I was three years old when I officially became a cowboy. I’m not joking. I had a pair of aluminum six-shooters and a horse head on a broomstick to prove it.
I would ride through fields, straddling my horsey-stick, smacking my hindparts and shouting, “Giddyup, Trigger!”
Also, though you might not know this—and I don’t mean to brag—I have saved the world on three separate occasions. And I was also the best man at Tonto’s second wedding.
Sure, I dabbled in other professions like, for instance, the second grade. But no other calling suited me. I was meant to be a modern day drifter. And you can’t change who you are.
Some are born to be doctors and lawyers and such. Others are born Roy Rogers.
When I turned seven, I was at the height of my cowboy career. I’d just done a stint as a lawman in Dodge, with Marshal Matt Dillon and Chester Goode. Then, I was offered a job working with my hero, Roy Rogers.
He’d just fired Dale, his previous sidekick. Roy admitted to me that he was getting tired of Dale always nagging him to take out the recycle bin.
So you see, I had big plans. I was going to ride all over creation with Roy, shoot bad guys, strum songs, and be in charge of Trigger’s gluten-free diet. It was going to be great.
But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
One day, while I was riding the lonesome trail, Miss Anne called me to the hacienda for cheese sandwiches and apple juice—Miss Anne was my babysitter.
“Come on, Sean!” she called. “Something big has just happened!”
The next thing I knew, I was in a hospital, in a maternity ward, and I was holding an infant. A real live baby girl.
Cowboys, you’ll note, don’t know much about newborns. Not unless we’re talking about horses. Certainly, I’d aided in the births of many foals out on the ranch. Tens of thousands, actually. But this was different.
This baby was the smallest thing I’d ever seen. And when she first wrapped her hand around my index finger, she changed my life forever.
In that hospital room, I removed my gun belt and took her against my chest. And though I bore the grizzled face of a vigilante, hardened from a ravaged world of dust and villains, I was reduced into a lump of sugar.
This girl needed me. How could something so small survive in a dangerous universe if she didn’t have a capable boy to help her?
My mother looked to me with exhausted eyes. “This is your baby sister,” she said. “It’s your job is to protect her.”
And that’s when I retired. I hung up my spurs and became a civilian. I told Roy I would be taking another gig. I would become a brother and a friend.
Over the years, the baby grew considerably bigger. She turned into a girl. She could run faster, jump farther, yell louder, and arm wrestle better than any cowboy I ever knew.
She was the pride of our family. Our most beautiful person, and the smartest.
When our father died, our world became dark, but it only made us closer. And during the worst season of my existence, she was my friend. I’d like to think I was hers, too.
It wasn’t long before she became a young woman. I had to keep my eye on her. She worked at a fast-food joint in town, and the young bucks would visit by the dozen.
I would wait in her customer line, watching the boys stumble over their words when she looked at them. I marveled at the human being my sister had become.
It all happened so fast. Life, I mean. That’s the way it goes. It begins, then it’s over. You think it’s going to ramble on forever like creekwater, but it doesn’t. It floats away from you like dandelion fuzz.
Soon, the girl had grown from a foal into the image of womanhood. Long, lean, and more confident than I will ever be.
And on the day of her courthouse wedding, when the man with the Bible asked “Who gives this woman away?” it was me who answered: “Her mother and I.”
She went on to soar higher than I ever could. Higher than any member of our family. The once-tiny child, awkward in my arms, with her little hand wrapped around my finger. She made life look as easy as breathing.
As it turns out, she didn’t need me after all. Not really. A girl like her doesn’t need anyone. But if she ever finds that she does, I’ll be here. Because I am her brother. Forever.
I hope Roy Rogers understands.
Happy birthday, Sarah.