I think the younger generation really missed out on the era of great cowboys. I grew up watching Roy Rogers, The Lone Ranger, Rawhide, Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, Palladin, Wyatt Earp, Gunsmoke, Maverick, Bonanza and The Rifleman. If the show had horses, gunfights, dust, cactus and outlaws, I was all in. In the early days of TV the stories were as black and white as the picture. The good guys always stood up to the bad guys and the bad guys always chickened out. I learned a lot about right and wrong from those shows and Old Roy was always my favorite cowboy philosopher.
When I came across this quote it made me laugh at first but then I started thinking about it a little longer. The image of someone peeing on an electric fence is brutally indelible. I think it’s important to impart wisdom as vividly as possible to make it stick. I grabbed an electric fence once in my younger days and that was enough of an education. If I had read this quote back then, I might have thought twice about that decision but I didn’t read much at all back then. My education usually came the hard way, like the time I slid down a rope and gave myself rope burns so bad I almost went to the hospital. It looked so easy on TV but I missed the part about heavy gloves.
Now that I’m on the other end of the wisdom continuum, common sense comes a little easier these days. Now it’s my turn to teach the way of the world to the foster kids I work with and I try really hard to get the point across without leaving any marks. It is the most challenging task I have ever undertaken because most of these kids have never had a man in their lives who cared enough to share their wisdom, assuming they had any. I don’t really think any kid can learn much about reality by playing computer games and that fact is what I have to overcome, every time I interact with boys. I try to paint word pictures that emphasize good and bad choices and the consequences that are sure to follow but more often than not I know I’m wasting my breath because they just don’t care enough to listen to the old man’s lectures. I don’t have Trigger at my side to make that lasting impression that heroes really do exist and right is better than wrong. It’s a heck of a lot harder to make your point when you’re riding a white Ford, not a Palomino.
I really wish I could get these kids out of town. Take them out in the woods or to the Flint Hills and let them feel that campfire that keeps your face hot while your butt freezes or just being able to lay out in a field with the night sky so full of stars it makes you dizzy looking up. They could all play with our dog, Indy, and get his first class tongue washing to clean up the last bit of BBQ sauce. Then, when they’re good and tired from a long day of cowboy chores, maybe they would listen to me tell stories about the days before cellphones and computers, when life happened and you didn’t get to hit the reset button to solve your problems. I would tell them about all the heroes who fought for what was right, no matter how bad the odds were against them. And then I would finish with this great quote from Will Rogers, “Lead your life so you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.” If that doesn’t do it, I might have to hang up my spurs.
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