Saturday mornings were always special for me when I was a kid. I would wake up at the crack of dawn, throw a piece of salami between two slices of white bread, pull out a glass of Coca Cola, and slice myself a piece of chocolate fudge cake, and prop myself in front of the television set (this was the late 50s, mind you) and indulge my fancy for early morning programs starting at 7 am. And even though all was depicted in black and white then, for me it was full of color.
The original Flash Gordon whetted my appetite for science fiction. Flash Gordon, the central character of these episodes struggled over the principles of good and evil, supported by well-balanced cast, Ming and his raven-haired daughter (why were the evil characters always depicted with dark hair, while the virtuous women especially always had blond hair?) and Flash’s love interest (can’t remember her name now) dueled during the early superhero days of science fiction television.
The rest of the line-up focused on Western-themed programs — the masked superheroes, Zorro, and the Lone Ranger, with his raspy voice, topped by my early influence of positive female role-models, the incorrigible Ms. Annie Oakley. I was sensible enough at this early age to realize I could not manufacture the realities exposed through science fiction, but smart enough to recognize that Annie Oakley did indeed have modeling potential for a scruffy, bobbed-haired, 6 year old, a tomboy in every sense, who went on her own adventures on the South side of Chicago, Hyde Park, blocks away from the imposing University of Chicago, under whose shadow I seemed to thrive.
So much so, that I had convinced my mother, while still in second grade, to purchase a complete outfit of western gear to indulge my early morning fantasies. And even though so many years have passed, I still clearly remember our trek to the store on Van Buren Street, in downtown Chicago, where I was outfitted with a cerulean blue cowgirl shirt, a black skirt bordered with white fringe around the hem, some mean looking cowboy boots, black cowgirl hat, and a belted holster for my guns. Upon our return home, I mounted my steed, supported by some heavy duty springs, and rode up and down the dining room floor, hollering things like, Hi, ho Silver!, while watching the Saturday morning round-up that dominated my fantasy life. And though I borrowed lines from other programs, I knew deep inside that it was Annie Oakley who was my spiritual soul mate, even though she was blond and I was a brunette.
The appeal of Annie Oakley for me was immeasurable. I imagined myself doing what she did, even though my horse was pretty much stationary, and manufactured of plastic. But the thing was, my horse captured a steed in motion, all four legs in the stance of a gallop, and so I knew wherever Annie traveled, I could go as well. This was a satisfying emotion, and allowed me to escape whatever friction was otherwise present in my actual environment.
The odd thing though is that as I grew older, I developed a firm distaste for Western movies and programs, to the degree that now, whenever I look at the cable programing guide and see something like Appaloosa-something mounted on the screen, I instinctively dredge up a feeling of repulsion, which I cannot explain and quickly run in the other direction.
But Annie Oakley will forever remain a sweet memory for me.