Looking Mom straight in her beautiful dark-brown eyes, I begged,
“Mom, I’m embarrassed bringing a brown paper-bag lunch to school.
My friends are making fun of me.
They’re laughing at me.
They’re saying, “We can’t afford to buy a real lunchbox.”
I paused to take a breath, “My friends have cool cowboy lunchboxes with thermoses.
I promise I’ll do all my errands—all my homework.
I’ll try to get better grades.
I promise I’ll contribute some portion of my allowance to buy the lunchbox.
Pretty, pretty please, buy me a cowboy lunch box for Hanukkah.”
“Okay, next time I’m in Middletown, I’ll buy you a lunchbox.”
My nagging worked.
“Maybe next time, I’ll beg Mom for a trip to Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch,
I betcha Gene will let me ride Champion, twirl his six shooter, and lasso some long horns.
But that was too easy.”
I felt pangs of guilt.
“Mom’s love for me was just too great.
The old-look-her-straight-in-the-eyes-and-beg trick was taking unfair advantage of her maternal love.
Gene would definitely disapprove.
But it worked so well.
Now I needed to plant some Gene Autry lunchbox seeds in Mom’s head.
Mom already knew I loved “The Singing Cowboy.”
She heard me singing, Back in the Saddle Again, Don’t Fence Me In and Home on the Range.
I wrote Mr. Autry fan letters.
I wrote western tunes for my mom.
Mom loved them.
So on the first night of Hanukkah, when Mom presented me with an official “Gene Autry” lunchbox I was not surprised.
But I yelled out my best “Yippee Ki Yay,” and gave Mom a hearty hug.
Mom smiled and I thought I saw a tear form in one of her eyes.
Touching the metal box, I beamed at the artwork as if it were a Frederic Remington.
Gene pulled Champion’s reins, the bit caused Champion to rear his front legs into the air, while at the same time Gene’s twirled a lasso over his head.
A set of longhorns and the words “Melody Ranch” framed the picture.
A colt stood precariously in a corral; I imagined Gene awarding me that colt for doing errands on the ranch.
In the background, blue skies, white clouds and brown mountains stared at a saguaro cactus with its arms raised.
I opened the thermos and exclaimed, “Mom, look what I found scrolled up inside the thermos. It’s “The Ten Cowboy Commandments.”
Aloud I read each commandment to Mom as if they had been inscribed by the finger of G-d:
1.The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
3. He must always tell the truth
4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
6. He must help people in distress.
7. He must be a good worker.
8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s law.
10. A cowboy is a patriot.
The day after I received my Hanukkah gift, I brought my lunch box and Gene’s code to elementary school with the 10 simple rules branded in my memory.
At lunch, in the school cafeteria, I stood to recite the “cowboy code” as if Gene and I were best friends.
No longer hearing the taunts of the anti-paper bag bunch, I relished the acceptance of the cowboy lunchbox gang.
Now over a half a century later, during this dastardly pandemic, I craved the comfort of my mom and my cowboy lunchbox.
I studied Gene Autry lunchboxes on eBay.
Remembering one of the many days when mom showered me with love.
And I wondered, “Should I buy one?”
While deciding, I scribbled an intro to a contemporary cowboy tune.
“Hi Mom up in heaven, just a short note from your son to tell you how I’m doing.
Well, I’m corralled in my corona lunchbox.
Fenced in this cold metal tin.
Drowning in the sorrows of my thermos.
Wishing you were here with me again.”
Mom thanks for the unconditional love and for my cowboy lunchbox.
And Gene, thanks for teaching me what it takes to be a man.