Some things have never changed since I was raised here in DeSoto County. Everywhere you look, you see pastures, cowboy hats, boots, pick-up trucks with gun racks, and references to our local rodeo, “The Granddaddy of ‘em All.” And that’s just fine with me.
We have folks here who still saddle up daily to tend cattle and work the ranches, just like our ancestors did a century and a half ago, and I love that aspect of our county’s heritage. But am I a cowboy? I’ll have to say no.
Oh, but wait — I should’ve been one! Wasn’t I the little boy galloping around on headless stick ponies (aka old mop handles), having cap gun shootouts with my friends and even some invisible bad guys? That was me, back in the day, watching TV Westerns that were on both of the only two channels we could get, every night of the week. And in my mind it was real and it was right. But me, a cowboy? No.
But in my heart, I am. I still love campfires, boiled coffee, biscuits and beans. I’ve ridden a few horses, but never owned one. We had some cows on our Nocatee spread for quite a few years when I was growing up and my dad called our fenced-in acreage “Beacon Ranch” because he retired from the Coast Guard, where he’d done some lighthouse duty. I guess if I was asked what breed of horse I was most familiar with, I’d say the quarter horse. You know, the ones on the sidewalk outside of the stores that we used to put quarters in to ride?
I am a rural, country person, rather than an actual cowboy. But I do love the old classic cowboy songs, and wore out my daddy’s Marty Robbins record album “Gunfighter Ballads” when I was little, on our old hi-fi. I still love playing and singing cowboy songs like “Amarillo By Morning,” “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys,” “The Last Cowboy Song,” “This Cowboy’s Hat,” and many more. And don’t get me started on Western movies — best escapism ever, and my heart rides off into the sunset every time!
I’ve been a hat person all my life and almost always wear one, or else a cap. When I go out bare-headed, it surprises many. I tell them I’m going incognito, and even wore socks so nobody would recognize me. So yes, I do have some cowboy hats among my vast collection. I’ve never been a big fan of pointy-toed cowboy boots, but I do enjoy my flat-nosed biker boots with the silver ring and strap across the instep. I’ve got a few vests and some guns, but again, I ain’t no cowboy. “All hat and no cattle,” as the saying goes.
“Yeah, I shoulda been a cowboy...” I love to hear Toby Keith sing that song. The cowboy life sounds more fun, exciting, and romantic than it actually is, I’m sure, and isn’t for the lazy, weak, or fainthearted, even if we all wish we’d given it a try. Hence the saying, “Everybody wants to be a cowboy until it’s time to do cowboy stuff.” No doubt about that.
The closest near-cowboy experience I ever had was when I was eating lunch in a local restaurant and happened to be wearing a cowboy hat, jeans, and boots. As I stood up to leave, I was approached by an Asian couple with their son who was maybe five. “Look, a cowboy!” the father said, pointing to me. The little boy’s eyes lit up, and I smiled and said “Howdy” as I assumed a stance that I thought was somewhat cowboy-like. And when the dad grinned big and said, “Woody!” I realized he was referring to the little cowboy figure from the movie “Toy Story.” So I just gave a deflated wave, sauntered out to my truck, and rode off into the sunset. True story.
No, I’m not a cowboy. But maybe my inner child is, and always will be. In fact, he and I still watch “Gunsmoke” together, like me and my daddy did when I was a little boy. Because, you know, our heroes have always been cowboys.