Which Way is West
Which Way is West
I grew up a-dreamin' of bein' a cowboy.
The "Depression" was in full bloom in 1934 and I was seven years old when we moved to University Township, near Cleveland, Ohio. Warrensville Center Road, paved with bricks laid by the Works Project Administration, (created by President Roosevelt to put people to work), was a mile east of our rented home. East of Warrensville Center Road was the country. Folks who lived in Cleveland said we lived in the "boondocks," or "out in the sticks."
My father's company manufactured artificial grass used to cover open graves and for decoration in store windows. Although times were hard, we had plenty to eat, lived in a nice house and, by contemporary standards, lived comfortably. We owned two cars, a 1933 LaSalle and a 1928 Huppmobile.
One of seven children, my dad grew up on a farm near the little central Ohio town of Shelby, so living out in the sticks was nothing new to him. He was forever taking our family out on weekend excursions looking for a farm to buy. Although we looked at a lot of farms, and they were dirt cheap during the 30s, he never did buy one. That was a disappointment for my two brothers and me because we were certain that once we had a farm, we would each have our own horse...naturally.
My mother, born in 1900, was three years younger than my father. She was a loving, caring and very gracious person who, as a stay at home mom, exercised a great deal of influence on her three sons giving us lessons, by example, on how one should conduct oneself in polite society.
My dad gave my mother, who knew how to play, a Fisher baby grand piano as a tenth wedding anniversary present and the day it arrived, I started banging on it. I guess it is from her that my musical talents spring. Within a few weeks, I began composing little tunes and several years later, when my folks thought I was old enough to take lessons, I wasn't interested. Playing the silly simple stuff in the John Thompson Beginners Piano Book was boring, as by then, I was making up some quasi complex music. After a half a dozen lessons, I quit. That was one of the dumbest things I ever did because although I can play, I don't play very well and to this day, I cannot read music with any degree of proficiency.
My brother Bob is five years older and Howard is about two years younger than me. On Saturday afternoons we would go to the movies at the Cedar Lee Theater in neighboring Cleveland Heights. It was a good bet that the double feature would include at least one and sometimes two "westerns." We grew up with the great cowboy stars of the thirties: Hop-a-long Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, John Wayne and Tim Holt. For just a dime, we saw two full length movies, a newsreel, a travelogue, and a fifteen minute segment of a serial that ended with the hero about to be killed. Large candy bars sold for a nickel, two for seven or three for ten cents. Twelve ounce bottles of soda pop cost five cents. We would spend an entire Saturday afternoon watching movies, eating candy and drinking soda pop for about twenty cents each.
After the movies, we'd come home, strap on our six shooters and chaps, put on our cowboy hats and vests with the little shiny conches and head for one of the many wooded areas near our house. Armed with boxes of caps for our pistols, we'd replay the movie, running through the woods on our imaginary horses, shooting Indians and generally having one hell of a good time. (It should be noted that shooting Indians in the 1930s was politically and ethically correct in as much as the Indians in the movies were always played by white guys.) At that point in my life, I had never seen a real Indian on or off the screen.
Willie Nelson must have had me in mind when he sang; I grew up a-dreamin' of bein' a cowbo