As a child of the 50’s it was natural to play cowboys and Indians.
Being one of the first generation to have television available, I cut my teeth on watching Roy Rogers and Dale Evens, Gene Autry, The Cisco Kid, Paladin, Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke, Bonanza and probably several more I’m forgetting.
It was pretty much the genre of the generation - six shooters and gun fights, stagecoach robberies, barroom brawls, any kind of violence you could ask for.
And we can’t forget the Marlboro Man, back in the days when television promoted cancer as a death option.
I'm sure this is where my love of candy cigarettes began, which fortunately only evolved into a sugar addiction and not one for tobacco.
Cowboys were an image to aspire to and I wasn’t the only one in the hood wearing cowboy boots, shirts with fringe and a ten gallon hat. Maybe that's why becoming a Texan late in life seemed so natural for me.
And the guns! We can’t forget that every little boy and girl had a six shooter strapped to their scrawny bodies loaded with caps to create smoke and noise. If you lacked a gun you smacked the caps with a hammer on the concrete, but it wasn’t as cool as pointing a pistol at your friends head and yelling “you’re dead!” And then breaking into a fight as to who really lived and died.
A boy across the street was routinely tethered to the back steps with a padlock on his holster to keep him in the yard. Somehow that didn’t seem strange to me at the time. Scotty was a wild one and there’s no knowing what dangers he’d have found without some parameters. I was generally walked with a leash as I was prone to suddenly darting from the sidewalk between cars or up a tree. Hmmm. I think Scotty and I may have been the as yet undiagnosed ADHD kids on the block. Squirrel!!!!
We grew up in a politically incorrect culture where it was normal to point and shoot a gun at another kid and take turns playing dead. And yet we knew that the .22 sitting on the porch was the real thing and left it alone.
But BB guns were okay to shoot with and were a rite of passage into the next logical phase of a single shot .22. I don’t recall a lot of warnings that we could shoot our eyes out, our parents were usually just glad to have us whooping and hollering outside and out from underfoot.
I remember the day I ran home with the news that my cousin had been shot and was dying in the yard next door. And he had been shot…with rock salt. We were climbing into the plum trees again searching for food and the neighbor had had just about enough of us and opened fire.
He lay on the ground grabbing his backside and valiantly telling me to run…to save myself. It was the most courageous thing I’d ever seen in real life. Of course I was all of five years old. The real pain was when he got home and confessed what we had been doing and had to return to the neighbor to apologize. The fact the man shot him with rock salt? Not an issue.
Always one to promote Equal Opportunity even at that innocent age, I would play the Indian. And even though my arrow came with suction cups on the end, they could still deliver a twang and leave a mark. This was far cooler than shooting a cap pistol in my mind. When I hit my mark I knew it.
Apparently I took it just a tad too far for my Grandmother one day when she caught me with my freshly scalped doll. She wasn’t only upset that I had cut the doll’s hair off; it was the rest of the scenario. In hindsight I guess tying the doll to a stake and preparing to burn it did appear a bit gruesome. But I knew it wasn’t real and she wouldn’t feel a thing anyway…sheesh.
I mean it’s not like I buried it in an ant hole and poured honey on its head to torture it to death, or staked it out spread eagle with wet rawhide bands that would shrink in the sun. Sorry, but I was just imitating what I saw on television. Perhaps TV does shape the mind?
But the good news is that I did not continue on the way to becoming a psychopath that tortures small animals or anything. In fact I am the first to defend those who are without power.
I think what really warped me the most was watching the test pattern early in the morning waiting for TV to “sign on”. Yeah, I’ve tried to explain to my 24/7 generation granddaughters about that, but I don’t think they believe me and chalk it up as yet another of my jokes. I didn't even bother telling them that when my Grandmother would come into the room and asked me what I was doing...standing there next to the TV like that, I'd explain that it said to "stand by" and that's what I was doing. Yup, I was an obnoxious little comedian at a tender age.
I really did believe that I would be a cowboy when I grew up. Then my beloved Grandmother did the unspeakable to quash that dream. She told me I was a little girl and I would grow up to be a cowgirl and would have to ride sidesaddle like a lady. I cried for days over that pronouncement.
This is what led me to my new desire…to become an Indian when I grew up. But that’s another story for another day.
Long Live the Queen of Cowboys and Indians