My wife, son, and daughter-in-law sometimes regard me with knowing looks when I watch and comment on old western shows and movies on television. My remarks are usually something along the lines of “Why don’t they still make shows like this?” I think they recognize that I am an old guy reliving my youth as I watch John Wayne, Clint Walker, Jimmy Stewart, or Gary Cooper act out romanticized morality plays set in the Old West. I hate to admit this, but the truth I have to face is that an important part of who I am is a composite of all those characters I watched and admired during my formative years. It’s not all bad.
The opening this week of the remake of the movie “True Grit” has reminded me of the lessons I took away from cheering for the guys in the white hats in the theaters of the 1950s and ‘60s. Many of the things I absorbed from those movies probably just reinforced the values and lessons I was learning at home and school. I have a particularly vivid memory, though, of “True Grit” and the concept of how character can shape a life. In fairness, I read the book before I saw the movie, so I may be giving more credit to the screen version than it deserves. Nonetheless, the movie helped me see that in everyone’s life there are moments when you have to make choices that will define who you are and how you view yourself. I found myself asking whether I had the “grit” to do the right thing when the right thing was required.
I vividly remember one failure. I worked at a resort in the mountains following my freshman year in college and one day my boss directed me to fix a clogged toilet in the men’s room at the lodge. I was confronted with one of the more disgusting messes I had seen up to that point in my life and I recall exiting the room to seek some assistance from another employee named Scott. He walked into the restroom, surveyed the situation, reached into the toilet and pulled out the towels that created the clog. Scott then looked at me and said: “When you have to go fishing, you go fishing.” True grit.
I would like to think that in bigger tests as an employee, husband, father, and grandfather I have shown some grit when I had to. I know I have had to resolve some difficult situations and do some disagreeable things over the years. Art allows us to see things we might not otherwise see and thus become people we might not otherwise be. One of my Christmas gifts this year will be to take a young man I know to see the latest version of “True Grit.”