Monday, September 14, 2009

My Cowboy Heroes

When you were little, who was your hero?  Mine was my brother-in-law, Curtis... why?  Because he was a cowboy.  Not a dime store cowboy, not a weekend cowboy, not a rodeo cowboy, but a real life cowboy.  A rancher.  A break ice and drop hay in winter cowboy, a pull calves in spring cowboy, a brand cattle in fall cowboy, and a white straw hat in summer cowboy.  I think he owns every John Wayne movie there is and heck, he'd decorate the house with memorabilia if my sister would let him (it's relegated to the back porch area mostly). 
     Many of my favorite childhood memories involved spending time on the ranch, pretending.  I never owned a pair of boots and most of the time I stayed around the ranch house, playing in the barn, gathering eggs in the chicken coup, chasing kittens in the haystack... but it was the closest thing I knew to being a "real" cowboy.  There was something mysterious about it all for a city kid.
     I had lunch Sunday with my sister, Doris, and Curtis.  He's retired now and just went through a major battle with lymphoma (so far so good).  So, I guess you could say he's a hero now for another reason.  Perhaps because he's a fighter.  Perhaps because he's the proud father of three wonderful daughters.  Perhaps because he's an involved grandfather to his seven grandchildren.  Perhaps because he has a twinkle in his blue eyes and is still a bit ornery.  Perhaps because he never fails to smile when he sees my wife, Susan, and counts her as one of his daughters.  
     There's a spirit of cowboy that he exudes--honesty, humility, and heart.  He's still a cowboy...
     When I was in second and third grade, I was a Cowboy Sam reader.  I think I checked out every book about Sam that Edna Walker Chandler wrote, both in school and at our little downtown library (I love when you read her biography and it says she was "born near Macksville, Kansas, in 1908, grew up with the rhythm of the wheat.").  For me there was something magical about Cowboy Sam.  I loved reading about rodeos, airplanes, Indians, the fair, and rustlers.  I loved reading about Sally, Miss Lily, Porky, Flop, Big Bill, and Freckles.  For a young reader, there was something that Mrs. Chandler did to create a rhythm in my brain.  The simple dialogue fascinated me, the characters and their dilemmas intrigued me, and the cowboy life she described reminded me of my hero, Curtis.  Still do.        

     Each year I share my love of Cowboy Sam books with my students.*  I have a few that I share with them and some even latch onto them as text they can read (Last year one of my most reluctant readers, after hearing me share Cowboy Sam and the Rodeo said, “Hey, I think that might just be one I can read!)*. 
     Which brings me to two questions…  
  • Do we take the time to ask learners about their childhood heroes and share ours with them?  
  • Do we take time to share our reading lives with our students (especially from those early years)?   
I think if we want to nudge our students to find joy and purpose in their reading lives we have to do both…  Thanks to Curtis and Sam, I can!
*I'm not advocating we fill our classroom libraries with Cowboy Sam... our choices today are endless!  But he sure did get excited to read a book that "Mr. Allen read when he was little."

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