Last month, I got into a discussion on line with someone trying to defend movies like "No Country For Old Men" as being a "true modern western" and having the "western spirit." Here is my response to him. Maybe I got a little bit preachy and maybe it is something that I just needed to say because of the moment, but I said it anyway.
Yes, this is a humor website. We do specialize in satire here. Another part of my mission as a writer, however, is to stand up for the values, morals, and ethics that have made this country great. Many of these are embodied in the Cowboy and in the Spirit of the West. This article will not make you laugh. It might, however, make you reflect on the type of individual you want to be yourself and how you want to be remembered by others.
I have walked the streets of Tombstone and Lincoln County and Old El Paso and the original Fort Bliss and Fort Davis and The Alamo and many other places where names are known only to history. I've seen the gravesites of John Wesley Hardin and Billy the Kid and have stood on the murder sites of Pat Garrett and Albert Fountain. I've visited the Oliver Lee ranch and seen the remains of Frenchy's cabin. I've helped to brand cattle and to shoe horses and to haul hay and to fix a fence line. I've lived in the remnants of the Old West (living in Texas and New Mexico for 95% of my life) and have felt that spirit, and it is not in movies like "No Country For Old Men."
That true spirit only exists in some of the people. It is not something that is bottled and sold by Hollywood, no matter how pretty the packaging or what is shown on the movie poster or how much you pay the actors or how you market the movie.
I have not been very active on this, or any, website the past two months. One reason was due to a concussion that I suffered. The other is because my father passed away about seven weeks ago and I just buried him and dealt with all of the fallout of probate, etc.
Dad was 77 years old. Even though he made his living as a scientist, he was a true Cowboy in every sense of the word. He grew up on a farm in Oklahoma and always thought of himself as an "Oklahoma Plowboy." He taught me how to ride and shoot as a youngster, but he also tried to teach me how to treat others and a value system. He took me camping and hiking and taught me a love of nature and of God's creations, but also a sense of history and a healthy respect for the creations of man. I still feel that sense of right and wrong (which is why I cannot support movies which glorify the criminal element such as The Godfather or films with gratuitous violence or Satanic undertones).
Dad still, to his dying day, kissed my mother every night and thanked her for dinner. He still opened doors for ladies, refused to swear in front of a woman, and stood every time a woman walked into the room. He always removed his hat inside of a building (even if it was a large arena). He stood and removed his hat every time the flag passed, always voted, stopped his car when a funeral procession drove by, and always over tipped (even if the service was poor). Every day that he worked, he'd always give a little extra (believing that a man still gave an honest days work for an honest days wages). He went and helped every neighbor that was moving in or moving out to load or unload their moving van, generally offering and then driving his pick-up (when he still owned one) when it was needed. Dad once helped people from the church move eleven Saturday mornings in a row, sometimes more than one person per day (I know because he hauled me along each time and I counted!).
My father had the opportunity to attend a large university many miles away upon graduation from high school. Instead, he chose to remain at home in his small town and take care of his mother (as his father had died the year before). The job he could find that would pay him the most during his schooling was as a janitor, so he scrubbed toilets to support his mother and pay his tuition.
He had a church, and attended it every Sunday. He prayed, in public and in private, and did not do it for honor or respect, but because he needed to speak to his Heavenly Father. He also owned a set of scriptures, and wore out several over the years because of overuse. He was not embarrassed to admit a belief in a superior being, but never crammed his testimony of God or Christ down anyone's throat.
He built the house he died in back in 1963 for my mother and her two young sons, and was always and improving it for them. When my appendix ruptured in 1974, he hitchhiked 60 miles to get to the hospital as he wouldn't trouble any of his co-workers to loose a day's pay, leave, or vacation to give him a ride. He participated in tea parties with my sister and her dolls, built and repaired countless bicycles, wagons, and toys, and attended every school and church activity that involved anyone in his family, church, or neighborhood.
Today, our movies have to have "the anti-hero." No such thing as the true, real hero exists anymore as they are not politically correct and don't make great television. The athletes of "Chariots of Fire" (who refused to run on the Sabbath) have made way for Ray Lewis, Ben Roethlisberger, and Kobe Bryant. Instead of kids idolizing Audie Murphy or Alvin York, they all want to be tattoo covered rappers and pimps and call women their bitches and ho's.
The Spirit of the Old West is a sense of growth and a constant striving for improvement, combined with high moral ethics, respect for other people, and love of God, family, and country. It is always standing up for what is right, even when you stand alone. It is staying after a church or school activity just to help put away tables and chairs, even when you were not asked. It is buying a fake poppy from an old soldier every year on Veteran's Day and paying with a five and telling him to keep the change. It is still giving your seat to a woman on a bus or an airport shuttle. That is not found in any of the "modern" westerns.
I remember that I stood one time to give my seat to a woman on an airport shuttle. She smiled at me politely and moved to take the seat. Before she could sit, however, some self important business weenie in a three piece suit and speaking on his cell phone dived to take the seat. When I told my father about it, he shook his head, and then told me not to judge the man too harshly, as I didn't know his circumstances and he might not have been "raised right."
A Cowboy never shot a man in the back, always took care of his livestock before he took care of himself, and never complained about doing his duty. He saw duty as a sacred trust and a sacred honor. Cowboys lived the Boy Scout Law (trustworthy, loyal, helpful…) before there was even a Boy Scout organization.
Few men still have that code in their lives, and one of them was buried last month. You keep your modern westerns. I'll hold on to the classic westerns and the classic men who still honor that way of life and live it's values.