When I was growing up, I’d say that two thirds of the shows on TV were Westerns, "oaters", "horse operas". That was just in prime time. On Saturday mornings I’d get up at six AM and watch the test pattern Indian until Hopalong Cassidy came on. The first piece of classical music I came to know and love was part of the William Tell overture, otherwise known as "The Lone Ranger": "A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver, Away!" The Great American West is America’s mythology, with the straight-shooting, tall-in-the-saddle cowboy replacing King Arthur or Hercules or Achilles.
That cultural atmosphere was coupled with my father’s love of horses. When there were only two horses in Dunklin County, he had one of them. Riding (and caring for) the horses was the only thing that my father and brothers and I really did together as a family growing up. It certainly was a major influence in propelling me towards my career. It also inculcated a lifelong enjoyment of playing cowboy, including playing cowboy songs. Both my brothers spent a lot of time at rodeos and still keep and ride horses as a major part of their lives.
My brother Matt has been spinning a lariat since high school. While I was gassing up the pickup one day, he was standing in the gas station parking lot spinning butterflies with his trick rope. A car full of young dullards yelled at him, "Hey, who do you think you are? Roy Rogers?" He replied simply, "Yep!" The sad epilogue to that story is that when I took my family to the Roy Rogers museum they just didn’t "get it". It was a different time.
The happy epilogue to the story is our family’s visit with the Rhinestone Ropers. Dan and Kimberly Mink and their son Cody put on Wild West Shows at fairs all over these United States in the summertime. When the fairs are out of season, they do school assembly programs using their skills to tell a message that is pro-work ethic and anti-drug. This is how my brothers and their families met them last year. Matt and my sister-in-law Jill and my nephew Joe all went out to the Western Arts convention last year and renewed the acquaintance, as well as learning some new skills themselves.
The Rhinestone Ropers were in Malden, Missouri at the Bootheel Youth Museum for a show last Friday. They spent the holiday weekend with the Mobley clan. Here is Dan instructing Uncle Matt and Aunt Martha in the gentle art of knife-throwing. We spent a lot of time in Matt’s indoor arena.
Here ten-years old Joe gets a few tips from Miss Kimberly on how to improve his bullwhip-cracking skills. He got started last year at the convention. When I tried stuff like that at his age, my practice sessions generally ended the second time that I hit myself in the ear.
Last year Dan taught Matt how to finally perfect the "Texas Skip", a trick he’d been trying to learn for years. That’s the one where you get the rope spinning in a big vertical loop and then hop back and forth through it while it’s spinning. It looks mighty cool. You need a special rope, lots of practice, and some agility and dexterity. You’ll be growing some strong shoulders.
I wish that I’d put on some western regalia for the pictures. Look closely and you can see knives sticking in the target log, and one knife in mid-air on its way there. Aunt Jill took some good pictures that day.
I had a great time, as did we all. Many thanks to the Rhinestone Ropers for their excellent company and patient instruction. Remember their contribution when the Mobley Brothers’ Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders comes to your town.