in fact). I saw characters with whom I identified and wanted to emulate. While I’ll never be Roy Rogers, I’ll never stop trying. For me, that was the power of the stories.
What about the songs? As I said, one of my earliest memories is of my father singing “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling” from “High Noon.” Although I didn’t see the movie until much later, I had learned enough from the song that I already knew the story. I also knew that when Roy and Dale sang “Happy Trails,” we had come to the end of the episode. Although I was sad, I knew I would feel better soon because they ended the song with “till we meet again.” I kind of think that still holds true. I look forward to seeing them again.
Now that I am an adult…well, I’m older…the stories and songs still speak to my soul. Elmer Kelton’s “The Time It Never Rained” and his Hewey Calloway trilogy tell you everything you ever needed to know about Texas, cowboys and the human spirit. Dave Stamey’s “The Bandit Joaquin” makes the hair on my neck stand up. His “Somewhere West of Laramie” makes me want get in my car and just go (my wife hates that song…she’s afraid I’ll actually do it!). Listen to Joyce Woodson sing her song, “If I’d Never Seen the West.” If you live back east, you’ll start packing your things. You’ll feel the call of the West and you’ll know that’s where you belong.
There is so much literature and music out there that portrays everything that is wonderful about the West…the land, the people, the values, the spirit. A person could spend a lifetime soaking it in. In fact, that’s what I’ve done and continue to do. Western songs and Western stories…not a bad way to pass your time.