by Will Ghormley
I was a small boy, too young for kindergarten. But I had a Roy Rogers guitar, and a record with Roy and Dale singing “Faith Hope and Charity” on one side and “Happy Trails” on the other. I would sit and strum that guitar, singing along to the songs over and over again. It had a permanent effect on my parents. It affected me too, but in a good way.
My father was a preacher. I was the standard preacher’s kid. Reruns of The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show would come on at high noon on Sundays. My father’s sermons were supposed to end promptly at noon. My father was a standard preacher, however, and his sermons never ended when they should. So there I would sit, my little wristwatch ticking away the seconds past noon. Every moment in church was a part of Roy’s adventures I was missing.
So, at 12:01pm, I would hold up one little index finger to let my dad know he was on Roy’s time now. My father would flash an annoyed glance my way, but, like my hero, I would dodge the bullet and fire back – two – two little fingers in the air and another minute of Roy frittered away.
By the time I would get to three fingers, they would be waving around, just in case anyone in the whole church besides my dad couldn’t see. My mom would try to grab my little hands and hold them still, (I don’t know why she always made me sit by her). But I would snake one finger free and wave my frantic reminder. I knew that, behind me, half the congregation was silently cheering me on - the others undoubtedly dozing.
My dad’s closing prayers were the longest. In prayer years, I must be close to a thousand by now. But I would respectfully wait for his “Amen” before diving under the pew and sliding along the wood floor to the front of the church. It was quicker to dash out the side door than try to make it past all the folks dashing for the back door. I knew it wasn’t polite to run in church, but I knew God would never notice because he’d been waiting for the prayer to end too.
The side door would slam open like a twister was ripping it off its hinges. I would fly over the fence between the church and the parsonage like I was riding Trigger myself. It took that old black and white TV as long to warm up as most parishioners, but, finally, I would be sitting on the floor, staring up eagerly at my hero.
I was often scolded for my abrupt departures from church, but I never got in any real trouble over it. Somehow, my folks knew I was getting more out of Roy’s church of the wide open western skies than I was getting out of the four walls that people tried to stuff God into. Roy would teach his lessons: honesty, loyalty, helpfulness, standing up for right, fighting against injustice, defending the weak. These lessons I learned as a boy and still live by.
When my children were small, I taught them what I could remember of the song, “Faith, Hope and Charity”. We would sing it together driving along to wherever. I never could remember all the words. I’ve tried to pass on other things I’ve learned, but I’m just not hero material. I wish they could have learned them from Roy.