Wednesday, January 22, 2014

More Cornfield Than Cowboy

January 22, 2014
   When we moved back to Arizona in 1956, I had completed the first three grades in Swea City, Iowa and although we made a couple of trips out to visit relatives in Kingman during that period (1950-55) I was pretty much raised, up to that point, on Iowa Farmer Time. Which is to say, The Land of Nice and Polite.

   So when we landed in Arizona I discovered my mother's cowboy relatives were a little wilder and rougher than anything I ever saw in the Midwest (or on TV Westerns for that matter). First of all, my mother had four sisters and they all attracted big, strapping cowboy types. And when they would come blasting in to my grandmother's house at Christmas there was a lot of cussing, smoking and loud talking. There wasn't a traditional Christmas tree. Oh, hell no—they had tumbleweeds piled up.

Wildcatter and heavy construction man, Bill Stockbridge, and, his then girlfriend, Patsy Guess, K-I-S-S-I-N-G at White Tanks, a makeout spot I later frequented myself.

Bob Guess on Shamrock, circa 1944

  I had two grandfathers, and both were quite influential in my life. One by his presence and one by his absence. My mother's father, Bob Guess, died unexpectedly, during an ulcer operation at Kingman Regional Hospital in 1945, the year before I was born. He was 55. I was named for him as was Patsy's son, Robert Jerl. I was referred to in the family as Robert Allen to avoid confusion. In spite of my Midwestern tendencies at that time, no matter where I went in Mohave County, cowboys and oldtimers would give me a pass for the simple reason I was Bob Guess's grandson. This was heavy stuff to a ten-year-old.

   Besides my grandfather, the hero of my mother's family was Billy Hamilton, Mary's only son. He was at that time on his way to becoming a World Champion Steer Roper. Here I am posing with him in the side yard of my grandmother's house. Oh, and he is tucking his boots in because, as he later put it, "I wanted to look like Toots Mansfield," a rodeo star of that era. This drove his father, Choc Hamilton, to distraction, because in those days to tuck in your boots was considered the height of Dudeness (it was actually bordering on Gayness, but that would just be wrong to say today).

Billy "Toots" Hamilton and BBB, 1956.

   I may be wearing cowboy clothes but, as you can clearly see, I'm looking more cornfield than cowboy.

“He who has daughters is always a shepherd.”
—Old Vaquero Saying