Monday, August 13, 2012

Out West

When I was about eight or ten years old, my Mom and I took a trip out West with her brother and cousin. The four of us packed into cousin Ed’s car and drove to see relatives in Texas, through New Mexico to White Sands National Park, and on to Colorado to visit cousins LeRoy and Majel in their house in the mountains.

It was a great trip. Most photos show me smiling in shorts, red tube socks, and a new cowboy hat bought along the way. (And yes, those are Mork & Mindy suspenders in the photo above.) We stopped at all sorts of interesting places, like a train museum, a battleship, and American Indian sites, and I got to buy a pretty Indian doll and a pink gingham bonnet like Laura Ingalls wore. We were Out West, and immersed in it.

Visiting LeRoy and Majel was a highlight, and I knew their place was special when we drove up a small highway into the mountains through thick pines and turned into their driveway, which was framed by a large wooden arch with their last name spelled out in horseshoes. Wow, a real ranch, I thought. Real horses and cowboys.

And LeRoy was just like his name sounds – a cowboy-boot-wearing “good ol’ boy” with a super-slow drawl who smiled constantly and got a twinkle in his eye every time he made a joke. And he let me ride a horse! I put on my cowboy hat and he helped me climb on for a photo. He and Majel took us to Golden for Buffalo Bill Days, the Coors Brewing Company (where I got water while the adults got free beer samples), Pike’s Peak, the Royal Gorge, and at night Majel made yummy homemade dinners and we sat afterward on their porch and wondered what it would be like to live there with the horses and the mountains.

Years later LeRoy brought his family to see me when I was performing in Branson, Missouri, and they showed up as a surprise in the audience. And when I got settled in Vegas, I started including him on my Christmas card list after Majel passed away. The first time I did so, he was so happy that he called me. Even though I hadn’t heard his voice in nearly ten years, I recognized him immediately, his slow, sing-song “Hello, Shannon, this is cousin LeRoy” carrying his smile to me over the miles.

LeRoy passed away recently, and this weekend was his memorial, back in Indiana with family and friends who reminisced about his gentle ways. I’m glad he was part of my life, too.

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