I was just 19 when my dad passed away suddenly.
He left a void in our family that was hard to fill. My mother always did her best, of course, and I had plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins to show me the right way, too, not to mention my grandfathers.
However, I can’t say my dad always gave me the best advice.
I remember when we got our first television set – a 17-inch black and white Admiral counsel model in about 1952 when I was just 8 years old. We had that set for a long, long time – through my entire high school years and beyond.
It was amazing to youngsters, like myself, who’d never seen such a device. Now, we could watch our heroes in our own homes. We no longer had to watch matinees at theaters while our parents did their periodical shopping for necessities.
I’d imagine quite a few of you “older” readers remember the late Kate Smith singing “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain.” We were also privy to the Nuremburg Trials and old “Tail-Gunner” Joe McCarthy and the un-American hearings that turned out to be such a black eye for all those Americans falsely charged with being Communists.
Now, you might say that I was far too young to remember those televised hearings, but they were the only things a kid could watch on weekdays during summer months and most evenings year-around.
The big thing, though, for kids my age and even older was when Saturday morning rolled around. We’d watch all the westerns of the day – shows like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and others.
I’d watch those shows religiously. My late father, Carl, took notice.
Dad decided that there must be a moral in those Westerns. I remember one morning he sat me down at the table and said to my brother, Roger, and I, “You know boys you’ll never go wrong if you do like Roy Rogers.”
He spoke about all the virtues those Saturday morning heroes showed – honesty, loyalty, friendship, kindness, and more.
I suppose I took my dad too seriously. Those old cowboys became my heroes. I spent every nickel I could come by on the latest comic books – all of them of my heroes. I watched every cowboy show on television and read every cowboy comic I could afford.
The problem with all of that was that when school rolled around again in the fall, I carried my daydreams into my second-grade classroom. It was the first year that second-graders learned about using compasses and the art of drawing circles.
My problem was that those sharp ends worked amazingly well when dreaming about heroes.
Absent-mindedness, I considered it, when I began etching initials of all those Saturday morning heroes into my very own classroom desktop. Perhaps it’s selective memory, but I really don’t remember scratching those initials into that wood.
But, I must have done it. There wasn’t anyone else I could blame.
One day my teacher came to my desk, looked at those perfect etchings of initials, and asked me, “Who’s this?” she asked, pointing to the neatly etched “RR” into the wooden desk top.
Innocently, I said, “I don’t know. I suppose it could be Roy Rogers.”
“How about this other ‘RR’?” she said, in a voice that sounded more demanding than kind.
“Well, I suppose that could be Red Ryder,” I said.
Soon I was innocently explaining away the other etchings, too … “Well, I suppose ‘GA’ is Gene Autry … and ‘LR’ is probably Lash LaRue.”
That went on until I’d explained all the 10-or-so initials that had mysteriously appeared on my desktop.
If I thought I was getting away with anything, I was quickly brought back to reality.
I don’t think I got detention – that came later and for more “grown-up” classroom antics.
What I did get was a stern lecture from the teacher and an even sterner lecture from my dad, my very own dad who’d told me that I couldn’t go wrong with heroic cowboys as heroes. Perhaps, I took it a little too far.
I know I had plenty of time to think about everything as I spent several days after school sanding down the top of my desk enough to remove all those heroic initials. It was tough for a boy my age knowing that I’d have to sand off all the varnish in order to smooth things over. Fortunately, I didn’t have to grab a paint brush to finish my work.
It was about that time I thought maybe I should find another hero, and I did. In fact, I took it quite seriously.
“Mom,” I asked in my best ‘please’ voice. “Can you sew me a costume – a blue one with a big ‘S’ on the front, and a red cape?”
Mom was always willing to help. But even that Superman costume wound up getting me in trouble one day, but that’s a different story for a different day.