In my boyhood, I spent only limited time around horses. I did, however, have spurs.
Not real spurs, mind you, the hide-puncturing barbs seeming to straddle a line between the inhumane and the barbaric. I wonder if any real cowboys, professors of love for their horses, actually wore spurs.
Still, every cowboy offering in the department store toy aisle (the complete set with a badge, gun and holster) included a set of spurs, plastic like all the rest and with a dulled-edged star at the business end.
I grew up not in the infancy of television but certainly in its youth. And boys my age reflected what we saw. We saw a lot of cowboys.
Sheriff Matt Dillon became the king of this genre, the CBS show “Gunsmoke” airing for so long that guns and smoke became controversial.
Even as a know-nothing kid, I wondered about the sheriff’s chaste relationship with Miss Kitty, who dressed like a Dodge City saloon trollop but appeared interested only in who paid their bar tabs. And what about the town physician, Doc Adams, doing so much day drinking?
On NBC, “Bonanza” occupied a plum Sunday night slot, the one-percenter Ben Cartwright raising three boys on his own while cashing in on the labor of others mining the Comstock Lode. Even without the silver, they would have made a fortune in the sideburn business.
Others I followed with less interest, like “The Rifleman” and “The Virginian.” My favorite, “The Wild Wild West,” mixed with the trend of spy movies at the time and made for the perfect elevator pitch, “James Bond on horseback.”
Though I did not recognize it at the time, “Have Gun — Will Travel” stood as sort of the “Masterpiece Theater” of westerns, an urbane gun-for-hire named Paladin (one-named, like Bono or Beyonce) riding around helping folks. He looked dapper, always wearing black.
The trope of good guys wearing white and bad guys wearing black had given way to clothing ambiguities by the 1960s. Cowboys had a richer palette to draw from in these latter days.
One thing didn’t change. Unless you had the name Lone Ranger, you were up to no good if you wore a mask.
Oddly, masks have become an item of political division in our day.
Last week, a video made the rounds of anti-mask rebels raising a ruckus in a Florida Target store, appearing to skip down the aisles in urging others to remove their face coverings.
Two of the demonstrators got fines of $100, though they should have faced steeper penalties if proven to be adults and skipping.
A poll released late last month by the Pew Research Center showed that 85 percent of Americans say they wear masks in stores and other businesses. In a seven-state midwestern region that includes Missouri and Kansas, mask usage rose by 23 percentage points between July and August.
Yet some people believe mask mandates to be a suppression of their God-given right to contract and spread a virus in big-box retailers.
In terms of public well-being, those walking into stores with M-80 fireworks in one hand and a lighted match in the other might also be subject to a liberty-eradicating fine. Will no patriots skip to that tune?
St. Joseph, seeing a surge in COVID cases, stepped up its game on mask-wearing last week. It doesn’t feel like heavy lifting.
Do the thing, suffer if you must, help your fellow citizens and we’ll move together toward an ending.