I thoroughly enjoyed writing Gold Digger Among Us, the story of a cattle rancher who faces his share of challenges on the twenty thousand acre Tanner Ranch. From a punishing drought and fiery family drama to the unexpected return of a long-lost love back to stake her claim, Dade Tanner takes on all comers.
And speaking of cowboys, westerns and such, my spouse, Michael, was my writing resource for most things bovine and equine. An outstanding cattleman and horseman and accomplished gymkhana competitor, he was once featured in Canadian Cowboy Country magazine. He was an important part of my storytelling, and not surprisingly we also shared a love of a good western adventure. That includes Gunsmoke, arguably the greatest western of them all.
I must confess I had some serious catching up to do because for some reason I never watched Gunsmoke in its heyday, although I certainly remember it. I do recall once in passing seeing a tall man standing outside a saloon talking to a pretty painted lady with a beauty mark on her cheek, but that was it. Nevertheless I was aware of the Matt and Kitty mystique, the were they or weren’t they (an item), along with the “Get Out of Dodge” warning that became part of the popular vernacular. I even used it a few times myself.
Fast forward to 2022 when I was trying to come up with a gift idea for Michael and thought perhaps he might like to watch some of the old Gunsmoke shows. I believe I chose season four, volume two, at random. Well, he did like becoming reacquainted with the series, and it wasn’t long before I was ordering season four, volume one, and then another season and then another, eventually purchasing the 65th anniversary collection of the complete series. I was hooked too, buying into the whole Matt and Kitty thing! Watching like a hawk for any little gesture or knowing glance between them that might reveal they were more than just friends, and we found plenty of delightfully incriminating subtleties. I was the newbie and Michael had never really watched it in that way, so we had some fun with it. It was also great to see the parade of familiar faces guesting on the show: Bette Davis, John Drew Barrymore, Ed Asner, Charles Bronson, Gary Busey, David Carradine, Angie Dickinson, Richard Dreyfuss, Sam Elliott, Harrison Ford, Ron Howard, Leslie Nielsen, Leonard Nimoy, Jodie Foster, Nick Nolte, William Shatner, Jon Voight, Aaron Spelling, Robert Urich and Forrest Tucker, among dozens of others – many appearing more than once.
I adored the regular cast and didn’t take it well at all when Chester left for greener pastures after season nine. I may have even threatened to stop watching, although Festus, his replacement, eventually won me over.
And here’s an interesting aside. Did you know James Arness (Matt Dillon) stood 6’ 7” tall (6’ 9” in his boots) and was a natural blonde? Producers wanted his hair dyed black with the rationale that he’d be taken more seriously in his role as a US Marshall.
In any event onward Michael and I continued with our journey back in time through twenty years of Gunsmoke and we enjoyed watching it together. And then early one morning my world turned upside down when Michael died unexpectedly, apparently from a massive heart attack. There are no words to adequately describe finding his body, too late to revive him. Straight up, it was a nightmare, only there was no waking up from this one. He was torn from my life without a good-bye, or even one more I love you. Taken away for a mandatory autopsy because of his sudden death at home, we didn’t see him again until four days later at his funeral.
So many tears.
On my own again, the silence that filled my days and nights was all-consuming, deafening; overwhelming. It was like I was underwater, sucked into a terrible vortex, struggling to find which way was up. I ached for something familiar, something from my life prior to losing Michael; something that didn’t feel permanently altered. Anything that would bring even the tiniest measure of comfort. Sitting in the dark late that first night and in such agony, I reached for the remote and switched on Gunsmoke. I was so sad, tears streaming down my face, but maybe for an hour or two not so alone.
In the days that followed, that old classic western became my touchstone because when I pressed the play button and Gunsmoke came alive on the screen I was surrounded with familiar voices; family, as I escaped back to Kansas of the 1800’s. As the weeks passed I watched the rest of the four remaining seasons. There was no one to share it with anymore, or laugh at some of Festus’ comical quips, like: “I’m so mad I could smoke a pickle”, and by this time it was obvious that Matt and Kitty were indeed a couple, all attempts at platonic pretense sensibly abandoned. Whatever, I was among friends and fictitious as they may have been, they helped me lose myself in their stories night after night.
I still watch Gunsmoke from time to time, my favourite episodes, as I continue to heal from this dreadful loss. Who knew when our little nostalgic adventure began a few weeks before, how it would end – how anything in our lives will end I suppose, or when. I’m guessing it’s better sometimes that we don’t know. We are never prepared for the unexpected, but then is there any good way to lose someone you love? It would be a different kind of a nightmare to watch your loved one slowly slip away week after week, struggling to accept that they will soon be gone and you’ll be left behind to carry on without them. We’ve all been touched by loss in one way or another, and there is no easy way in any of it. There’s just the good-bye, and there is never a good time to say it, knowing it will be forever.
Saying goodby is difficult but take time to remember the good times and the happy ones. Sending you healing thoughtsReplyDelete
When we are grief-stricken, we clutch onto whatever might offer a moment of peace... A bitter-sweet story., Linda. beautifully written.ReplyDelete
Thank you for this heartfelt, wonderful piece, Linda. Holding you in my heart.ReplyDelete
Thanks for sharing, Linda. Positive thoughts and hugs.ReplyDelete
Beautifully written. Thanks for opening your heart and sharing :)ReplyDelete