Cowboys and their Country

My mother inherited an obsession with westerns from her father, my Papaw Sam. He has never been a big talker, perhaps since he’s not a great listener on account of his bad hearing.  Most the time he nods or he smiles when you ask him a question like a child who knows you want something just not what.

But his ears perked up, his hearing miraculously improved, and his butt was poised on the edge of that Tahoe seat the entire three weeks that he, my grandmother, my aunt, my mother, and I road-tripped around west. We saw wild buffalo, rolling plains the extended pass Da Vinci’s vanishing point, and deserts the colored under a high sun like a child’s coloring box.

Since I’ve been home from college this past week, I’ve watched two westerns. Of course my mother participated in the watching, which made it all the more fun. The first was William Wyler’s BIG COUNTRY with Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, and Burl Ives. The opening scene starts in the threshold of a homestead. The camera moves out and the screen widens the take in the vast color and emptiness of the west, the Big Country. My mother sitting in the wingback chair next to me sighs, “It’s that pretty.” A similar shot opens THE SEARCHERS, a John Wayne classic based on the book I just finished by Alan Le May. I like the Duke in the 1969 TRUE GRIT, but I’d give him his Oscar for his portrayal of Ethan (Amos in the book) Edwards.

The west is truly beautiful, and as I contemplate where in the world I’d like to end up I can’t rule out west of the Mississippi. Seeing Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and the arches of Arizona made me appreciate the landscape and made me appreciate on a deeper level what the wide focus of those good ole American movies were trying to capture. As my aunt said repeatedly on our summer trip two years ago, somethings in life and in the movies are just unbelievable.

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