I am such a lucky person. I hadn’t thought of Roy Rogers for years, and yet one night, he popped up in a dream.
If my dream had been about some other cowboy hero, my story would have been a different story.
Not long after I wrote The Body in the Record Room, I happened to see a Sunday morning TV interview about another of the cowboy heroes of the time. I saw that man’s movies too, at the Rex theater on the east side of the square in our little town. I even saw him with his sidekick and his horse in person once, at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. Without doubt, he was a great cowboy hero, but one person interviewed said he was almost like a rock star. The biographer called him “frisky.” Another person said women would come up to him in hotels and slip him their room keys. That person implied he often used those keys. Someone also told the story of the time he fell off his horse during a public appearance because he had had too much to drink.
I’m not passing judgment. I still admire the man and his movies. I’m still glad he was a movie star.
But I found Roy Rogers different. To me the most impressive thing about The Roy Rogers Museum in Branson, Missouri, was not Trigger and Buttermilk and Bullet mounted and displayed. It was not all those fancy outfits which a man named Nudie the Rodeo Taylor, his wife Bobbie, and all their employees made for Roy Rogers. It was not even getting to see the dinner table where Roy and his family shared meals.
It was a little section close to where you walk in. It was a series of glass cases with family letters. That section told the story of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and their family. It described them, not as western heroes or even primarily as great Christian people, but as people who loved each other and who loved and cared for children. They were wonderful parents who sometimes adopted hurting children. And they experienced, more than once, the most terrible thing a parent can experience—the death of a child.
They were exactly what an abused and hurting child like my own Roy Rogers needed. What a shame he didn’t come to really know them until later in his life, after many years in a mental institution. And then it only happened because of some of the movies which they showed in that huge old auditorium where I sat with him as we watched.
The huge auditorium in the book really did exist. And there in the back there was a little boy, a heavyset little boy, who watched, as engrossed as all the others. His life was changed by Roy Rogers too, and even more, his life was changed by that place with all those people. My own Roy Rogers came almost near the end of my life, but still, I feel that we sat together in that auditorium and watched those movies.
I dedicate my book to some of the people with whom I grew up. I mean for them to represent all those who lived in that institution over more than one hundred years, all those in other institutions, and all those struggling with mental illness today. I say of those people, “You changed my view of God and of the universe.”
You can’t grow up as I did without understanding that God loves the very people we would throw away. Others might have shied away from the those people who are still my heroes. This book doesn’t do them justice, those great (and sometimes very troubled) people whom I got to know so long ago.
So I am lucky. I grew up in one of the greatest places in the world for someone such as I am to grow up . . . .
. . . .and years later, I had a dream of Roy Rogers.
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