As an eleven-year-old living in Southern California I had idealized my previous rural life outside of Conway even though at the time of that first Arkansas stint I had felt the daily chores at our chicken farm were hard and certainly extraordinary compared to the perceived leisure of townie friends. So, I was pleased when my parents let us 3 children know we would be moving to a small, chicken-free acreage also near Conway. To me that meant that we might finally be able to own a horse! My 2 sisters shared this idea although probably not with the same enthusiasm.
It was some weeks after we settled into our new Arkansas digs that my parents responded to an ad for the gelding named Tex that was to be our shared mount. Now, Tex’s owner had been the local riding stable and it soon became obvious why he wasn’t suitable for that employment. Tex had an independent streak: he didn’t much like the bit, he would expand out his chest to prevent us from safely cinching down the saddle and he usually registered some horsey objections as we led him out of the barn lot.
One of our common routes was a circuit of the 4 roads that bounded the square mile section. For the first half of the trip his pace was slow and plodding but by the time we rounded the last corner he saw himself as a race horse-- his gate changed to a smooth gallop and I’d have to duck as he came roaring through the barn door!
Autodidact is a fancy sounding way of defining a person too dumb or self-assured to take instructions from experts. That describes my horsemanship and may even explain my inability years later to finish graduate school. But I learned to ride and that was to figure into my future job promotion.
The years advanced. I left Arkansas and attended college. Tex found a home with the Satterfields. The usual number of triumphs and disappointments ensued.
In 1971 I returned to Arkansas with my future bride and the energy of a 25 year old. I quickly secured a day job with Thomas Thomas converting a ramshackle house into the Spring Gallery. Although the generous wage of $2 per hour supported our meager lifestyle the lure of the spotlight beckoned and I soon found nighttime employment in the cast of The Great Passion Play. Although initially cast as part of the rabble, my innate thespian nature must have revealed itself and I soon found myself seated at the Last Supper as the Apostle Andrew.
I was a natural probably because the duties were simple: mouth a couple of lines that were actually recordings and do so in the purple robe that had to be found in time for the scene. Although the pay remained a few bucks a night, my prestige swelled. I was a young actor on the move.
And so it came to pass that my big break arrived the night one of the Clark boys was indisposed. “Anybody ride a horse?” the casting guy asked. “Why yes I do!” I replied, all full of confidence and ambition. This was The Great Passion Play. Who knew to what heights my career might rise? In fact, being the Resurrection story, even the sky was not the limit!
I should caution you before I go further that this is not like the under-study goes on and becomes the lead or Lana Turner discovered at Schwaabs. No, if you are hoping for that sort of resolution, this might be a good time to go to the fridge for a beer. For, alas, I was of the persuasion that my neighbors liked to call “hippie.” And , although we were referred to as “counter-culture,” there were actually a few cultural directives, though not mandatory, strongly recommended.
Now, we all know the hippie chicks went bra-less. The lesser-known corollary is that the guys eschewed underwear.
It’s not too important to have shorts beneath that purple, floor-length robe nor, for that matter, under your standard equestrian garb. However, a Roman Soldier is suited up in the cutest little white pleated skirt!
I started to see how my career might unravel in the dressing room, but nobody noticed. When I mounted my horse I knew I’d be “discovered,” but everybody was minding his own business. As we loped to the gates of Jerusalem I was starting to feel more confident that my secret might not be revealed.
But that was not to be. We were the main event: 4 angry Roman soldiers on 4 huge white horses and we stormed the plaza, both hands on the reins, running full out! And, yes, those cute little skirts were flapping like crazy and blowing in the wind we created.
I don’t know what the audience may have seen. There were no gasps audible over the thundering hooves. No matrons swooned as far as I could tell.
Although I lived in hope of advancing my career, I never got a part any better than the Apostle Andrew. But, living in the hope of another opportunity and shortly after my memorable ride, I took a portion of my pay to Carr’s Dry Goods and purchased a 3-pack of what are commonly referred to as “jockey shorts.”