Growing up, you could always count on two things, Friday night was meatloaf and on Monday night the world stopped revolving in the twentieth century because at 8 p.m. Gunsmoke was on. As a child, I watched it but not with the intent scrutiny of my parents. My dad watched it probably for Miss Kitty. My mom watched it for James Arness.
He wasn't a strikingly handsome actor like Clark Gable or Montgomery Cliff but his well worn face and honest expressions reminded us of our own humanity. He had a commanding impression on our small black and white T.V. and gave a good delivery of his lines that made us all believe in everything he said. I think everyone practiced the fast draw that was on the opening five seconds of the show. In fact, it was that opening scene that attracted so many of the ladies that lived in our little horseshoe. Yes, those paragons of virtue would sit around and wait for it. His pants legs first, as he moved down the street to meet the bad guys. Slowly he filled the screen. You waited while he removed the safety. His fingers spread out, wide just beyond the handle of his .45 and you held your breath as the music swelled. All the while praying that just once the heavy would lay down his weapon and go peacefully. Yeah, that's what WE thought we saw.
I think I was in my twenties with babies on the way and we were watching an episode of How the West was Won when my mother came clean. Yes, all those years I thought she was sitting peacefully beside my dad, indulging his fantasy and mine of winning the west, only to find out, the ladies were watching how round Matt Dillion's rear end was. Come Tuesday morning, when they all got together for coffee, they would lower their voices and chuckle over how it excited them. I couldn't help but laugh when she told me. The image of all those ladies fanning themselves, drinking coffee, indulging on cinnamon coffee cake discussing another man's buns still makes me laugh.
So today, when I heard of Mr. Arness' passing, I thought about those ladies I grew up with. Only two are left, but I have to wonder when they get together on Tuesday, will they discuss those days of yester- year when they watched television on Monday night's to get an eyeful of one cowboys trouser seats.
Mr. Arness, you will be missed. I think Toby Keith said it best in the lyrics of his song, I should've been a Cowboy,
"I bet you've never heard ole Marshall Dillion say
Miss Kitty have you ever thought of running away
Settling down will you marry me
If I asked you twice and begged you pretty please
She'd of said Yes in a New York minute
They never tied the knot
His heart wasn't in it
He stole a kiss as he road away
He never hung his hat up at Kitty's place"
The range you ride now, sir, is different. You may not have hung your hat up in Kitty's place, but you will be forever remembered as the sheriff of Dodge City. Thank you for 20 memorable years and a lifetime of dreams.