Their faces gaunt. Their eyes are blurred. Their shirts all soaked with sweat.

Johnny Cash’s mystic anthem, Ghost Riders in the Sky, still echoes in the West Texas wind. But if you drive along Route 66 on the north side of Amarillo, the only cowboy you’ll likely see is one that stares from a motel marquee. His face is made of tin and his shirt drips rust instead of sweat. Down the street, at the Lasso Motel, a neon lariat aims to snag a customer in place of red-eyed cows plowing through the ragged skies and up the cloudy draw.

I grew up in the 1950’s when small motels dotted the two-lane highways that criss-crossed the country. For my family, the obligation of milking cows precluded vacations away from the farm. Though I missed out on stationwagon motoring, I’m proud to say I was able to indulge the golden age of cowboy shows.

Each night, after chores, there be a western on the TV in the family room. My brothers favored Rawhide and Gun Smoke but I liked The Rifleman, a story about a dad and his son working a ranch…with no siblings in sight!

And so, the sight of rundown motels with western motifs puts an ache in my heart. When I pass the Wagon Wheel Lodge at the corner of Bowie and Lamar, I’m already lamenting the lack of valor in today’s culture. Of course, as someone who has shunned popular entertainment for thirty years, I realize my complaints are mainly conjecture. Still, the inner rant bolsters my pride in having had a patches-and-burlap upbringing.

By the time I veer off I-27, I will have passed pastures with Angus grazing beneath a blazing sun. I’ll pass through small towns, nodding to drivers of trucks with hats propped on dashboards and feeders bolted on flat beds behind the cabs.

Rust on the gate at the end of my lane will replace the rust on the cowboy sign in the city. At the top of the hill, my horses will be waiting at the barn to be fed.
Soon I’ll be home. Home with my Father. Home on the range.

11 / 29 / 2023
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