I met Cowboy Mitch in downtown Atlanta. He was standing at the curb on Peachtree Street basking in the warmth of the sun during his lunch hour. After some time together, I departed with the promise to email his portrait to him. Little did I know that through our correspondence, his initial tale about his love for the Old West would evolve into a beautiful story about a son’s love for his mother and the magic of childhood.
“I grew up in Brooklyn, New York. My mom was a single mom who raised five kids. She worked part time, but was always home before school was out. Entertainment in our home came from watching TV, listening to the radio, and singing behind artists on 45 disc records. We didn’t put a label on music. We didn’t care what race or creed you were. If you could sing, we played you on our record player until the record turned white or scratched and skipped. We just loved all music, even classical. If you walked past our apartment you would have thought it was a white family living in an all black neighborhood until you saw us. I say this because of the variety of music we listened to including white artists whom we felt could sing just as soulful as some blacks, and better.
I have such fond memories of Christmases past and how my mother did everything she could to make them bright and special. Because it’s almost Christmas, I remember that my mom would have already bought all my gifts and stashed them in big brown paper bags in the closet and we had better not touch them or get skinned alive. This was a time when you swore your mom was crazy or lost her mind; either way you didn’t want to chance losing these wonderful toys. My mother would also threaten not to buy many cowboys or Indians for Christmas if I got poor grades in school. I think she tricked me because it worked.
My favorite childhood friends were two toy horses, Thunderbolt and Flame, the cowgirl figurine, Jane West, and the cowboy, Johnny. I got Thunderbolt for Christmas when I was six years old. By 1965, GI Joe had taken over the toy world for young boys and I went from cowboys and Indians to little green army soldiers. I didn’t know that after all those years of playing with army soldiers I would become a paratrooper. I joined the army at 18 and jumped out of combat planes for 10 years. Still, my first passion for the Old West remained. The cowboys were my heroes, the good and bad ones dressed in black. The dudes just looked so sharp in those super cool hats, vests and, boots. I embrace that look and style. I watch Westerns every Saturday morning. It takes me to a place, another time; a simple time.
It has been six years since my mom passed at 94 years old. There is not a day that goes by I don’t think of her. The holidays are the worst. Its painful at times but what keeps me going is that she visits me in my dreams. She’s always warm and smiling. On her last visit I got to hug her and feel her warm body, and then she left the room. I don’t think I am supposed to follow her, yet I believe in my heart if I ever followed her I would not come back on this side. At least I know I will have the best friend in the whole world waiting for me when my time comes.
The horses are dear to me as they are the only things I have left of my mother that she actually purchased with her own hard earned money and with love. Thunderbolt, the tan one, has his own story. Many years past my youth, my mother told me that a picture slid off the wall and chopped off his tail. A clean cut! She put the tail somewhere but forgot where she had placed it. She passed and I never found his tail. Being that he is such a treasure and well over 50 years old, I refused to throw him away. So, when I look at my horses, I still can hear my mom saying, “Well you had better do good in school!”
Thunderbolt and Flame, Photo by Cowboy Mitch