GROWING UP WITH ROY AND DALE #15
Three days after Sandy died, I was to report for induction in San Diego. Hoping for an extension, Dad called the draft board and told them about Sandy. Because of the Sullivan Act, I was immediately reclassified 4-A, which is sole surviving son, and I did not serve in the military.
While I was attending Victor Valley High, I didn't have a regular job. Dad's museum attracted visitors daily, and I earned money by selling hand-crafted items in the gift shop. I worked a lot with casting resin. At that time, grape clusters were very popular. I also made trivets and key chains and little apples with Mom and Dad's pictures on them.
That was all right in high school, but I needed a better job. Secretly, what I really wanted to do was act. I finally got up enough courage to talk to Dad about it.
"Dad, there's nothing around here in the way of performing arts classes. The Pasadena Playhouse offers classes, and I'd really like to try my hand at it."
"Dusty, it's a hard, hard life. You've seen what it takes to be an actor. Are you sure this is what you want?"
"I think it is. The trouble is, I haven't been able to earn much money, and I can't afford to go to Pasadena on my own. The lessons are very expensive. Would you be willing to help?"
Dad leaned back in his chair and looked at me intently. "Dusty, I'm not willing to make an investment like that unless you're absolutely sure it's what you want. We could send you on a trial basis to see how you do, but I don't want to make a long-term commitment to it unless you're sure."
The words were there, but I didn't think Dad was hot on the idea, and I never brought it up again. Not long after that, Dad heard about a tool and die company in Los Angeles that was hiring, so I went down and took a test. Apparently I scored the highest marks they had ever seen, and I was hired immediately. Dad was thrilled.
But I wasn't. I hated it. I loved to be outside, but my job was indoors, stuck in a place that was dark and dank and greasy. I enjoyed being creative, but there was nothing creative about my work. My first job was testing seams on napalm bombs destined for Viet Nam, to make sure they didn't leak.
The more I worked, the more I thought about those bombs. I remembered the terror that had shaken Debbie when we were discussing the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I just couldn't see myself contributing to that. I asked my boss for a different assignment.
To be put into another position, I had to have high security clearance, and when that came, I was put to work grinding little round rings with wings on them. My job was to grind the wings to a very sharp edge. I thought they were bearings for truck parts, until I made a discovery. Those deadly little metal pieces were put inside land mines. When the enemy hit a trip wire, those things came out of the ground about belly level and exploded. The wings wound themselves into the person. Sick at the thought of it, I quit.
Unlike many of my contemporaries, I was no dove. Like my parents, I believed we had a responsibility to be in Viet Nam, but it seemed to us that we were going about it all wrong. So many lives were at stake, I kept wondering why we were messing around. Why didn't we just do the job or get out?
At the same time, I couldn't handle the napalm business, and making weapons that were designed to maim. I was also feeling restless. Even before Sandy died, Dad and I had begun to drift apart. Looking back, I realize now that much of what was happening was the natural process of growing up, getting ready to leave the nest. Part of it was our own private grief. But part of it was a lack of communication.
Although Dad had spent most of his life in front of audiences, entertaining thousands of people at a time, he was—and is—painfully shy. It's difficult for him to express his feelings. The grief of those years compounded that, and our communication level dropped.
"Dad's never here for me anymore, Mom," I said one day.
"Yes, he is, Dusty," she answered. "You two just need to talk to each other, that's all. Just the other day he told me that you're never here for him!"
"Can't you tell him ... "
"Dusty, I'll tell you what I told him. I'm not going to be the interpreter for the two of you. I won't do that. You need to talk to each other."
But it didn't work that way. I told Mom what I was thinking and feeling, and Dad told her, but we didn't tell each other. We had begun to draw conclusions by what we saw and what we thought we heard, instead of talking to each other. I respected him, and he respected me, but it seemed like we were always standing on the outside of the window, looking in.
When I quit working for the tool and die maker, Dad was furious. He never said so, but it seemed to me he was thinking I'd blown my opportunity for a decent future. I'd have done anything to avoid disappointing him, but he was deeply disappointed in me anyway. I couldn't stand that.
Figuring it would blow over if I laid low for awhile, I headed for Ohio to visit friends. Once there, I decided to stay. Only recently did the irony hit me. When he was 18, Dad set out for California from Ohio; I was 19, and doing the same thing in reverse!
In Ohio I went to work for a construction company. We were building homes and factories from the ground up. I learned to run a back hoe, a front-end loader, a skip loader, and a grader. I used a chain saw to clear woods, and I pulled stumps. I laid blocks, framed houses, set shingles, hung drywall, and installed plumbing. While I was learning the construction business, I met the prettiest little blonde girl, who turned out to be my boss's daughter. Linda was barely 5'2", and I was stretching 6'4". My friend Terry White knew her, and he told me she was going to be in the senior class play at the high school.
I asked him if she had a steady boyfriend, and he said no.
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. She's not going with anyone."
"Do you think she'd go out with me?"
So the fool went and asked her, but not before he spread it all over the school. Naturally she said no because I didn't have the guts to ask her myself.
The opening night of the play I sent her two dozen red roses with a note:
I'm sorry Terry and I embarrassed you.
If you ever need a tag-along for a date, I'd be glad to go.
The next thing I knew, she was coming down the hall toward me. She walked up to me, and I leaned down as she stood on her tiptoes and kissed me on the cheek.
"Thank you for the roses!"
I stumbled all over myself, apologizing again, and suddenly a fellow came up and started telling Linda off for two-timing him! He told her he wouldn't take her to the cast party—so I went instead.
That was in April, and in August I called my folks to tell them Linda and I wanted to get married in November.
"Oh, Dusty," Dad groaned. "Why an Ohio girl? Why not a California girl?" It was my first hint that he really wanted me to be closer, that he missed me.
Why Linda? She was tiny, but she could certainly hold her own. Outgoing and articulate, she seemed sure of herself. Although she was only 18, she was solid and down-to-earth. She wasn't the least bit impressed with my family name, and she loved me for myself. Though we couldn't have been more opposite in temperament and personality, I loved her. Still do.
A few days after my call Mom and Dad sent a letter giving us their blessing. Finally the day arrived. Our wedding was the event of the season in our little Ohio town, and the local newspapers made so much of it that the wire services picked it up. The papers made the most of the fact that Dad and Mom were the King of the Cowboys and the Queen of the West, and the headlines read, "Local Girl Marries Royalty!" Linda and I have a scrapbook filled with clippings from all over the country.
We had a huge church wedding, and Mom and Dad flew back with Dodie for the ceremony. Linda's father had grown up among the Amish, so it was quite a scene. There was the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans clan, and Linda's mom's family, and her dad's family all decked out in their finest black. Newspaper photographers had a heyday with that, and when the photos appeared in the papers, the captions read, "Old Meets New."
Because of the publicity, we received cards and letters and gifts from all over the country. Some of them arrived addressed simply, "Mr. and Mrs. Roy Rogers, Jr., Middle-field, Ohio." Because people loved Mom and Dad so much, they wanted to remember us as well. Linda and I were touched by that, and by the people who came. Dad's high school teacher drove all the way from southern Ohio, and other friends came from as far away as California.
Those early years of our marriage were tough. Mom and Dad let me make my own way, as they had with my sisters. Although I knew they would help if I asked, I never did. We lived in a little mobile home that froze our bones in winter and boiled our blood in summer, and when Linda became pregnant, I swept floors at a local supermarket at night in exchange for baby food.
We stayed in Ohio for 10 years, and our daughters, Kelly and Shawna, were born there. I worked in the construction business, and on the side I made personal appearances and sang. For awhile I had my own television show, and I was also a radio disc jockey.
Finally, after a particularly hard winter, I told Linda my blood would never thicken enough for me to enjoy the Ohio winters. I wanted to go back to California, so we packed our bags and moved back to Apple Valley. I went right to work as a construction supervisor.
Our son, Dustin, was born while I earned my contractor's license and started building custom homes. I built Mom and Dad a new place, and I'm very proud of it. Off and on I did some singing, and in 1982 I formed my own Country-Western band, the High Riders.
In the meantime, Dodie had grown up and was married, and Mom and Dad were alone. I'd never tried to bridge the chasm between Dad and me. It took another tragedy to make me do anything about it. The morning of October 8, we received the news that Linda's brother, Ron, had been killed in an automobile accident. As I watched her struggle with her grief, I realized how much of it was tied to "what might have been."
"If only I'd told him I loved him more often," Linda lamented. "Now it's too late."
Linda's despair plunged her deeper and deeper into depression. I knew exactly how she felt and what her thoughts were, because I'd felt the same about Sandy and Debbie and Robin. It was as though we'd been robbed of the opportunity to express our love as fully as we really wanted to. I tried to be sensitive to Linda, but as the days wore on, it finally reached the point that I knew a tougher stand was necessary, or we'd lose her, too.
"Linda, we need you here, now, in the present. You have a family to consider. I loved Ron, too, but he's gone, and there's nothing we can do to change that. Ron would not appreciate you sitting around here and making life miserable for everyone else. This has to stop."
She looked up at me and burst into tears. We sat and cried together for about an hour, and during the next weeks, Linda gradually began to emerge from her grief. But the more I thought about it, the more it hit home that my dad was approaching his seventies. We might not have all that much time together.
One day I climbed into my truck and drove over to the house.
"Hi, Dusty!" Dad called.
"Hi, Dad. What are you doing?"
"Just heading out to buy some trees."
"Care for some company?"
"Sure. Come along." We made small talk for awhile, and then he looked at me kind of sideways and said, "You got something on your mind, son?"
I nodded. "I'm scared, Dad."
He looked at me, concerned. "Scared? What's eating at you, Dusty?"
"You know, Dad, we've been father and son for over 30 years, and you've been a great dad. But we've never really been buddies, and that's bothered me."
That set him back a bit. He stared at me for a few moments, and then he said, "It has been a long time since we really talked."
"A long time? Dad, we've never talked. I'm afraid. It really frightens me that one day I'll wake up and you'll be gone, and we'll never have had the chance to really know each other. You know, I never told Ron how much I loved and appreciated him. I don't want that day to come for you and me."
Dad was quiet for a few seconds. "Dusty, that bothers me, too." He pulled the truck over to the side of the road, and we got out and walked through the field.
"Dad, I've always been afraid of disappointing you. I hated thinking I'd disappoint you. But when something bothers you, you never say anything. I just don't know where I stand!"
"Well, you know son, that's just how I was raised. I just keep it inside."
"I do, too. But that's no way to be. If you don't tell me, how can I know if what I do is acceptable?"
He looked at me a minute. "You know when you were building the house and you said you'd come over and take that sign down?"
"Well, you never did. I had to tear it down myself."
For Dad to share something that would seem insignificant to most people was like a gift to me, and for the next hour, we told each other our pet peeves and what we like and what we don't.
Finally, I knew we had aired our feelings—not just our disappointments, but positive feelings, too. I looked at Dad. He stood there, shyly.
"I love you, Dad," I said.
"I love you, Son," he whispered. We wrapped our arms around each other, then turned and strolled back to the truck.
From that day on, we have never let a day pass without an embrace, without saying, "I love you." That conversation made all the difference in the world to us. It solidified in us the reality that fame and fortune mean nothing if we are impoverished in our relationships with those who mean the most to us.
Not long after that discussion, I had the opportunity to do something I'd been wanting to do for a long time. The High Riders and I were asked to do a concert at the Holiday Inn over in Victorville. In our show we sing a lot of Country-Western songs, I do a monologue, and we finish up with a "Pioneer Medley," singing some of the songs that Dad and the Sons of the Pioneers made famous.
On the radio one day, I heard a song about John Wayne. How sad, I thought, to write a song for somebody after he's gone and can't appreciate it. Why can't Dad have a song of his own, right now? I tried, but I couldn't seem to make it work, so I went to Larry Carney, who is my bass player.
"I've got some of the words, Larry," I explained, "but I need a better hook. Dad's a living legend. People love him, and they know his trademarks. Let's write a song that focuses on his horse and his hat and so on, but doesn't mention his name." Larry worked on it, and it sounded great to me. For a week before the concert, I was all nerves, but I told Mom I wanted Dad to be there. The night of the performance 400 people came, and I couldn't bring myself to talk to my parents. I saw them in the audience, and when we finished the Pioneer Medley, I stepped up to the microphone.
"Ladies and gentlemen," I said, "I have a song I'd like to share with you. It's never been sung in public before, and I'd like to dedicate it to my dad."
The song talks about the kind and gentle living legend that has touched our lives for more than 40 years:
And I know forever, In many hearts he'll reign As the King of the Cowboys, There is honor to his name.
I've never had a tougher time singing. Every time I looked at Dad, he was teary, and when I finished, the entire audience was on its feet. The applause was like thunder.
"Dad, this is for you. They really love you," I said. "I really love you, too."
Finally he stood up. The applause went on for a full five minutes. I watched him as he nodded shyly at the people who were celebrating him, and inside, I celebrated, too. Yes, the odds had been against us all, but God had overcome the odds. It was one of the best nights of my life.
OH I'M SO GLAD ROY AND DUSTY GOT TO BE TRUE FRIENDS WITH EACH OTHER, MORE THAN JUST FATHER AND SON.
THIS HAS BEEN AN AMAZING BEHIND-THE -SCENES LOOK AND INSIGHT INTO GROWING UP WITH ROY ROGERS AND DALE EVANS. IT'S NOT ONLY BEEN INFORMATIVE, BUT, TOUCHING; WITH THE TIMES OF HAPPY CRAZINESS IN THE ROGERS' HOME, AND TIMES OF BITTER SORRY.
TO TRY AND PUT THE RECORD STRAIGHT. I HAD CREATED THIS SECTION OF MY WEBSITE BEFORE LEO PANDO PUBLISHED HIS BOOK ON "TRIGGER" IN 2007. THE BOOK WAS A KINDA BLOCK-BUSTER FOR MANY, AS IT PUT TOGETHER A LOT OF TRUTHS THAT HAD EITHER NOT SURFACED, OR HAD BEEN INCORRECTLY PRESENTED, AND JUST A BLURRING OF MANY THINGS ABOUT THE "TRIGGER" HORSE. I WAS ANNOUNCING AND RECOMMENDING THIS BOOK. MY WEBSITE AND THIS SECTION OF IT ABOUT ROY AND TRIGGER, CAME UP ON THE INTERNET. AFTER MY ANNOUNCING OF PANDO'S BOOK, THERE WAS A FLURRY FROM THE ROGERS PEOPLE, PUTTING THEIR WEBSITE UP DOZENS OF TIMES, SO MINE GOT LOST WAY WAY DOWN THE LINE. I THOUGHT THIS WAS A REALLY BAD AND DESPERATE WAY TO NOT FACE THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER, ADMIT IT, AND BE WILLING TO JUST BE PART OF CLEARING THE AIR. NEEDLESS TO SAY I WAS VERY DISAPPOINTED IN THEIR ACTIONS OF TRYING TO SUPPRESS THE FACTS. I WAS IN BRANSON IN 2008 FOR A RELIGIOUS FESTIVAL; IT WAS THE YEAR THE WORLD ECONOMY WENT BUST OVER THE EVILS OF WALL-STREET AND BANKERS IN THE USA. PEOPLE WERE IN DEEP TROUBLE FINANCIALLY. I INTENDED TO VISIT THE ROY ROGERS MUSEUM, WHICH I DID; THEY ALLOWED ME TO TAKE MANY PHOTOS [WHICH ARE ON MY FACEBOOK]. IT WAS THE LADY I BOUGHT MY HORSE "GOLDIE" FROM WHO EMAILED ME IN BRANSON TO TELL ME THE MUSEUM WAS CLOSING IN A FEW MONTHS. SO I GOT TO SEE IT ALL BEFORE IT CLOSED. I WAS ESPECIALLY INTERESTED IN SEEING "TRIGGER" [ORIGINAL ONE]…… IT WAS VERY DISAPPOINTING AS THE SKIN STRETCHED OVER A FRAME WAS ONLY A SHADOW OF THE BEAUTIFUL HORSE IN ROY'S MOVIES AND TV SERIES. AS I WOULD SAY ON MY WEBSITE, IT WAS THE BIGGEST MISTAKE ROY EVER MADE.
BEFORE THE MUSEUM CLOSED, I GOT AN EMAIL FROM I PRESUME A "BOARD MEMBER" OF THE ROY ROGERS MUSEUM. I SAID I WAS NOT INTERESTED IN TALKING, THAT WAS THE END OF IT. I'M NOT SURE OF THE REASON FOR THE EMAIL, OTHER THAN THEY MIGHT HAVE THOUGHT IF I TOOK DOWN MY "UN-OFFICIAL" WEBSITE OF ROY ROGERS AND TRIGGER, ALL THE PEOPLE WOULD COME BACK AGAIN TO VISIT THE ROY ROGERS MUSEUM. DID MY UN-OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF ROY AND TRIGGER DO ALL THAT DAMAGE TO DRASTICALLY CUT DOWN ON PEOPLE NOW NOT COMING TO THE MUSEUM? I REALLY DOUBT IT. MORE LIKELY THE FINANCIAL DOWN-TURN FOR THE USA IN 2008 AND AFTER, WITH SOME RELATIVELY FEW [UNLESS YOU ARE INTO HORSES, FEW WOULD HAVE EVEN KNOWN ABOUT THIS BOOK BY LEO PANDO] FINDING AND BUYING THE BOOK ON TRIGGER BY PANDO, AS THE CAUSE FOR DROPPING ATTENDANCE AT THE MUSEUM. MY WEBSITE IS A "RELIGIOUS" WEBSITE, AND THE MAJORITY USING IT ARE THOSE RESEARCHING RELIGIOUS ISSUES, A VERY VERY FEW WOULD BE INTERESTED IN ANY SERIOUS WAY, ABOUT ALL THE INS AND OUTS OF ROY ROGERS AND TRIGGER.
THE TRUE FACTS ON ROY AND TRIGGER, OR TRIGGERS, NEEDED TO BE BROUGHT TO LIGHT, TO SET ALL THE RECORDS STRAIGHT. THE TRUTH USUALLY HAS A WAY OF COMING OUT SOONER OR LATER, IN THIS CASE IT WAS LATER, BUT IT NEEDED TO BE OUT, ENOUGH STRANGE "HOLLYWOODY" MADE UP BLENDING OF TWO HORSES INTO ONE, HAD GONE ON LONG ENOUGH; NOW WAS THE TIME TO GET IT ALL CORRECT SO ALL COULD BE FREE FROM THE "SANTA CLAUSE" PRETENCE.
IF SUCH A MUSEUM OF ROY ROGERS AND DALE EVANS COULD NOT STAND ON THE SOLID GROUND OF TRUTH, THEN IT NEEDED TO BE GONE. TRUTH DOES SET A PERSON FREE.
I WILL ALWAYS BE A ROY ROGERS FAN, HAVE BEEN SINCE AGE 7, WHEN I SAW MY FIRST ROY ROGERS MOVIE. I WILL ALWAYS RECOMMEND ROY'S MOVIES AND TV SERIES. BUT I WILL ALSO TELL PEOPLE ROY HAD TWO MAIN HORSES THAT WERE TRIGGER……THE ORIGINAL TRIGGER IN HIS MOVIES AND TV SERIES [WHO COULD DO SOME TRICKS], AND THE "ON THE ROAD" RODEO AND PERFORMANCE SHOW TRIGGER, THE ONE THEY CLAIM MASTERED 100 TRICKS OR SO, AND THE ONE USED IN THE GREAT MOVIE OF 1952 "SON OF PALEFACE" STARING BOB HOPE AND JANE RUSSEL, ROY ROGERS AND "TRIGGER."