Some people seem to be born knowing what they want to do in life. I wasn’t in that group. My plans of being a cowboy left when Chief plodded off into the sunset without me. It would sound more impressive to say that he galloped away, but that wasn’t his style. Chief never embraced the joy of running. He chose instead a painfully slow walk that was graciously accommodating to the swarming summer gnats of Georgia. I believe he understood that his lack of enthusiasm translated into predictably short rides.
Somewhere not far removed from those cowboy days of grammar school, I had an idea that I might enjoy becoming a cartoonist. When I was a small child, Daddy would read the Sunday Comics to me out of The Macon Telegraph. Snuffy Smith and Beetle Bailey were his favorites. He also enjoyed Lil’ Abner and a few others that I can’t readily name anymore. He read Little Orphan Annie who had been wandering around America since the days of his youth. He talked about Punjab, The Asp, and Daddy Warbucks like he knew them. I guess in a way he did.
I began reading the comics myself at an early age. I admired how they could capture a moment of humor or even tell a story within a few short panels. It seemed like a pretty good career, but I realized there was a slight problem in my becoming a cartoonist. I couldn’t draw.
That’s when I saw an ad for a place you could send in a sample drawing for a free professional assessment. I knew I didn’t have any artistic talent, but I figured they could tell me if there was even a glimmer of hope to develop my ability. They responded back quickly and much more favorably than I expected. They noted my tremendous potential and outlined their phenomenal program along with its easy payment plan. That may be the first time that I understood what a scam was.
I kept reading the comics, a practice that I still enjoy today. In my teen years I began reading syndicated columnist Art Buchwald. He had a nationally distributed column that was often based around political satire. It seemed like a nice way to make a living, but that was still a few years down the road, so I didn’t give it much serious thought.
I don’t remember any particular aspirations between the columnist stage and college. In the 12th grade my longtime friend, Don Giles, and I interviewed with the F.B.I. It was Don’s idea, but I quickly embraced it. I’d been watching Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. on TV. He always got his man and seldom even needed to straighten his tie.
We went to Macon where State Representative Larry Walker had arranged for us to meet with the agent in charge. Don and I strolled in wondering how long it would take to get our guns and badges. The agent was very gracious and hid his laughter well. He suggested we get a college degree in accounting or law and come back. Otherwise, he said, we’d be filing papers and working in the office, adding that he didn’t think that’s what we were looking for. That cured our itch for fighting crime.
At Valdosta State College I majored in business but had little idea what I wanted to do. Afterward, I spent 18 months selling computers, five years selling cars and carrying caskets, and 35 years working with cash at a small-town bank. All my careers were linked to words starting with the letter C.
Maybe it’s providential that in retirement I’m staying with the C-word theme by writing a column. I’m a few million readers short of Art Buchwald’s audience, but I hope that you enjoy our time together each week.
I’ve been thinking about borrowing a horse from my neighbor Marcus Brown to try that cowboy thing one more time. A slowly plodding horse like Chief would be about the right speed for me now. With a big hat and some gnat spray I’d be ready for the range.
Or maybe I’ll just write a column about gray-haired men who fondly recall their faded childhood dreams. Some of those fellows are still around, but I need to write that column soon. With each passing year the kids who dreamed of growing up to be cowboys are a little bit harder to find.