January 3, 2009

Cowboys, Rednecks and Heroes

"Courage is being scared to death - and saddling up anyway."

Buon giorno. Now that festivities and difficulties surrounding Christmas are over with for a while, it's time to get back to the business of daily living. And writing.

"Are you going to be a cowboy again, Uncle Bob?"

Yep. Well, people do expect it of me, don'tcha know.

Cowboy Bob Sorensen from Question Evolution Day 2012I've been thinking about being a cowboy. (No, I don't mean that I'm going to be a poser and dress up in the full western regalia, smoke long cigars, drawl and do other things that movie cowboys do.) What got me thinking about it was when a woman called me a cowboy one time. She was making a joke, but I started thinking about it after that and realized that it has some truth in it for me and my father as well.

What does it mean to be a cowboy?
Sometimes it's a derogatory term, meaning someone who is reckless. When used in the proper context, I can understand this usage because sometimes I go into situations with guns blazing and taking risks. The classic cowboys were known to get very rowdy after a long cattle drive.


A real cowboy knows how to ride and care for horses, tend to the cattle, put in long hours, work hard and do all sorts of difficult things. They need to have a strong work ethic in order to succeed. If I was put on a ranch and told to go to work, I'd need to have things explained to me, or ask if the ranch needed computer assistance. That is, if I was needed to do actual cowboy work, I would be lost. Real cowboys have a high-risk occupation. Reckless? No.

Recently, I've been rediscovering Western movies. I'm not into the modern, R-Rated Westerns, though. No, I'm talking about the classic Westerns. John Wayne and friends. You may recall that I briefly went on about the "Bonanza" television show a while back, saying that they had good values in that show. I've been seeing strong values in the classic cowboy movies, too.

Please pay attention, 007. I'm well aware that these are idealized, fictional characters and concepts on celluloid. But I'm more than willing to draw valid points from them. And I'm going to stick with John Wayne for this discussion.

In McClintock, a man asked G.W. McClintock (John Wayne) for a job and received it. Then he took a swing at G.W. (unsuccessfully). The new hire was frustrated because he never had to "beg for a job" before. McClintock said, "I don't give jobs, I hire men." After a brief discussion, he took his new hire to the ranch anyway. Why let a little thing like throwing a punch at you in a moment of emotional turmoil spoil everything?

From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: "Out here, a man solves his own problems." Right. No room for whining or expecting someone else to take care of things for you. It's a harsh life, and you have to adapt.

John Wayne's character in The Shootist said, "I won't be wronged, I won't be insulted, and I won't be laid a hand on. I don't do these things to other people and I expect the same from them." Fair enough!

"I never shot nobody I didn't have to", in True Grit. What, are you supposed to let someone try to kill you and not respond? Not in that environment. And in Big Jake, "There's two reason to kill - survival and meat. We need meat."

And when a good man would give you his word, you could count on him keeping it. Similarly, in Chisum, "We do exactly what we started out to do." Get the job done, capice?

Not only are these cowboys "straight shooters" with their guns, they speak their minds. Maybe because they believe in doing what's right. I also like Sheriff Bart in the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles. He did what was right in the face of adversity and despite the fact that the people he was trying to help didn't really like him.


"A man's got to do what a man's got to do."

There's a song title that comes to mind, "All of My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys". In a way, that's true for me. Bruce Willis in the extremely violent and profane Die Hard had to get the job done under adverse circumstances with what he had available, yippie ky yay. Video game hero Duke Nukem was a bit of a cowboy in that shoot-em-up. So were Indiana Jones and James Bond, to some extent.

In real life, General George S. Patton (I want to stand up at the mere mention of his name). He knew about courage in the face of fear, and getting the job done.

Ronald Reagan was considered a political cowboy by his detractors because they considered him reckless, but he got the job done as well. Those landslide elections kind of put his political enemies in their place, huh?

Uh, sorry, Kid Rock. Your "Cowboy" song doesn't fit here.


By the way, have you ever noticed that people use "redneck" as a derogatory term? Of course you have. What do rednecks have to offer?

First of all, "rednecks" are considered to be from the south for some reason. Yes, I know that Jeff Foxworthy says that being a redneck has a "glorious absence of sophistication", but in the broader usage, a redneck is a southerner with values that some people don't like. However, I do like the stereotypical redneck values. The good values of "rednecks" are often the same as those of cowboys.

By the way, I sort of disagree with Alan Jackson's portrayal of the "southern man", because it implies that a northern man doesn't have those same values. But — why is it that I don't see many of those values proclaimed in the North? (Or in rock music, for that matter?) Is it my imagination? Someone needs to explain it to this former Michigan boy living in upstate New York.

Charlie Daniels has something good to say about rednecks. Here are some highlights:

What this world needs is a few more rednecks
Some people ain't afraid to take a stand
What this world needs is a little more respect
For the Lord and the law and the workin' man
We could use a little peace and satisfaction
Some good people up front to take the lead
A little less talk and a little more action
And a few more rednecks is what we need
I was raised on beans and cornbread
And I like my chicken fried
Yes, I drive a pickup truck
And I'm full of American pride
I keep a Bible on my table
I got a flag out on my lawn
And I don't believe in mindin'
No one's business but my own
This part gets a "yee haw":

...it's a shame ole John Wayne
Didn't live to run for president
John Wayne didn't think an actor could run for president. And then cowboy actor Ronald Reagan did it. Ironic and hilarious, I think. The Duke supported him.

Back to Charlie Daniels:
What most people call a redneck
Ain't nothin' but a workin' man
And he makes his livin'
By the sweat of his brow
And the calluses on his hands
Now you intellectuals may not like it
But there ain't nothin' that you can do
Cause there's a whole lot more of us common-folks
Then there ever will be of you
"How does this make you a cowboy, Uncle Bob?"

I was coming to that.

It's the values and the concept. I believe in hard work, success, being able to speak the truth, being a man of honor, solving problems and the basics of "right and wrong". I don't know about hayburners (horses), campfires, herding cattle and branding, and I won't pretend to be a cowboy in the truest sense of the word.

I'm not stupid; I don't believe that cowboys are perfect. And I don't pretend that I've "got it together" myself. Maybe I'll even become somebody that I like by the time I'm fifty.

So, yes, I think there's a bit of cowboy in me. And "redneck" values. Now, 'scuse me while I whip out that Trace Adkins CD that I got for Christmas.

Ciao, Pilgrims!


December 29, 2008

Thoughts About Memorial Services

Buon giorno. While this may appear somber at first, keep going.

I did not make it to my brother's funeral. With the snow and ice in Michigan and New York, the cost and difficulties of actually getting a flight just after Christmas, etc., I was not expected to be there. But I expect to make it to the interment service in the spring. However, aside from being there in spirit, parts of this earlier post and Sharon's writings were included.

My other brother and his wife told me that it went well. And it was very different that what you might expect. Sure, it started with a hymn (one of his favorites, "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands"), Scripture readings and prayers at the beginning and end. But the part I like was based on one of Jack's favorite characters, Frosty the Snowman! This was also because Jack was a "happy, jolly soul". The sermon title was, "Don't You Cry, I'll Be Back Again Someday!" What a great double meaning!

I was cheering inside what Keith, Sharon and Rev. Gary had put together for Jack. (Yes, I feel it's safe to put first names in here. Especially since Tommy the Knocker has volunteered to give trouble to anyone who gives trouble to them. Capice?) Good job!

But in a way, why the sad faces? Yes, someone is no longer with us. But shouldn't this be a celebration of his or her life? Lela and I agree, "Roast me and toast me". We also agree that cremation is best (much of my family is using that route). On a side note, I know that some people say, "Gosh, Cowboy Bob, isn't cremation a pagan thing?" My response is, "So what? They can have a pagan ritual, we can have a Christian ritual."

I remember a recent episode of Ghost Whisperer, where a friend of the departed was supposed to give a solemn message. Instead, he said (paraphrasing here), "He wouldn't want us acting like this, all sad and everything. Let's celebrate his life, the joy he's given us!" Then he played some music and had everyone in the church dance to it. I thought that was great.

Maybe the funeral industry needs an overhaul. A good mix of spiritual values and celebration seems to be in order. When it's my time, I want to be looking down (heh, I hope I'm looking down and not looking up, if you catch my drift) and seeing some joy. At least, I hope I've brought some joy and been of some benefit to people.

OK, that's enough. Although somewhat joyous, I have to admit that the monitor got blurry a couple of times.

Ciao, Jack!

Addendum 12-30-2008 :

"God, how I hate solemn funerals. When I die, take me into a room and burn me. Then my family and a few good friends should get together, have a few good belts, and talk about the crazy old times we all had together."

— Marion Robert Morrison (John Wayne) . Jack liked John Wayne.

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