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Away With The Manger

By Betty Green
(December 20, 1998)

My daddy loved western movies and sometimes he would take me along with him. I remember the time he took me to the Florence Mills Theater to see "The Bronze Buckaroo." I remember this tall handsome cowboy sitting tall in the saddle. I was in love. This was the only time I had seen a Black singing cowboy. I knew then what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was gonna be a cowboy.

Every day I wanted my friends to play good guys and bad guys with me. I created the scenario and I was the "Bronze Buckaroo." I had to throw a number of punches to get the part, but I won.

I was teased and told that girls could not be cowboys. My teacher said that I was born a little late and that there were no longer cowboys, and for that matter cowgirls either! What did she know? She was a city girl.

It was getting towards the time of the year when most kids started to look forward to Christmas, but I didn't. Christmas was just not my time of the year.

It was 1955 and my brother was having his first birthday, he was turning one. We shared birthdays in December. My brother's birthday is the 15th, and mine is the 24th of December. It was most difficult for me to digest the fact that he was having a party. Christmas has always been a challenge for me to get through. This was the year I was gonna put my foot down. I wanted a "Bronze Buckaroo" cowboy hat (white), guns, holster and a birthday party. I was gonna be six and had never had a party.

I was the oldest, and here this chubby little fat boy who didn't even really know what was going on was given a party! He had all the party favors and the cake. Friends and family all turned out. There were about 20 people in all to help celebrate his party.

It simply was not my fault that I had been born the day before Christmas. It seemed more and more like a punishment. I needed that special attention. After all, I was a little kid. My heart was green with envy. It never occurred to my parents how much importance I placed on celebrating my own day.

I asked my mother if she was gonna have a birthday party for me and she said that there was just no time. Everyone was busy with Christmas and who would have time to go to a birthday party on Christmas Eve. I couldn't believe what she was saying. I felt as if she had betrayed me. I asked her why she had me at such a busy time since everyone else was so busy. She laughed at me and said that was something out of her control.

I felt like I was the only person on the planet who had never had a birthday party. It would be years before I accepted the fact that my parents didn't understand the emotional stress they caused. I was almost six years old and felt old and useless. I cried about everything. I beat up my younger sister and ignored my baby brother. I felt no one cared but my granny, she had sent me a pretty card with $10.00. I was rich, but even money couldn't make me happy.

I decided if I couldn't have a party, then I was gonna somehow do away with Christmas. I thought about it for days. I was five years old and I was gonna put an end to Christmas!

The closer it got to Christmas, the more clumsy I became. I would break a Christmas ball here and there. Somehow, someone cut the cord to the outdoor lights. The cut was a bit primitive, my parents thought a cat or dog had gotten hold of it. This darn thing Christmas was really getting on my nerves. I could hardly sleep nights knowing that it was more important than my birthday.

I took a very tearful picture with Santa Claus. I yelled through my tears and told him with certainty that if I didn't have a birthday party, there would be no Christmas. My mother was starting to get a little tired of my tantrums and me. With about a week before Christmas, I was just getting started.

The days went by slowly. School was out for Christmas vacation. My mother was busy shopping and preparing for the big day. At night I dreamed I was a cowboy riding the plains. My dreams were the only thing I had that were my very own. In my dreams I sang "I'm A Happy Cowboy," with a heavy heart. I still thought about the tall handsome cowboy I had seen at the movies. The Bronze Backaroo never had to go through all that I had to. I knew he had birthday parties.

This was the worst thing life had dealt me so far. The Blues were being played over the radio and I could sure identify with them. Charles Brown was singing "Merry Christmas Baby" and "Please Come Home For Christmas." At almost six years old that last song brought tears to my eyes, it was so pleading. I could really identify with pleading. I was a mess.

Well, Christmas Eve came and I got very little attention. All day long I pouted. It seemed that Christmas was coming and I couldn't stop it, but I was still thinking about possibilities. That night I went to bed in my new Christmas pajamas. (My mother had this thing about taking our pictures on Christmas morning in our cute matching pajamas.)

I awakened in the middle of "riding the plains." I floated from my bed as if I were in a trance. I walked into the living room softly humming "I'm A Happy Cowboy." The tree was all lit up. There were presents all wrapped underneath it. I still don't know what came over me, but I walked to the tree and started to take away the presents, and toss them into the back yard. I was ever so quiet. I don't know how long it took me, but when all the presents were out the door, I dragged the tree and all its decorations out to the back yard and tossed it too.

To my surprise no one heard me. My task for the night was finished, so I just got back in the bed and continued to dream about The Bronze Buckaroo, my hero.

When I was awakened I was being led by the hand and I could hear a lot of commotion. My sister was crying, my mother was yelling and I could tell my father was also upset. I was still in a sleepy haze. I didn't really understand what was being said to me but the next thing I knew is that I was getting the beating of my life. My mother had a crazed look on her face and I knew my time here on earth was just about over. When she stopped with the belt, she fussed on and she started to cry.

I felt somehow that I had accomplished my mission, but my behind was numb and hurting all at the same time. I remember standing at the dinner table with all eyes on me. As visitors came and went that day I heard a few chuckles and even heard a few say, "She is lucky she isn't mine."

Whatever Christmas presents I was suppose to have gotten, it seemed like months before I received them. I think it was about May before things got back to normal in our household. My mother would never let me forget how selfish she thought I had been. I felt just the opposite. I felt she was the selfish one. After that Christmas I felt like I was under a microscope. All I did was go to school, study, and play cowboys alone in my room.

I was still in love with my hero, The Bronze Buckaroo. I finally received the gun and holster that I was to get from Santa. Until this day I think my mother had gotten me the hat, but she was so angry, she took it back to the store.

One Saturday, my daddy asked me if I wanted to go with him. It was like being paroled. I was only too happy to accompany him. It was not until we got into the car did he tell me he had a treat for me. As we drove down Central Avenue my heart was pounding. When we pulled into the parking lot at the Florence Mills Theater, I started to cry. My daddy picked me up and took me into the theater. Daddy got me some popcorn, candy and soda and my treat was to see "Two Gunmen From Harlem" with my hero, The Bronze Buckaroo.

The Christmas I have written about happened to me 43 years ago. In 1997, I met my hero, The Bronze Buckaroo, in person. His name is Herb Jeffries. He is now 84 years young and when he sings, his baritone voice sounds more beautiful than ever. He recently recorded a new CD, The Bronze Buckaroo (Rides Again).

Jeffries made only four singing cowboy movies. I was lucky to have seen two of them; both movies I saw were about 20 years old at that time. Jeffries is the only Black singing cowboy in the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

I was privileged to speak with him at length and tell him my story. He and I had the biggest laugh about my Christmas misadventure in 1955. Jeffries told me how he wanted Black boys and girls to have their own hero. He said how grateful he was that his movies had gotten across to kids like me. Herb Jeffries will always be the Bronze Buckaroo to me, sitting tall in the saddle, singing his theme song, "Iím A Happy Cowboy."

I still remember sharing my popcorn with Daddy watching my hero on the big screen. After the movies Daddy took me to the Dime Store and bought me the white hat.

I wish I could tell you that after that Christmas there were a lot of changes made. I can't tell you that, because if I do I wouldn't have anything to write about next Christmas. This is wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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