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Spaghetti Westerns

Every Sunday, for more Sundays than I can recall, my parents would stuff my siblings and I into the back of their economy car and drive us over to my grandparents house for dinner.

With the smell of pot roast lingering in the air, my mom and grandma's laughter would bounce off the old linoleum floors while my grandpa and my dad hunkered down on velvet furniture in the living room, watching whatever western they could find on the television. My siblings and I would be sprawled on the carpet, with our chin in our hands, eyes glued to the screen.

I've watched every episode of Gunsmoke and Bonanza as well as every movie the Duke ever made. And then I've watched more.

Spaghetti westerns helped shape me into the person I am today. 

That sentence explains everything that is wrong with me. And everything that is right.

When I was 14 years old I painted a ceramic bust of John Wayne's head and built a shrine around it.

When I was 15 years old I asked for (and received) a giant framed poster of John Wayne's head to add to my shrine.

When I was 16 years old I secretly hoped some tall cowboy would stride into my school and call me 'little lady.' 

He did and so I married him a few years later.

And when I was 21 I tried to convince that cowboy that we should name our son Marion. Or Duke. Or Festus. Just for fun. 

It was then I learned about the invisible line between cute and creepy. Interested and obsessed. Apparently I crossed it. Or so I was told.

You dodged a bullet, Nash. Be grateful.

It's funny the things that fill your mind, the memories that come racing back, in the small hours of the night, when the world is dark and you are supposed to be sleeping.

Instead, wide awake, you alternate between trying to smother your head between two pillows and cursing the one thing keeping you awake and evoking all these memories:

The dog asleep beside your bed, snug as a bug inside his metal crate. 

My devil dog. I should have named him 'Pilgrim.'

It's not his panting or his occasional sleepy yips that keeps me awake. It's not the rhythmic huff of his giant beastie breathing or how he gets up, walks a few circles and then flops down so hard the world shakes. None of that keeps me awake. In fact, those are the things that chase away my demons and keep my nightmares at bay by reminding me I'm not alone.


It's the sound of his nails, rattling against his crate bars. 

It's the same sound of some Hollywood cowboy clanging his tin cup against the one-room jailhouse bars. 

Every night I'm trapped in a Spaghetti western.

One where there are no cute cowboys named Duke. Not a Festus in sight. There is no pot roast in the oven, no velvet furniture, no television with rabbit ears on top and the tingle of my grandmother's laugh echoes only in the memories of those who loved her. 

And still, every night, as Abbott rattles his bars, I lay awake, remembering those lazy Sunday evenings. I'm kept awake by the reruns of my life; remembering instead of sleeping.

And every morning as I pull myself from bed, exhausted and sleep deprived, I'm torn between smothering my dog with a pillow and smothering him with gratitude for reminding me of how much those spaghetti westerns mean to me.

One thing is certain, as I stumble to the kitchen to try and wake myself up with a jolt of coffee. I've got one John Wayne impression perfected:

Don't say it's a fine morning or I'll shoot ya! 

It's a hidden talent. Blame it on the Duke and my damn dog.

Reader Comments (16)

HA Festus, My brain totally went to a Sunday Morning. I keep thinking of Matt Dylan? in Gunsmoke!

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkyooty

I cannot remotely relate. I have never seen a movie with "the Duke" in it. I've never seen a speg western or a shepard's pie one either, for that matter. I have never seen Gunsmoke, Bonanza or Big Valley.

Holy shit. THAT is probably what is wrong with me.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRae Ann

A shrine to John Wayne beats a shrine to the New Kids on the Block any day... and I'm fairly certain that's who most of my girlfriends were building shrines to when we were about 14 no? Or was that 12? hmm. I seem to have blocked it out for my own sanity. For this I am thankful.

At my grandparents house we used to watch movies like The Sound Of Music and Mary Poppins endlessly. And then my aunt and mother would sing. Loudly. My grandpa would fall asleep on the couch out of self-preservation I'm sure.

Clearly there was far too much estrogen in my family.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTarasview

Where did you get the devil dog artwork??
That completely encompasses my dog in a nutshell!!
Please share!!!

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

I didn't watch John Wayne movies growing up or spagetti westerns, but I was born in a town called Festus(really how horrible is it to be born somewhere that sound like something that bursts forth from a puss filled zit?)..and I did grow up watching all of the Abbott and Costello meet the monster movies, and all of the old black and white monster movies too on Saturday afternoons with my Dad. He would pop popcorn on the stove and pour melted butter over it and we would watch old black and white monster movies. Sometimes it was Jimmy Cagney musicals or mobster movies. Event movies in our home happened every year: The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind..family around the TV and Daddy's popcorn. Question...why not let the dog sleep with you?

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commentertressyjo

Maybe I'm reading this wrong and what you're saying is he rolls around and hits the sides of his crate with his nails, because otherwise, why can't you put down a thick pad or blanket on the bottom so they don't make noise?

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterterlee

Great new look!Love the design, especially the follow.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGrown and Flown

Festus would have been a totally cool name. You`re so funny!


February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJess

When I was 13 years old in Hawaii I met John Wayne and took a photo of him. He was rip roaring drunk and a bit wobbly but he gladly obliged to let me snap his photo.

I miss the old header on your blog...my husband thought that was cool- and he never comments on the crap I read...so be impressed :)

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterM

haha I watched Gunsmoke every Sunday too. Oh the things we put up with for our pets!! Hope Abbott doesn't snore as well.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMartina

I think I watched every single Bonanza ever filmed at my grandmother's house. I had a huge crush on Little Joe. Thanks for reminding me of those times.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKatherine Stone

Let that doggy out of his crate and into your bed. That'll solve all your sleep problems (ha!). Or, at least you'd have a gigantic snuggle buddy.

February 27, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJill Dettman

Everytime i read 'Festus' I see 'Fetus'. So glad you didn't name your first born 'Fetus'.

March 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

My son is Gus. Augustus. After Gus McCrae of Lonesome Dove. Better than Newt. Or Festus.

March 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTheOtherSarah

Me and my bestie were just talking about how good old tv was! Carol Burnett, HeeHaw, ect. Every Sunday disney had a Movie on that's what we usually watched. I love remembering those simple times. That's funny that you had a crush (were obsessed with the Duke)heehee!
I didn't crush on actors but, I've had a crush on Steven Tyler from Aerosmith since forever! haha!! To some that is just as funny. You either think he's hot as hell or you think he's ugly! I happen to be in with the 1st crowd. haha!!

March 14, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRhonda B

Augustus McCrae! I have a giant framed picture of him on my wall!

Now Tanis, I must now administer a lecture. The Duke's movies were NOT spaghetti westerns, and he is currently spinning in his grave that you've implied this. The spaghettis came later, with Clint Eastwood and others. You can't film John Wayne in front of Monument Valley from Italy, baby! Which is not a slam on the spaghettis; they're fun, too. But John Ford is spinning in HIS respective grave, too.

Now, which is your favorite John Wayne? I admit I've not seen them all, but of the ones I have, my faves are Stagecoach, The Searchers, True Grit (yeah, I know, but he is so great), and The Quiet Man.

March 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterpq
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