Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon/Novel As Memoir

Steve with blackhat&jacket 1[1]By Stephen Bly



The Matador Hotel died on July 5th, 1965, but they didn’t bother burying it until last fall. 

Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon, Stephen Bly

The plot for Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon developed like homemade stew in a crockpot. A slow simmer. Then, the image of the 1950s kitchen filled with sweet aromas and sights and sounds. Hours later all the parts seemed ready.

The story grew out of fond memories from my childhood. What makes it real personal is that I was 10-years-old in 1954, just like the narrator. And I did hear numerous accounts about the “old days.” At that time, Johnny Appleseed was a legendary hero. I learned about him at the knee of my Indiana grandma. She figured anyone who dedicated himself to planting apple trees must be a good guy.

I often get asked where I grew up. Readers of my westerns suppose I was born and raised in some rough and tumble part of the west amid gunfights and wild adventures. Well, they’re somewhat right. Home for me was a ranch north of Visalia, California, in the great San Joaquin Valley.

“That doesn’t sound like the wild west,” they say.

They’re wrong. From Joaquin Murietta to the Dalton Brothers, Visalia Saddles to the Miller and Lux Ranch. . .that valley’s filled with western history. One of my favorite tales involved the gunfight and capture of Sontag and Evans at Stone Corral, a few miles down the road from our home.

    Cribbage and cowboys. . .I figured I fit right in.

Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon, Stephen Bly

It seems quite natural for me to write about a grandpa and the game of cribbage. My grandpa taught me to play when I was 4-years-old. I played him once or twice a week until he died when I turned 15. In the book Pop’s name is Theodore and his wife is Katie, same as my grandparents.

Talk slow and think deep. It’s part of the Code of the West. Some scoff at the notion of an unwritten set of rules that honest men lived by. Politically correct history books deny the Code’s existence. Those authors and professors didn’t grow up in the West. I remember in the mid-1980s standing at the graveside of my uncle. At the time, his place encompassed around 14,000 acres. As I looked down at the coffin of my Uncle Buster, an old-timer slid up beside me. “He was a good man, son. He lived by the Code.”

There’s a quiet buzz from antique ceiling fans, like six thousand crickets, all out of tune. You don’t even notice, until there’s silence.

                   Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon, Stephen Bly

 Woolworth’s department stores provided lots of pleasure for kids like me. Like a Dollar Store, they included a soda fountain lunch counter, better merchandise, and a friendly clerk behind every counter. By 2001 the company focused on sporting goods and changed its name to Foot Locker Inc. A classic example of a company that adapted to the market needs.

In today’s consumer shopping mall world, it’s hard for some to envision the incredible thrill of merchandise-packed Five & Dimes. I couldn’t believe so many products existed. I’m not sure kids today can experience anything near that excitement. A $.49 badge? That’s what Little Brother, the 10-year-old narrator, gets. A little spendy for 1954. I remember getting a 25-cent a week allowance, provided I did all my chores, in a time when $1.00 per hour provided a decent wage.

My bedroom teemed with White Owl cigar boxes, my granddad’s favorite cigar. He didn’t smoke them much; mainly he chewed them. And because I lived across the road from him, I got many of his boxes. Lots of childhood treasures can be stored in a cigar box.

 Folks today think that 1954 existed in some other galaxy, on some other planet. Maybe they’re right.

It’s hard to believe that world and this one are made of the same stuff.

 Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon, Stephen Bly

I can’t tell you about television in 1954. We didn’t have one yet. Didn’t matter. Didn’t need one. When I came home from school, I did chores or played outside until dark and Mom made me come indoors. Now, that does sound like a century ago.

I did not know cowboys named Quirt, Bronc, Thad, Shorty, Coosie or Pop. But I knew men much like them. In fact, most folks called my Grandpa Wilson “Pop.” I once met an old-timer in Magdalena, New Mexico, who had been a sheriff in the 1930s. He still packed a pistol and watched the door, just in case someone he sent to prison got out and scouted him for revenge. I based my character, Quirt Payton, on him.

All the aged cowboys I ever met wore long-sleeved shirts, usually some faded  shade of white, with the collar buttoned. This kept the dirt out when he rode down the trail or behind a herd of slow moving cows. Also, an old beat-up Stetson and yellowed cigarettes stained their fingers.

Cowboy for a Rainy Afternoon coverI don’t suppose the current generation has ever ridden in the open trunk of a car, nor let the air down in the tires to drive down a railroad track (and they call skateboarding an extreme sport). At one point, the six cowboys in the novel, plus Miss Diane Anderson, and the boy narrator, pile into a ’49 Plymouth, without seatbelts. I could have been the poster child for the need of such safety devices. I fell out of my parents’ car, going about 55 miles per hour, in 1949. I spent 10 days in the hospital nursing a major concussion.

At least one of the stories happened to me. In 1994, in Telluride, I was told by the hotel clerk I couldn’t get a room. He intimated I wasn’t their kind. My gruffy appearance after a week’s research in the wilds didn’t impress them. So, I drove all the way to Cortez for a room, arriving about midnight. To say I was ticked is an understatement.

It’s like I’m right there in the room with these old-timers. Some of these scenes I do recall first-hand. I remember going to see a friend of my grandfather’s at a 4-story hotel in central California in the mid-1950s. His room was carpeted with out-dated newspapers that he hadn’t got around to reading yet. Such images last forever.

My favorite things to do when the weather threatens and I can’t play golf: oil the saddles, clean the Winchesters, or write a novel about the Old West.

In Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon I discover that maybe I wasn’t born 100 years too late.

Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for a copy of Cowboy for a Rainy Afternoon.

Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon (hardback, Center Point) will be released: June 2010.

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22 thoughts on “Cowboy For A Rainy Afternoon/Novel As Memoir”

  1. Welcome to the P&P Stephen! Your book Cowboy For a Rainy Afternoon sound like a wonderful read. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a rainy afternoon then with a good cowboy book. They are my favorite read!

  2. I have definitely been hooked on wanting to read your book Stephen. I must say too that I absolutely love the cover. The silhouette of the young cowboy really sets it off. I would love to read this book. I must.

    Many blessings to you today.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

  3. Hi Stephen, Thanks for all the hours of enjoyment you have given me through your writing. I love your books and this new one sounds terrific!
    I have always loved listening to the stories the older generation tell, but I wish now I had asked lots more questions. Your post today is making me homesick for some of those wonderful old voices.
    May God rain down blessings on you, Judy

  4. hi stephen!
    what an interesting post! so colorful and rich with memories!
    your book sounds like a great read and you sound like a pretty interesting fellow!
    you are right–i have not ridden in a trunk or down railroad tracks..but i did fall out of a moving vehicle as a child–not nearly so fast–good heavens i bet your parents were scared to death!

    i too love the cover!

  5. Oh, the memories of Woolworths back in the 40s and 50s – the little one in the neighborhood and the BIG one downtown with the lunch counter. Your book sounds wonderful.

  6. Stephen, I was captivated with this wonderful and nostalgic post. It brought back fond memories for me of spending time browsing through my local Woolworth’s, sitting down at the soda fountain and always buying a special something. Your wonderful stories bring this era back to life and congratulations and best of success.

  7. Hi Stephen, welcome to P&P. We’re so glad to have you back again. Love your blog. You really brought back lots of memories of the 50’s. Boy, those were innocent times. I definitely remember Woolworth’s. I could’ve spent all day in there. They crammed so much merchandise in their counters. And the drive in movie theaters were the place to be on Saturday night.

    Your new release looks very intriguing. I wish you lots of success with it.

  8. Oh yes, Woolworths and the 50’s. I am a child of the 50’s and was taken down memory lane from your description. Dh tells of going to town on a Sat. and each child receiving 25c which got him a pop/ticket to the show/popcorn.

    I love Westerns and am glad you shared your book wth us today.

  9. Hello Stephen, welcome to Wildflower Junction. We fillies are sure glad to have you here. Your post evokes a good memory for me: the dime store. My gramma, a minister’s widow, didn’t have much money, but she always managed a little “prize” whenever we walked downtown to the time store.

    Although I pretty much grew up in the suburbs, I totally love the West. Gramma’s hometown had a small-town feel to it.

    Thanks again for visiting us today.

  10. Welcome to the Junction, Stephen. We’re so glad to have you with us. Cowboy for a Rainy Afternoon sounds like a wonderful collection. I grew up with a Ben Franklin store – our version of a five & dime. I used to love going down those aisles, looking for totally useless things that were treasure to the little girl me. lol

  11. Glad to have a man’s point of view on this blog. Your book sounds really interesting. I will add it to my TBR list for the summer.
    Return often.

  12. Your post brought back a lot of memories for me. When I was little my grandmother used to leave 25 cents at the corner grocery story so I could stop by after school and get candy. You could buy a whole sack full for that much money. Those were the days. I would love to read your book.

  13. My word, have you ever brought back the “olden” days for me! Going to Woolworth’s on Main Street was a real treat whenever we would go shopping in downtown Houston. I’m looking at a photograph of a ’49 Plymouth as we “speak!” It’s photo of my Mom and Dad along side the family’s new sage green sedan. As for 1954, that was a momentous year for me! I graduated from high school, we got our first TV set, and I went off to nursing school in that year! Thanks for bringing back the memories!

    BTW, I enjoyed reading your “Crede Of Old Mon-

    Pat Cochran

  14. Thanks for dropping by P&P, Stephen. Many of the references your made hit close to home. Woolworth’s amongst them. I totally believe in the Code of the West, and of course, being born and reared in Texas it’s inbreeded. Thanks for a terrific, heartwarming post.

  15. Oh, the good old days. There are times when I wondered how we survived them. No seatbelts, so we couldn’t wear them. No helmets for bike riders. Got a good crack on the head from a fall. We played, ran all over, swan, made rafts, swung from trees, and generally tried to kill ourselves. We made it in one piece to old age.
    It is nice sitting here remembering those times. Am glad they have changed. Don’t even want to think about my kids and grandkids doing some of the things we did out of blissful ignorance of the dangers.

  16. Welcome Stephen. Your post today awakened so many special times for me. Growin up during the fifties makes me appreciate what life was like then. I enjoyed your wonderful stories. Thanks.

  17. Oh, how I loved Woolworth’s. I can picture every aisle so clear in my mind. Sure wish we had them back again. I grew up in the 60’s and can’t say I ever remember anyone riding in an open trunk, but my brothers were older than me – maybe they did it and just didn’t tell! Your books are terrific, some of my very favorites. Thanks so much.

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