I’m sure I’ve said it before but my Dad (the Chief) and I were huge fans of Westerns. When he heard that Bonanza was going to be produced in color, he threw out the monthly budget and bought the first color TV on the block. And yes, we had neighbors inside and we had them out on the porch pressing their noses to the window to catch a glimpse of the new invention.
Bonanza, Paladin, Wanted Dead or Alive, Jim Bowie, Roy Rogers, Rawhide, The Virginian were all his favorite TV programs. Even at a young age I learned to wrangle an extra half hour after bedtime, which was a seemingly inhumane 7:00 that kids today would laugh at, in order to watch one of the half hour westerns. Gunsmoke and Death Valley Days bought me a whole hour, as did Bonanza!
On the movie front, anything with John Wayne or Randolf Scott had the two of us heading out to a Saturday afternoon matinee armed with popcorn and root beer. My first real Halloween costume was a Dale Evans vest and a cowboy hat. All the boys in the neighborhood played Cowboys and Indians all weekend and scorned the thought of the only other girl, Francis Campbell, and myself joining in the hooting and hollering until we got cap guns (thank you Chief) and learned how to make bows and arrows out of twigs and string. The latter didn’t work very well, but add some hooting and feathers plucked from a duster and we looked pretty good. Those were the days, of course, when you could shoot a cap gun without having all the adults drop to the ground or call 911. And we could gather in a group of fearsome looking Cowboys and Indians and vanish all day without anyone wondering or worrying where we were staging our Custer’s last stand. Squished red berries and dirt was our friend, cuz of course you needed war paint and camouflage.
Everyone rode an invisible horse, so no one walked. We all galloped down the streets and around the yards. Sometimes one of the other kids would volunteer to be a horse, so they’d get reins tied around their chest and would have to prance and neigh as they were “ridden” down the street.
I’m pretty sure I kept my invisible horse until I was seven or eight, although by then we had moved out of our crowded neighborhood and into the barren wastelands of suburbia. Even so, there was a forest about a half mile away and I used to ride my Beauty in there, sometimes by myself, and sometimes with kindred spirits from the next block over. Cowboys and Indians had been replaced by Robin Hood and his Merry Men so horses weren’t so crucial to a full day of play. The homemade bows and arrows had become a little more sophisticated and it’s a wonder no one lost an eye.
All of this gives a bit of background to some of the things that influenced my writing in later years. The Robin Hood Trilogy came out of that pristine forest and watching episodes of Richard Greene’s Robin. Love of pirates came from Errol Flynn as Captain Blood. My one and only Western came from my love for the childhood memories spent sitting with the Chief hooting and hollering at the good guys in the white hats and the bad guys in the black hats.
Under the Desert Moon wasn’t written until I had several books under my gun holster. Not because I shied away from writing one, but because I knew the Chief would read it and I knew it had to have every cliche he loved, every element of every show he watched, every black and white hat I could cram into one book that would make HIM remember all those hours we spent together throwing popcorn at the screen. When he passed away, one of the clippings in his wallet was a review by Kathe Robin for Under the Desert Moon, where she said it was the Silverado of Westerns. She got what I was trying to do. And he loved it.
Miss you Chief. Every day.