When I was a youngster at Sarah Smith Elementary School in Buckhead the old people were always asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. If I said I wanted to be a lawyer, they would smile approvingly. I liked those approving smiles, who wouldn’t? But it was a lie told to the old by the young. In my heart I knew what I wanted to be.
I wanted to be a cowboy.
Of course, later I became worn down and properly civilized. I learned to fit into the mold and buried such foolish thoughts. By 9th grade at Dykes High School over on Jett Rd. I even told myself I wanted to be a lawyer. I never became a lawyer, but I might as well have. I built a career based on regulatory compliance, whatever that is. Now I wonder if it is too late to ride the open range, where the deer and the antelope play.
Lately I’ve been mulling over the possibility of going back to a time before the golden cage descended with its shadowy bars of self-doubt. Can one go back to their original and pure path? Can I still find my North Star? Maybe it is too late in this rocky old world, but I believe there is a place where I can return to the fork in the road and choose another path. In dreams. In dreams I can seek the clear trail and life full and robust in the open air.
In my dreams I rise anew, at first light, strap on my weathered chaps, mount my chestnut mare, and ride out across the prairie in search of my fellow buckaroos. Marvin, Mark, Jack, Cliffe, Dave, Keith, Glenn, Tom, Bert, Dudley, Blair and all the other buckskins of my youth. It is a long and weary road back to the Buckhead of long ago but press on I must.
Up ahead I see the neon lights of Robinson’s Tropical Gardens where I plan to catch the ferry across the Chattahoochee River at West Paces. Further along I pass Paces Valley where the earth shook in the ivy fields long ago. By late morning I reach Jim Sallee’s Record Shop and look for Mark, but he has gone, whereabouts unknown. “Long gone” Lou Glover tells me. Maybe I am too late. Too late for Mark, but maybe not the others.
Through the valley of Buckhead I ride. The Capri Theatre, the Vox Shop, and the former Klan stronghold, the Cotton Exchange Building. There is the Barber School and Ida Williams library where I pretended to study during my high school days. Heading north on Roswell Road I finally reach Powers Ferry.
The Pot O’ Gold comes into view and I throw back a shot of Co-Cola to clear the trail dust from my parched throat. Then it is on to Bell’s 5 & 10 to pick up Marvin who has been waiting on my arrival in the back alley for decades. Crossing Roswell Road we flash the secret hand signal to Cliffe who is working at the laundromat. He has also been waiting and is soon mounted and ready to go.
The Sardis United Methodist Church still stands but I know developers wait in the shadows to get their hands on that prime property. Three abreast we ride down the road with Chastain Park on our right. Here is where we ran and sweated fifty years ago on those cross-country trials for our coach. Then onward splashing through Nancy Creek where we found all those minnie balls from the Battle of Atlanta. Over a ways is the golf course where we would go at night to fish for bass in the ponds.
We make camp and spread our bedrolls down in the heart of Chastain Park, in the hidden glade by the Witch’s Cave. From there we send out for the others, those that have been waiting for a sign for all these years. Waiting for the signal to ride. As they drift in we gather by the fire until all are accounted for and at last we are together again.
Now we gather close, my buckhorn brothers. Finally assembled with all those who can be found and are willing to strike out. Ready to ride.
We take the night road north out of Buckhead. Leaving at dark we hope to avoid the sentries that might seek to block our way. We take the dark trail. The midnight road. All we desire is the open range, shadows on the cliff at sundown, and the starlit desert.
We seek nothing but the trail and to abandon worry and all thoughts of tomorrow for the bridle, the lariat, and the lasso. Throughout the next day we ride until the sun hangs low and the wind picks up. Do we spread our blankets and camp along the high lonesome plateau or down along the cottonwoods by the river? With a saddlebag for a pillow the fire burns low and we dream of soft beds back in Buckhead. The wind blows cold from the plateau as the first star appears.
Where do we go? We go everywhere and nowhere. The trail becomes the destination and we seek but one thing, a world where the grass is still high, fences have not appeared, and the buffalo still roam. Will they be waiting for us at the end of the trail or will they have moved on beyond yonder stream or distant ridge?
When our ponies grow weary, and can no longer carry us, where will we go? Can we ford the stream to the field where there is no pain or aging? Is that where the great flocks of passenger pigeons and the herds of buffalo have gone? Have they all crossed before us and are now waiting on the other side?
Let me be back in the saddle again. All I ask is a faithful pony and friends to ride beside me. Give me cowboy poems and rushing rivers, the bluebird in the sage, and buffalo in the mist. Wherever the trail leads may it end on a high vista with a view of the hidden valley where all colors merge into white.
Author, Buckhead Tales