I rarely wasted time at home once school was out for the day, normally just dashed home, tossed my lunch box on the table and yelled a quick “Hi, Mom” as I rushed back outside to play.
That was the norm in the early 1950s. As one among several 8-year-olds in the small town of Duncombe, I found playing with friends far more urgent than spending time indoors, especially with winter just around the corner.
One day, however, that normal routine was interrupted.
Standing in the corner of our small living room was a large unopened cardboard box. It was about three feet high and a little less than two feet wide. A large “Admiral” was printed on the side.
“What’s that?” I asked my Mom, who was busy in the kitchen with one of the mundane tasks that kept most mothers busy in those days that followed World War II. “It’s a television set,” she replied, “but, you’ll have to wait until your dad gets home before you can watch it.”
Now, I won’t tell you that I was too naïve to have heard about television in 1952 – a couple of my friends had TVs and I’d often sit and watch some of the early black and white programs, especially on Saturdays. But, this was big news, really big news. We had our own television set and I couldn’t wait to tell my friends.
As I recall, they were all impressed; at least they were as far as my 8-year-old mind could tell.
On that day in September of 1952, my life changed dramatically. I certainly didn’t care for the news and other programming that my friends and I thought was pure “junk.” As far as Saturday mornings went, though, we quickly became television fanatics.
We all wanted toy six-shooters so we could emulate our heroes. We longed for horses so that we could ride around town chasing outlaws. We wanted shirts with real leather fringe, badges, boots, shiny belt buckles and 10-gallon hats.
Most of my friends and I even told our parents that all we wanted for Christmas was a horse — a real live horse — and we had our names all picked out.
Of course, those fantasies never came true, at least not in the early 1950s in Duncombe, Iowa.
We imagined ourselves in the saddle, yelling out, “Hi-Yo, Silver. Away!” We’d say to our friends, “Oh, Pancho” to which the reply was always. “Oh, Cisco.” We learned to call our friends “Kemosabe” and to refer to our imagined enemies as “Them Thar Varmints.”
When you’re only 8 years old, you can be whatever you want to be. And, I wanted to be a cowboy. It didn’t matter that cowboys didn’t live in Iowa, there were no outlaws to chase through the woods and across the prairie, and we couldn’t care less if there were any damsels in distress.
Our dreams, though, were very, very real. At least I discovered that reality a month or two after my parents got our first television set.
I’d taken too many of my childhood fantasies to school. My dreams didn’t mesh well, especially after we learned how to use a compass to draw circles. Rather than draw circles, I found the sharp end of the compass more useful to etch initials of my favorite cowboys onto the top of my desk. My heroes were all there for me to see — there were Roy Rogers, even Dale Evans, Lash LaRue, Hopalong Cassidy, The Cisco Kid, “Wild” Bill Hickock, and a few others.
I remember vividly, my stern-looking teacher asking me, “What’s that?” She was pointing directly at the “RR” I’d etched into the top of the desk. “Well, er, um, I guess it’s Roy Rogers … or it might be Red Ryder,” I said, sheepishly.
I was told in no uncertain terms that I’d have to stay after school and use sandpaper to get all those initials erased. That was quite a job for an 8-year-old. It took several days of sanding after school before the desk finally passed my teacher’s inspection.
By the time I’d finished, cowboy games didn’t seem quite as enticing. Nosiree, I didn’t want to be a cowboy any longer. That life wasn’t for me.
Clark Kent, now, there was a real hero. Yup, he’d duck into a closet and suddenly reappear in a blue top with a large red “S” and a red cape (I knew the colors from comic books, you see). That made a lot more sense than a bunch of cowboys.
My mom even helped with my new fantasy, sewing a big red “S” on a blue shirt and using some excess red cloth to make a shiny cape. I imagined myself a real hero. All I had to do now was to fly. There was a ladder lying beside a wood shed out back of the house. I managed to stand it up against the building, climbed up, stood on the edge, spread my arms and then “able to leap tall buildings, faster than a speeding bullet” and, you know the rest, I jumped.
Of course, I didn’t fly. I landed unceremoniously in a heap, hurting all over. Crying, I was able to get back to the safety of my mother’s kitchen.
I’d learned a couple valuable lessons. I gave up being a cowboy. I gave up saving the world. Now, what was I to do? The answer came quickly on a shopping trip with my parents when I spied a wood burning kit for kids. “What’s that?” I asked my parents. I begged, pleaded, probably cried a little, but my parents finally bought me that kit after I’d promised never to use it by myself, to always have my dad with me when I burned some wood.
That was another painful lesson. I wore a salve-soaked bandage and for quite a few days as I wondered what my next life decision might be.
Bill Haglund is a retired writer for the Boone News-Republican and Dallas County News and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.