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?”