“Are you a real cowboy?” A young boy in our small grocery store asked when he noticed a man wearing a cowboy hat, boots and jeans head toward the dairy section.
“Yes, I am,” the man replied, smiling at the two young brothers hanging on to their mother’s cart before continuing with his errand.
The boy turned to his younger brother to confirm it with the 3-year-old. “He’s a real cowboy,” he whispered in his ear.
A real cowboy. Just walking around, buying milk. Who would have thought?
And he was probably someone I know — so many of the ranchers are connected out here — but I only heard this story secondhand. My friend called me specifically to tell me. To remind me that we have something unique out here. Something special. Real cowboys. At our grocery store.
Of course I’ve seen the phenomenon the cowboy hat creates in certain environments. I’ve been there, in a sea of people in the big town, heads floating, trying to find my dad or my husband, easy to spot. The only cowboy hat in the crowd.
Or the time my husband was holding my purse in the bar in one of those big towns, waiting patiently for me to quit talking, or get done in the restroom, or order a drink, or get going already, and a random guy seemed to be offended somehow, by the hat and satchel combo. “Nice purse!” he said, his face a little too close to the cowboy. “Thanks,” my husband calmly replied, baffling the man looking for a fight.
The situation didn’t line up. So he said it again, a little closer the second time, with the same reaction, and again, a little louder until I finally came for the purse and the cowboy and off we went, my husband no worse for the wear.
When you wear the hat properly, it seems you carry the legend of the cowboy with you. And by properly, I mean proudly, with the story to back it. Some with the years of weather showing on their face, some fresh and ready to take on the world, shoulders back, shirt pressed, boots properly broken in. To wear a hat takes the appropriate type of confidence.
A few weeks ago, it was farm week at my daughters’ day care. Every day the students get introduced to a different animal — there are wagon rides, dummy roping, pigs and goats, bottle calves and horses, the whole deal. And so we got a note telling us to dress our children appropriately, which meant to us jeans, snap shirt, belt and, of course, a hat.
My oldest daughter, Edie, who is 5, is starting to realize there are uncertainties and discomforts of the world, like worry and embarrassment. So she was wondering if anyone else was going to be wearing their cowboy hats that day. She didn’t want to be the only one.
“Of course!” I declared. “It’s farm week. There will be lots of cowboys and cowgirls dressed up.” And so she went with it, with her sister beside her in a matching outfit, both ready to fully be the ranch kids they are. In town.
But before we even opened the door to Edie’s classroom, I knew I’d made an error. Not a hat in sight. Not even a boot. She looked down at the ground, her hands shyly at her side and slowly walked in. My heart sank for her. I didn’t want her to be embarrassed.
Isn’t she too young to be embarrassed?! Too little to be worried about what other people think? I wanted her to own it. To be proud. To be a cowgirl out loud if she wants to!
And then a little boy looked up at us from his toy trucks and declared, “It’s Edie! Edie’s a real cowboy!” And that was that, just what she needed. She was a legend all day.
And aren’t we lucky here, to have these cowboys just walking around, buying milk and holding purses, riding horses and learning letters. Aren’t we lucky?