Beside Howdy Doody, other great television shows were the wild west serials featuring Gene Autry, Wyatt Earp, Jim Bowie, Wild Bill Hickok and his side kick Jingles, The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid with Pancho, and of course Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
These shows epitomized the eternal battle of good versus evil, driving home time and time again the value of being virtuous, honest or emphasizing the poor wages of pursuing an evil life. Good guys always wear white. Bad guys never win.
Having Gabby Hays as both chuck wagon cook and studio host was nearly as entertaining as the serials he acted in. It was also a marvel that he could actually manufacture puffed cereal by blasting uncooked grain out of a cannon right in your face on the TV screen. And although this was nothing more than clever advertising, I never tired of him making his puffed wheat or puffed rice and then begging my mother to go and buy some of it.
She warned me that it would not be as good as the sugar-coated cereals I already liked and although she turned out to be right, I never took it out on Gabby personally. Unfortunately despite these early lessons, at this late stage in my life I have often been equally gullible about many of the things that have been advertised to me. This includes but is not limited to the Ronco Vegematic, a plastic marvel that broke into pieces the first time I used it to chop a carrot.
Enamored as I was with TV Cowboy heroes, what I did not know at the time was that my Uncle Bobby himself was a real life cowboy.
My mother’s brother Bobby Lee Cooper was a typical blue collared red neck who worked hard, played hard and worked hard at playing.
His primary job was in the Navy yards in Texas where he worked as a riveter, which had unfortunately caused a great deal of asbestos exposure.
But when he was off the riveting line he lived a wild, fast paced life of drinking, smoking and riding in the rodeo.
On one occasion when the National Rodeo came to New York City my mother told me that Bobby was up from Texas competing in it and that he had called to say he would take me and my brother to see the show. I guess he got washed out early in the competition, so he came to the house and took us down to the Madison Square Garden with my brother and me wearing the cowboy outfits we got for Christmas.
At the show, he was an itinerant, ubiquitously seeming to be schmoozing scattered his friends, when he then disappeared completely leaving us alone in our seats. I was frightened at being abandoned, until he came back saying he had a big surprise for us in the back area where the cowboys were suiting up as they waited their turns to ride.
Uncle Bobby then led me by the hand into another room where he in turn dropped mine in order to greet a man who was dressed top down in velvety smooth cream-colored buckskins, with a big brim hat and beautiful exotically stitched leather seamed boots as accessories.
When Bobby then stepped aside revealing Roy Rogers to be standing right there in front of me, I stopped breathing. It seemed as though there was a golden aura around his body that to me was the equivalent of Constantine’s epiphany when he saw God’s chariot in the sky, or Lucia Santos when she saw the Virgin Mary at Fatima. He said:
- Go on, Go on. Go shake hands with Roy. He ain’t gonna bite ya. He’s an ol’ friend of mine and I told him all about my little Yankee nephew bein’ one o’ his biggest fans. Go on.
When the physical demands of the rodeo finally made him quit bull riding, he still liked to follow the sport and tried several other rodeo related sideline hobbies or gimmicks to make some extra money.
One of these ended very tragically when he bought a prize breeding bull which was kept it in a fenced meadow in his back yard as one day his five year old son, Benny, got too close to the fence-line and the bull stomped him to death. It actually squashed the little boy down into the mud and required a shovel to extract the flattened body.It took Bobby quite a while to recover from this incident, while the bull was sold almost immediately afterward.
Bobby did have two other children and his other son Bobby Jr. eventually took up the Southwest Rodeo circuit himself. At first, Bobby never won a lot of money but his wife said he had won so many saddles they could open a shop just to sell them. She would have preferred the cash while always muttering something to the effect that “saddles can’t buy groceries” being the public chiding that went along with some additional back room hard core nagging to quit the sport altogether.
However after they divorced Bobby Jr. vindicated both himself and his father’s passion for the rodeo by becoming the International Professional Rodeo Association Bareback Horse Riding Champion in 1988 and 1989; and is now an IPRA judge.
My cousin Beverly, being a chip off her father’s shoulder, was also a wild child. I met her one November during Residency Training, when I went to Texas for a week of fishing with my Aunt Jean’s husband, Pete. I was about twenty-six at the time. The day before we left Houston for Pete’s fishing camp in Matagorda, Beverly who was about twenty, showed up at Aunt Jean’s for a visit.
It was the first time I ever seen my beautiful knockout cousin who simply exuded libidinous sensuality. She seemed to think I was attractive, and as spontaneously hitting it off pretty well, we started to flirt. Beverly was going out dancing and invited me to come along, but Aunt Jeanie in somehow sensing a little more chemistry than appropriate for first-degree relatives, or the real possibility for a subsequent genetic breeding mishap; managed to sabotage the date.
Later she said she did it for my own good.
- You know, Alan, we sure as hell don’t want our family tree to be just one single trunk with no branches growing out of it.
- Thanks a lot, Aunt Jean. For a second there my own trunk was growing just one single branch, so I know exactly what you mean.
The disappointment was twofold because I was equally as interested in seeing live Country music as I was getting into Beverly’s pants. But we all had to get up early to drive the hundred miles to Uncle Pete’s fishing camp; so that was that and my Aunt had made it clear: “that was all she wrote.”
Beverly and I never saw each other again, but I thought about her often in less than platonic cousinly ways. Yes, Aunt Jean way correct in assuming that if the hormones were left to themselves the entire episode could have ended in a small family scandal.
Big deal. Royal families often marry first degree relatives, which is why they are historically rife with congenital idiots, rare diseases or even geniuses. But then again, they can afford it financially and also know how to secretly sweep it all under the rug.
Years before that, when I was a teenager but still a minor, while visiting Texas with my mother, Uncle Bobby took my brother, my cousin Byron and me to the County Fair. On first arriving he took us straight to the tent housing a female nude burlesque revue, dragging us right up to the stage where he introduced us to one of the girls in the show.
Texas has always been lax on enforcing any age related rules for decency, and Bobby knew the cops anyway. I guess the attitude at that time and one that still carries over to this day and age, was that the parent or guardian establishes what age appropriate should be for a minor, but not necessarily the police.
Interestingly enough, the State of Texas is no better with zoning regulations either, making it not unusual to see an all nude strip-bar right next to a Church or across the street from one.
Anyway, Bobby’s lady friend squealed:
- Bobby, Bobby. Where you been hidin’ yourself? I been lookin’ all over for yer cute little butt.They hugged and smooched with a little too much familiarity, then disappeared altogether for a little while. When he came back he took us boys aside and said:
- Now y’all can’t tell yo mommas and especially yer Aunt Betty where I took ya and where ya been. Cause even though yer almos’ growed up, you ain’t quite there yet and I don’ need to get no grief and no woman’s harpin’ lip over this. Y’all hear?
Since we always had more fun with Uncle Bobby than we did with our “mommas” we kept our mouths shut up and buttoned tight.
Uncle Bobby was the quintessential good old boy. He never had a lot of money but he always poked his nose around enough to be able to hob-knob a little with people like Roy Rogers or the country western singing star, George Strait.
Over the years I had very little further contact with him, probably because my mother and he were not too close. He was always too much the little boy who could not stay out of trouble while the four sisters seemed to think he was just a lost cause. They also thought he was too much the liar, the sneak or the prefabricator and although he probably was, in his own mind he simply walked the fine line between outright lying and plain old ordinary bullshitting. It goes along with being a branch off the Evetts tree trunk and resides in the Evetts male deviousness genes.
But his lack of pretentiousness always made me admire the fact that he pretty much did what he wanted to do. He knew how to make himself happy, and to say the least, was certainly a lot more colorfully interesting than his prissy sisters..
The last time I saw him was about seven years ago when he drove up from Texas in an RV to tour the Northeast, stopping by to visit my parents. He still loved the rodeo, was keeping up with the action by going to the shows where he vended small welded figurines he made out of horseshoes. I still have the one he made depicting a cowboy figure with a tennis racket, which he sent me because he knew I liked to play the game.
But by this time, the asbestos had caused a serious nasal sinus tumor, which had eroded his facial bones, then metastatically spread to his throat. He actually lost his nose, which had to be replaced by a cosmetic implant, shortly after which he simply died from the ravages of the tumor spreading down into his esophagus.
My father said he looked like the men he had seen on Okinawa in World War II with various hideous shrapnel wounds that had selectively clipped off various sections of their ears, jaws, ocular orbits, teeth, and tongues.
That graphic depiction made me glad I had the opportunity to see him once before this happened to him and not afterward, remembering him forever as the tough old cowboy he always had been in his heart and in his soul.
My brother, the T.V. and me
Ready to meet Roy Rogers at the Rodeo show
To save my soul I can’t get a date,
Baby’s got it tuned on channel eight.
Now Wyatt Earp and the Big Cheyenne
They’re comin’ through the T.V. shootin’ up the land.
Ah….um… my baby loves the Western movies.
My baby loves the Western movies,
Bam, bam, shoot ‘em up Pow
Ah….um …Hi yo Silver get away.
(Western Movies: The Olympics)
Uncle Bobby’s Horse shoe Cowboy