Today, I saw the premiere of “The Lone Ranger.” Critics have been ravaging the film for many reasons, but for this writer it was a nostalgic journey back to a time of childhood heroes and themes of good versus evil, white hats and black hats. The Lone Ranger, outfitted with a six-shooter, mask, silver bullet and Texas Ranger badge, was a man of justice riding a white steed. His faithful sidekick, Tonto, wore a black crow on his head which he fed with grain, so its spirit could be nurtured when it returned to life.
They were recast as equals in this updated story, men from different cultures and back stories, who seek to avenge past wrongs of murder, genocide, broken treaties, land grabs and greed by a powerful few who reap the rewards from the labor off the backs of the masses: the poor, indigenous people and immigrants who moved west, worked and respected the land, built our cities and the infrastructure that connected them. When the William Tell Overture played and the Lone Ranger commanded, “Hi –Ho Silver, and away,” I was transported to a time past.
The story is told by a Wild West sideshow Indian in San Francisco years after the Lone Ranger’s and Tonto’s meeting to a little boy in a cowboy outfit of vest and chaps, white hat, six- shooters slung low on his waist, and wearing a mask. I could have been that little boy, or at least the cowgirl version. Following is my story of good and evil.
The earliest memories I have of childhood are of my parent’s rented house on Racine Street in Racine, Wisconsin. It was an early 20th century home with asphalt shingles designed to resemble brick, referred to as ghetto brick. The fences dividing our yard from the neighbors were wooden posts and chicken wire. We shared a backyard with our neighbors, the widow Kowalski and her adult daughter, Marge. Their house faced the back of ours and behind theirs was an alleyway. Our neighborhood was what today would be described as urban infill, high-density housing in a transitional neighborhood. Back then it was where blue collar, working class, white and black families lived side by side. It wasn’t an integrated neighborhood. It was simply home for the working poor and families like mine, just starting out, trying to get a foot hold in the post-war middle class.
The year was 1954. I was a four-year-old girl who liked playing with cap guns while wearing my cowgirl outfit with hat, red bandanna tied around my neck, fake leather skirt, fringed vest and of course, cowboy boots. I was already an avid television viewer, particularly westerns. I watched Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Wild Bill Hickok, the Cisco Kid and his caballero, Pancho and finally the Lone Ranger and his Indian sidekick Tonto. And, when I think about it now, the Lone Ranger was never alone. Tonto always had his back and would show up at the last minute to save him.
Yes, I aspired to be a heroine of the American West, yet I was content being a tomboy with a pair of six-shooters hugging my hips and ready for action in my humble neighborhood of south side Racine, the wrong side of the tracks.
I only had a couple of friends, Marge, the 25-year-old neighbor who taught me to divine or water-witch, and my two-year-old sister, Roz. She really couldn’t do much yet. She was just learning to talk, and mostly she just followed me around, my faithful sidekick, Tonto to my Lone Ranger. My only other friend, besides my family of grandmothers, aunts, uncles and cousins, was the iceman and the characters on television who were my partners in my imaginary adventures.
The iceman would come with his flatbed wagon loaded with blocks of ice. He’d take his large metal hook, pierce the sweating block of ice, lift and rest it on his shoulder, walk the stairs of our front stoop and deliver the ice to my mother by placing it in the icebox. When he returned to the front stoop where I was waiting, he’d pat me on my head, return to the wagon, turn around, and with a grin on his face say, “You thought I forgot you.” He’d take a chisel, chip off a sliver of ice and hand it to me from his wet, gloved hand, pat me on the head again, and say, “See you soon, Annie Oakley!”
Annie Oakley was a famous sharp shooter and braver than any cowboy. When night came I wasn’t so brave. I’d take off my cowgirl outfit, slip into my footie pajamas, brush my teeth, and say my bedtime prayer, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.” My parents would tuck me in and each give me a kiss good night. They’d hand me my friend, a terry cloth sleeping baby with a plastic molded face, golden curls gracing her forehead and her eyes painted shut with long lashes, her cheeks rosy and lips pink. She was a huggable, mute friend but she couldn’t protect me from the demon that inhabited my bedroom.
I had my own room, baby sister Roz was in the nursery next to mine and Mom and Dad’s room was across the hall. They usually slept with their door closed, well almost closed. I could see a crack of light or hear hushed voices, sometimes even laughter or arguments. They left the door opened a little so they could hear if Roz woke up. I was a “big girl” and supposed to stay in bed. I had a “big girl” bed, metal -framed, painted baby blue, with a grey-striped mattress resting on squeaky, rusted coil springs that sagged in the middle and made sounds whenever I moved or rolled over. Mom embroidered a pillowcase with my name on it, Linda Lee, where my head rested when I finally fell asleep.
Some nights falling asleep was not easy. I’d lie on my back, hug my sleeping friend and stare ahead at the foot of the bed, wide awake. I was afraid to close my eyes and sleep like the soft friend in my arms. There across from the foot of my bed was a bureau and on top of the bureau stood the demon that terrorized me.
My bedroom had a single window and angled ceilings. Though sheer white curtains covered the window, the moonlight and streetlamp shone brightly through. Beams of light bounced on the ceiling and walls landing straight on the demon’s face reflecting back at me from her evil eyes. Eyes, that would roll back into her head with black lashes that resembled the bristles on my hair brush. Her expression never changed. She stared, both emotionless and motionless at me. I too was afraid to move.
Her feet dressed in black patent leather shoes were planted firmly on a wooden base. Her auburn hair, deep burgundy like wine, or the devil himself, cascaded down past her shoulders. She was supported by a clear plastic pole which ran up her spine with a curved collar that supported her neck. She wore a veil, pulled away from her face, revealing pearl earrings and necklace, too much rouge painted her porcelain cheeks like a clown’s face, and her lips were blood red. She continued to stare at me, never breaking her gaze. I was frozen in place, unable to speak.
I’d watch the evil apparition every night until I repeated my bedtime prayer and fell asleep, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless Mommy, Daddy, baby Roz and the black cat that lives in the basement and doesn’t have a name, Amen!”
One day, while wearing my cowgirl outfit and feeling both brave and full of myself, I asked mother if she also saw that evil figure in my bedroom and if my mom knew where it came from. “Oh honey, your Godmother, Aunt Cookie gave you that bride doll when you were baptized.” “What’s a bride, mom?” My mother, holding my hands and looking lovingly in my eyes said, “Some day when you grow up and meet the right boy, you’ll want to be with him forever, just like mommy and daddy, you’ll wear a white dress and veil, get married and become, first a bride, then a wife.” I pulled my hands away, placed them on the ivory handles of my six shooters, stamped my cowboy boots on the floor and with a look of fierce determination replied, “I’m never going to be a bride. I’m never going to get married. I’m going to get a horse and ride into the sunset.” I smiled, kissed my mother on the cheek and asked if I could go outside and play. The bride doll never kept me awake again.
With the repeal of DOMA, and my rights protected by Federal law for a same gender marriage, I might reconsider becoming a bride again if I met the right sidekick, a woman and an equal partner. I might even wear a cowgirl outfit with a white hat.