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Yippy ti yi yei git along little dogies, it’s your misfortune and none of my own.
Yippy ti yi yei git along little dogies, you know that Wyoming will be your new home. –Traditional
Our mother insisted on dressing us alike, twin-like, except even though I was the older sibling, I often wore Susan’s hand-me-downs 6 to 8 months after she put some life into them. Pants were a problem for me because I was leggy, and when I wore Susan’s pants they were high waters and baggy around the seat. To our mother’s sensibilities pants were weekend clothes, play clothes, clothes to bum around in; she wouldn’t hear nor qualify my complaints about needing pants that fit – money didn’t grow on trees. Besides, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school (this rule was set by the school board and upheld vigorously by the administration). The closest we could come to wearing pants to school was on freezing cold mornings worn over tights, under our skirts, and removed in the coatroom before the pledge and weather report.
When mom purchased our cowboy outfits she naturally steered clear of pants and chaps since they weren’t considered feminine – or even offered for girls. She chose western-styled long sleeved shirts and below knee-length skirts with white leather fringe around the bottom hem. The shirt had pearlized snap buttons down the front and on the cuffs, which we could roll up when it got hot. We wore a bandana around our necks Dale Evans-style and topped our outfits off with white straw cowboy hats complete with leather cords that cinched under our chins. We looked smart. Susan and I liked the two tones of sage green the outfit came in since we thought it looked cowboy-chic.
At first our outfits were a little too large; mom bought our play clothes on the large side so that we could grow into them and get longer wear out of them. Our black and red real-leather cowboy boots also ran along the same line as our clothing but we used heavy socks to keep them from slipping. We complimented our total look with our double six-shooter cap guns tucked into leather-tooled holsters. We were a sight to see all rigged out and ready for the trail. We also looked like a Wriggly gum commercial because we were, of course, dressed like twins. We were The Berry Girls; we were champions of good and fighters for cowboy justice.
Most of our play took place outdoors; Susan and I were lucky girls to have a large backyard plus the fields beyond Dad’s garden to play and imagine in. We were often outdoors around 7 hours on fair weather days, including after supper playtime which was governed by sunset and bedtime. Neighborhood kids divided up along lines of good guy/bad guy. Cowboys and Indians swooped, yelled, chased and shot each other with abandon. Dying was an art – first came the reaction to being shot, then the drama of the bloody suffering, withering and flailing about. We would stiffen our limbs, clutch at the wound, and rattle out our last breaths, tongues hanging from our mouths and eyes clamped shut. We had Academy Award acting chops; all of us were professionals by the age of six!
All of us kids dreamed of riding real horses like Roy Rogers but we settled on hobbyhorses made from stuffing, bridle and reins, long pole and little wheel at the ground end. Our horses took hard riding and didn’t buck us off when they saw snakes or were startled by coyotes. They were easily tethered and when stolen by Indians would come back to us when we whistled. Riding in skirts didn’t hinder Susan and I much, we would just hike them up and jump on our ponies and attempt to lasso a stray colt to save the day. Susan asked for a pony every opportunity she got but never realized her dream. We both memorized the horse section of The World Book encyclopedia, workhorse to fancy trotters, tack (we preferred English saddle because we thought that posting looked refined and gentile), currying, and types of grain mixture were all stored in our overactive brains.
On stormy days we ranged through the house like cattle, mooing our discontent at being kept indoors. We raced our trikes around the furnace in the basement, played archeologists in the side attic storage and set up our Barbie passion plays in our bedrooms. We weren’t allowed to watch much television, although we did start our mornings with Capt’n Kangaroo. We were encouraged to get our own breakfast cereal and watch cartoons on Saturday until our parents woke up. On extremely dreary days Susan and I watched The Lone Ranger, Wagon Train and Roy Rogers for hours. Everything we knew about cowboys and the Wild West we learned from these TV shows. It was serious business watching Roy and Dale round up the bad guys. We paid particular attention to the way Roy spun his 6-shooter before he holstered his gun neatly and rode off on Trigger into the sunset. I practiced this maneuver for hours while Susan memorized the story plotlines so that we could reenact our favorite episodes. This kept us busy and out of our mother’s hair. Our daily afternoon cool-down periods were spent listening to Uncle John’s stories or acting in ‘voice plays,’ as we called them.
Uncle John had an exceptional imagination and didn’t mind participating in our voice plays for hours – we could actually visualize our plays; they seemed so real! Many plays went on for days like chapters or installments and we even had do-overs to correct actor mistakes. Sometimes we all got into noisy quarrels about what a character might or might not do – Uncle John always favored shooting first and asking questions later. Susan was a soft touch and wanted happy endings. I wanted the Indians to win, or at least to get away without getting captured and brought to church. Our plays were not bound by daylight; we extended them without Uncle John, long into our evenings tucked into our twin beds yakking away. Susan was usually the director and I handled the set design, costumes and sound effects. What set, you may ask, and weren’t we in our pajamas, in bed? Weren’t our plays verbal and required nothing more than air and voice? Yes. But we had to know about our surroundings, who our characters were and what they looked like and what they wore, and if they rode a palomino or a piebald prone to biting. We were tired girls most mornings due to our late night thespian activities.
Susan didn’t want to stop when she was on a creative roll, ideas and plot themes with twists and turns would excite her to new heights. As the night grew long I would start dropping hints that I was too sleepy to continue. Then I would miss my cues and take longer and longer to say my lines. “Are you still awake?” Susan would ask, waking me up for scenes until we agreed to quit for the night. There were many nights that I faked sleep to get some rest for the next day, otherwise Susan would go on and on later and later past ten o’clock toward midnight.
We never lacked material; we incorporated stories such as To Kill a Mockingbird and snippets of the news into our plays. Very often we had to handle multiple roles and remember previous lines and relationships. Some times I was happy when one of my characters was killed off because I had less to remember! When we started a play we would review all of the characters and choose the ones we wanted to act out. I specialized in Indians and won a lot of the skirmishes with the wagon train foremen, and cowboys. It really bothered me that the Indians were so mistreated on TV; if I had been captured I would have been happy to join the tribe. Our twin beds became buckboards as we sat on the footboard end and lashed the team of horses into lather. We would hang over the sides of our beds to simulate space as astronauts in JFK’s new space program. Our world knew no limits as our imaginations soared.
The only lulls, or hiatuses, that we had were when we quarreled and these fights were few and didn’t last long. Since I was the oldest I commanded a high amount of respect as well as total loyalty from Susan; I had been around twice as long, knew the way of the world and experienced the delicate handling of our mother far better than she. If I told my sister to jump I didn’t want her to question and think for herself – which sounds a bit grand for a little girl – but at her birth my mother had promised that I would have a sister to play with for life. When Susan crossed me and had the courage to speak up, I ordered her out of my room and no amount of tears and begging would sway me from my judgment. “I’ll never play with you again, you don’t exist,” I’d yell, crushing Susan’s fragile spirit to the size of a nut. She would cry and whimper and truly believe that I would never relent. Poor Susan would drag her twin bed across the hall into her own bedroom leaving me the cold-hearted luxury of space and quiet. This would last until I missed her and allowed her back into my good graces.
Our parents managed to save enough to pay for horseback riding lesson by the hour, and oh! Susan and I were in 7th heaven! Picture this: two Maine city girls dressed in jeans, loafers and maroon benchwarmer jackets attempting to mount horses and stay on once up! We learned to keep our heels down in the stirrups, how to hold the reins and not tug at the bit. We learned the proper way to post and the various walking and running speeds of our trusty mounts. We could mount and dismount without help and could adjust the saddle by elbowing the horse’s gut to release air so that the saddle could be cinched tight and not roll. We learned all of this in lessons that we took more pains to study than our (of at least my) schoolwork.
And we were able to put all of our learning to good use when as young teens we were asked if we could exercise a neighbor’s old horse during the summer months. Could we? We rode bareback in fields high with timothy, weeds, clover, and lots of bees. We rode without any adult supervision and did things that would have frightened our mother putting and end to our riding forever. Ol’ Sam put up with our torture because he knew we would spoil him with deep currying, carrots and molasses mixed into his feed. He so looked forward to getting back to his stall that we had to be extra vigilant to hold him to our demands and not give in to his stubborn willfulness. Sam won most of these battles because he was bigger than us but the only rest he ever got was when it rained, so you could say we won because he hardly got to rest for more than a handful of days during those hot, lazy summers. We mucked out Sam’s stall, cleaned his tack, wore hand-me-down rubber riding boots and old straw hats to shade our faces, we smelled of horse cakes and sweat. We were the happiest we’d ever been in our lives because we were farmhands, like in our dreams, and nothing could have been sweeter! Even getting bitten by horses didn’t deter us, or being chased by a nasty bull wouldn’t keep us out of the cow pastures – life was sublime.
YIPPIE KI YEA
You’re a tired little cowboy your eyes are half closed, Let’s put those six guns away, You’ve been ridin’ all day yippie ki yea
That old stick horse you’re ridin’ is plumb tuckered out, But he stayed with you all the way, Let’s give him some hay yippie ki yea
Put your head on the pillow and dream for a while, Bout heroes and desperate men, That ornery old outlaw’s done broke out of jail, But tomorrow you’ll put him back in, Sweet dreams little cowboy I hope you sleep well
I’ve just got one thing left to say, You sure make daddy’s day yippie ki yea, You sure make daddy’s day yippie ki yea
Charlie Daniels © ’97 SSongs Of Universal, BMI / Uneasy Writer Music, BMI
21 March 2010 KBP