Courage Is Being Scared To Death, And Saddling Up Anyway

11/26/2012 · 39 comments

in My Family Is Strikingly Odd., Psychological Warfare

Every weekend when I was growing up, my stepdad woke us up at 5 am to go outside and ‘work.’ I’m sure many of you were under the same deal, especially if you grew up in the country like I did, but our work was not milking cows or running fences or really, anything of value.

Our work was more along the lines of, “Go outside in this cold-ass weather and move that pile of 200 rotting railroad ties 11 feet to the left.” Those railroad ties invariably smelled of sepsis and were covered in mice, and Grace and I were not leaving that task uninjured for sure–it’s generally inadvisable to let 11-year-olds handle disease-ridden wood.

There never seemed to be a purpose behind his assignments. One week it was tarping corn in an F3 tornado, another was installing storm windows, by ourselves, at 11 and 15 years of age. My favorite of all of these was being told to sort screws that had been dropped–easy enough for once. When I got to the shed to sort, I realized it was three feet deep in screws he had whipped into the shed out of laziness. He had even put a board over the bottom of the door to levee the rising tide of steel and passive-aggression.

He was not a nice man.

Despite the ridiculous and sometimes painful ‘tasks’ we endured, we knew lunchtime meant a real reprieve. We could finally eat, we could finally rest, and if we played our cards right, he’d fall asleep on the recliner and we wouldn’t have to work for the rest of the day.

We had it down to a fine science. Take your boots off, plate some warm tuna salad with Fritos and a tepid Sprite, and he’d be into the recliner. From there, we only had to find a cowboy movie on TV, and we were home free.

John Wayne was the man most likely man to make him fall asleep–The Cowboys, McClintock, True Grit–those were the sounds of Heaven to me because it meant the bastard was going down. He liked to think he was a real Old West cowboy–we owned cattle and horses and lambs and pigs, we lived very far out into the country, and he drove the world’s shittiest Pickup so he could live that lie. When John Wayne came on, he disappeared into fantasies of being an honorable cowboy riding the trail instead of the jackass he really was, kicked back in a recliner and dreaming of new and fun ways to debilitate loved ones psychologically.

I find that many today, don’t really care for Wayne and his movies. They find them overdone, tired, and old–they find Wayne to be a poor actor trying to fill the shoes of a man much braver than himself.

I know every line, every story, every tip of his hat and drawl of his speech. John Wayne was safety. He was a protector, a man who could deflect the tension and psychosis of my stepdad. Even now, so many years and therapy appointments later, I still hold a fierce adoration for him, stepping in to defend his work and his persona whenever challenged.

I suppose it’s somewhat ironic that something my stepdad loved, I love as well. Where he lived his pitiful fantasies through Wayne, never staying awake long enough to really appreciate the finer touches of leather vests and a shiny Sheriff’s badge, I learned about courage, determination, and heart. Wayne taught me to pull myself up by my bootstraps, dust myself off, and keep walking every time the bastard got me down. In Wayne’s philosophy, the best revenge was to keep living when someone else wanted you dead.

Now, every time I am afraid to do something–go up on stage, write something new, confront someone, apologize–I remember Wayne’s heavy drawl.

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”

Did you have movies, shows, books, or characters that defined your childhood? Did they help you escape or help you engage? What did you learn?

Favorite Comment From The Last Post:
From Amelia: “Holidays on Ice is my go-to Christmas gift for my fellow retail slaves. “I’m going to have you FIRED!” “I’m going to have you killed.” Haven’t we all wanted to say that at one point?”
Winopants November 26, 2012 at 5:18 am

Our dad was a jerk, but he didn’t mess with us as long as we escaped notice. That meant my brother and I spent a lot of time outdoors, or in our rooms logging long hours on the computer hacking orcs and solving puzzles. I read a lot too, mostly cheesy historical fiction novels.
So yeah, I just realized I can blame the fact I’m a total dork on my dad. High five.
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm

Damn, sounds a lot like my childhood.

Meg November 26, 2012 at 6:49 am

I love John Wayne. McClintock is one of my all time favorite movies. My dad reminds me of John Wayne, is even named John. Maybe that’s why I’ve always enjoyed his movies.
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm

McClintock is the best fucking movie ever.

Mayor Gia November 26, 2012 at 6:52 am

A good bit of wisdom from John Wayne! I was obsessed with Nancy Drew. I’m sure I learned something from it…just put me in the middle of a mystery, stat!
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Fucking Nancy Drew. That bitch was the best.

Misty November 26, 2012 at 7:50 am

I escaped to books. I was painfully shy as a kid, but when I entered those worlds of fiction, I could soar as the heroine and hero of the tales. I still escape to books, but less because of the shy part, more to escape a mundane and sometimes shitty life. Oh damn, look at that. Just got real, huh?
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Books are why there aren’t more murder/suicides.

Ninja Mom November 26, 2012 at 9:13 am

Slow clap, Noa.
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Thank you.

Dana the Biped November 26, 2012 at 9:20 am

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (series) by Patricia C. Wrede. The main character of the series is a princess who thinks princessy things suck so she runs off be a “captive” to a dragon and generally be a badass. The series really struck home, since I grew up in an area where traditional gender roles are seen as the be-all and end-all.

And you know what? I reread the books recently, and they’re still pretty awesome.
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Janene November 26, 2012 at 3:16 pm

OMG, those books are freaking amazing. Have you read her new series, The Far West, where it’s about a thirteenth daughter in the Wild West where there’s magic? Oh wow, totally awesome.

And I know I just sounded like I was squee’ing, but I haven’t seen another person fangirl The Enchanted Forest Chronicles in so long that it made me really, really happy.

Dana the Biped November 27, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Don’t worry, mutual squee-age here. I just heard about her new series recently. Guess what’s on my Christmas list?
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Janene November 27, 2012 at 2:02 pm

YAY for mutual squee-age! :-) You will love it. I’m two books through, and have been re-reading it like a madman. Love Eff’s voice, and the idea of being in the Wild West with magical creatures. So much fun!

Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I must read these. I never have.

Leauxra November 26, 2012 at 11:01 am

I’m with Misty here… I escaped in books, and read from a very young age.

Actually, reading the Lord of the Rings when I was eleven is when my dad and I really bonded over books, and to this day I will fight to the DEATH anyone who calls it “Lord of the Borings”.
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:31 pm

Fucking LOTR is the shit. Anyone who says differently can suck it.

Abby November 26, 2012 at 11:28 am

I love these kind of posts from you. OK. Enough mushy shit.

Like the others, I also escaped into books and sports. But when it came to movies, I could quote every line of every Rocky movie while all the other sissy girls were farting around with Barbie dolls. I can STILL quote every Rocky movie, although I haven’t really found that to be a useful item on the resume. Anyway, we all need those strong male models at some point. My dad was an ass, so Sly had to step in. And, you know, books.
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Alexandra November 28, 2012 at 10:58 am

Never knew why I adored the Duke, and BINGO. Your comment just hit it–my father killed himself when I was 6, so yeah …found it in the duke.

Found what my soul needed in the Duke.

Thanks for the free therapy, Abby. I love you.
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:33 pm

I remain convinced I was the only cheerleader who could recite all of Wayne’s filmography. Keep being fucking rad.

Jen November 26, 2012 at 11:41 am

I had a pretty amazing childhood but somehow found myself in a marriage so physically and emotionally abusive it induced the kind of PTSD that would make a P.O.W. flinch. About a year into my marriage I discovered the author Margaret Atwood. Her books ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, ‘Cat’s Eye’, and ‘The Robber Bride’ were filled with such powerful female characters that never gave up hope and drew on an innate inner strength when everyone and everything around them was attempting to tear them down. I dreamed of being like those women, and seeing that they had all stumbled through fire and come out the other side independent and strong made me believe that maybe, just maybe, I could escape as well.
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Janene November 26, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Margaret Atwood, a Canadian literary giant, is really awesome, Jen. I loved Cat’s Eye, too: really poignant, and made me realize the true value of friendship. As high schoolers, we had to study her work and find all of the symbolism and crap, so you won’t find many Canadians who are all “rah rah” about her…. until they rediscover her as adults.

If you are interested in seeing the movie version of The Handmaid’s Tale with Miranda Richardson, I have to say, it’s pretty good and accurate to the book.

Jen November 27, 2012 at 11:00 pm

That movie was one of the few that remained true to its book. I keep praying they’ll make “Cat’s Eye” into a movie but I can’t think of an actress rad enough to play Elaine.
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:34 pm

Margaret Atwood came to me via suggestion of my International Politics professor–who I admittedly despised. I read The Handmaids Tale, and forgave this professor all her weird weird sins because holy shit.

Ren November 27, 2012 at 4:43 am

I spent a lot of time in my own company and playing second fiddle to my sibling her had her own problems. Fantasy was it for me. Movies like The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Last Unicorn (and the book of the same), Dragonslayer, Ladyhawke, Arthur… and books like The Firebringer Trilogy (about unicorns, gryphons and dragons), The Wind in the Willows, and countless others were my escape.

And Monty Python and Mel Brooks. It was the one subject my dad and I could agree on – when I got that attention.

I know every line from Holy Grail and Spaceballs.
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Monty Python and Mel Brooks are gods, and it gives me great joy to share that love with others.

Lydia November 27, 2012 at 12:23 pm

You douche, I just teared up over this. Thank you for sharing and saddling up to tell us tales of fucked-up fast food restaurants and your horrible luck with homes.
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I’m sorry for being a douche.

Morgan S. November 27, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Not a clever movie or book tie-in for me, but instead a John Wayne anecdote which for all I know could be an urban myth, but a passing acquaintance of mine claimed to have met him once, or maybe it was a friend of his…anyway. Said individual happened to be at a ranch where Wayne was once, and they were all standing around chatting, when this individual noticed a sickly looking horse standing not too far from Wayne. So he asked Wayne what he thought might be wrong with it. Wayne turned, regarded it for a polite second, then said, “Well, I’ll be goddamed if I know.”

Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:37 pm

So full of joy now. Thank you.

Valerie November 27, 2012 at 9:11 pm

When I was little, my dad was a hellova alcoholic. He would pass the fuck out everywhere. The only good thing was that with him passed out and my mom hiding, we kids got the run of the house. Project Mayhem unfolded. That is, until the Honeymooners came on. No matter how out of it he was, he would wake up as soon as that theme song came on and send our asses to bed.

I still have a grudge against the Honeymooners to this day.


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Jen November 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Back during my “practicing alcoholic” days I used to pass out nightly on the living room floor with the TV on. For some inexplicable reason, I always seemed to wake up at 2am when the reruns of “Married With Children” started. To this day that fucking “Love & Marriage” song scares the ever-loving crap outta me.
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Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:38 pm

It wasn’t a good show either, so hate hate hate away.

Alexandra November 28, 2012 at 10:56 am

Without crying too much, or telling you the reasons, why: YES, the Duke was my afternoon hero, too.

I loved him.

Every dusty bit of him.

BEAUTIFUL, N. Can you submit somewhere, b/c this had everything wonderful in it. (minus the not so nice Stepdad.)

Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:39 pm

You are my favorite person. The Duke was the shit, and still is.

Doni December 3, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Like many others, my escape was reading. Anything, everything. We lived about half a mile from the town library and I always had the maximum number of books checked out at all times. And when I was reading, the rest of my world disappeared. I would actually be disoriented when I finished a book.

I have to pick my books/reading wisely now, because it still pretty much takes over and then my children whine about lack of food or end up missing their bedtimes by hours.

Which makes me wonder what kind of stories my children will tell about me…”when she was reading a book…”

Noa December 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm

I have to be so careful about reading before bed–I’ve abandoned several books because I was getting to the good parts, and then reading until 8 am…

I’ll finish you one day, every Stephen King.

Melodie February 7, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Oh yes, being a social awkward kid, as many are, I LOVED books. And I was teased mercilessly for it. But I loved them for all the same reasons everyone above did, though lately I’ve fallen out of the habit of reading and gotten more into television series.

Reality TV makes me want to claw my face off with a rake, but there’s several shows that are near and dear to my heart that I will defend to my last breath and get twitchy when people bad-mouth my favorite characters. Doctor Who is one and Supernatural is another.

My God I love Supernatural. It gets a lot of crap (mostly from people who haven’t watched it/only watch bits and pieces of it) for being cliche and over-done. Oh but it’s so much more than that. It’s two brothers who will take on Heaven and Hell for each other, and for their family. They go through so much, and manage to come through the other side every time; a little battered, a little bruised, and a little broken, but still standing. Still alive. I will love that show until the day I die.

Fight me.

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