When I moved to Oklahoma around the age of 10, I was a certifiable Yank in many ways, thrust into this foreign world of horse ranches and pickup trucks. It didn’t take long after we first arrived at some unincorporated land outside of Chelsea, Oklahoma, to realize just how out of place I was—pasty white skin, uncalloused hands, and a twangless accent. Some family members took me to cattle auction during my first week in the Oklahoma wilderness, and there were so many new words from that night that I tried to add to my vocabulary—reckon, yonder, holler, supper, ‘preciate, Boomer Sooner, fiddin’ to, piddlin’, warsh, skeeter, y’all, chiggers—that I finally started to understand how different of a world I had found myself in.
Eventually, I learned to at least tolerate most of what I didn’t assimilate to. I picked up some new habits, like calling every soft drink a “coke” and listening to country music, but, to this day, I’ve never worn a cattleman hat or riding boots, and I’ve never watched a John Wayne movie. In fact, I hate John Wayne, though that’s not his fault. For that, I blame Doug.
Doug was my mom’s first serious boyfriend after she and my dad separated, and he was a bonafide Okie. There are many adages for “You’re not a real Okie until…,” but for each one, Doug had the achievement under his belt long before I met him. And during the short time he and my mom were together, he spent an inordinate amount of time trying to mold me in that image. Some people call that tough love—in a way, I guess that’s what he probably thought he was doing. But after he forced me to walk to school in a snowstorm so that he could watch ‘Neath Arizona Skies, I found myself directing my anger and frustration with Doug at a lot of innocent victims, like John Wayne, The Beverly Hillbillies and Alan Jackson.
As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve started to not only forgive Doug, but I’ve also begun to understand and empathize with his affection for the western genres. As I desire a little bit of a slower life—a life decided by my own evocations and not the needs of others—I also see the central tenets of so many westerns much more clearly. Specifically, a steadfast attempt to hold onto one’s principles in spite of the world’s provocations—or the begrudging sacrifice of those values in pursuit of a greater good—much more than any of the surface-level elements of westerns that I fought against decades ago. I think that was also always a part of Doug, and I like to think that’s been a part of me, too.