January third was my dad’s birthday.
He was born in 1921 and lived to be 83 years old. I have been thinking a lot about him lately. He was the second Bruce Behymer in the row and a real, honest-to-goodness, bona-fide cowboy. As long-time Sedgwick resident Bernadine Manning said when she first met him, “he was the real deal, not like one of those drug store cowboy types.”
Dad grew up loving horses and worked as the head trail hand at a kids’ camp when he was young. He also loved America and served in WWII, guarding the coast on the back of a horse with a pair of binoculars.
The old man planted crops using the phases of the moon, the Farmer’s Almanac and other weird folk science. That always boggled my mind.
One of the gifts he gave me, along with his wicked sense of humor (he was the funniest man I ever knew), was his work ethic. You didn’t whine or cry when there was work to be done, and if you missed a day of chores, something died and then you got yelled at, which wasn’t good.
I remember back when Laurie and I were first married, I was home sick with the flu. Just after shutting my eyes to rest, I was woken up from my influenza delirium to the sound of my dad’s truck honking (I knew it was his truck by the honk) followed by knocking at the door. I dragged myself to see what the deal was, only to be greeted by, “The sheep are out; I need your help.”
Not “Hello, dear son, why are you home? You don’t look well. Are you getting enough rest?” Nope. Just, “The sheep are out…”
I replied with, “Dad, I’m sick, running a fever, and probably gonna die.”
“That’s too bad” he retorted, “the sheep are out.”
What’s a guy to do? We got in the old truck, put sheep up and then I went back to bed to die. I remember thinking, “Next time I’m home sick, I’m hiding the car.”
Another gift the old man gave me was my love for the American Western. I have seen every John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movie ever made. I love John Ford’s “The Searchers” and Howard Hawk’s “Rio Bravo.”
My favorite John Wayne film, though, is the 1972 classic “The Cowboys.” I won’t spoil it, in case you haven’t seen it. I’ll just say it’s a very different John Wayne film. The villain is convincingly played by Bruce Dern. When I was a kid, my parents took me to see it at the drive-in. I was only five years old, too young for some of the content, however this was 1972; we didn’t even use seatbelts. There is a scene where Bruce Dern breaks a kid’s glasses—just smashes them up in his hands. The kid was crying, and I wanted to, but that would have been taboo in 1972. My heart jumps a beat every time I watch or even think about that scene. It sounds traumatizing, and it was. But the father figure role that John Wayne played in that movie reminded me of the old man. I guess that’s why I love it so much.
Happy Birthday, Dad. Thank you for making me laugh, shaping my life and being the real deal.