The Key of C (Revisited)
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
People make things way too hard … guess that’s the way they are.
That ain’t the way it is for me … I play everything in the key of C.
The Indian George Burns that played the fiddle
Before he was just Tim Ryan, Vic Cordier’s grandson, Tim Ryan Rouillier, learned to play music at home and then various dance hall and gym stages on the reservation and across northwestern Montana around St. Ignatius. His name change came when he moved to Nashville to sing and write music for some of the biggest names in country music. Although his own attempt in singing his songs never became widely known across a greater spectrum, there are some who will say his album Tried, True and Tested is one of the greatest cowboy albums ever recorded.
I’m one that would suggest such a superlative.
Invariably, every Son (and Daughter) of the American West had a proxy who could be found in the borrowed persona of Mr. Cordier.
It wasn’t his wit or his stature among his peers. It certainly wasn’t his wealth, either. It was his influence that created what a near famous rancher from New Mexico’s Bootheel refers to as Place.
Place in our world constitutes many things. Yes, it could be a particular area and the allure that creates, but simple enchantment is just part of the puzzle. It could be a way of life like what Tim Ryan learned to love playing music to rural gatherings. That theme certainly applies to ranch life whereby young folks are taught, perhaps unbeknownst to themselves, that sights, sounds, and smells have lasting influences.
There is also an invisible bridge of sorts that connects the present to the past. That bridge is created through direct experiences with elders, stories of events, demonstrated outcomes, and responses to unspoken communication.
It is also the need to be tested both in the form of risk as well as simple decision making around the central experiences of Place.
Walt talked about his young neighbor, Adelita, put in a position to shape a drive up a drainage. She was out there by herself, and after she had first blocked a cut where the cattle could split, she spurred her ol’ pony and hustled to the next turnout. Catching up with her and asking if she needed help, she very simply let it be known.
No, I’ve got this!
Terrell had the same sort of thing with his grandson. While shipping cattle, a photo was taken of young Chase working the loading chute with a prod. Later he had been asked about becoming a cowboy only to remind his grandfather he already was a cowboy.
The last time we doctored a wad of pinkeye calves Pepe and I found ourselves in the alley trying to finish staging calves when we heard the chute working. The two kids, Indie and Alexa (both 14 years old), had started the first calves through the load up, had the first one caught, and were administering the treatment without our help. Pepe and I smiled at each other and kept calves coming at them until we were finished.
It the two of them were alone, they could do the same thing. They owned their task and that could well set the stage for even more important things in their lives.
Each of these examples are conditions and experiences implicit in the process of becoming of … Place.
The Key of C
My maternal grandfather always made sure I wore my hat correctly (it was my grandmother who taught me to take it off in the house and when greeting ladies). He taught me to love sunup, too.
Borrowing on the Japanese term, he was Nisei or of the first generation born in a new country. That new country would have been New Mexico Territory. His parents were not native born in that they had come from Illinois and Texas, respectively (while Texas was the jump off point for both). Each time I revisit passages from the Old Man and the Boy I am reminded of his similar influences on me. The country of his entire life became the vision of home that will never dim. Two of my most cherished possessions came from him. His Williams made saddle and his .30-30 carbine are symbols of his impact on me.
My paternal grandfather operated north and south. A strict old Republican in every circumstance, work was the centerpiece of his entire being. His actions rather than his words demonstrated most of the lessons. You learned to stay up or you weren’t welcome. When you were with him the entire world was a collage of work of one sort or another. As a result, your actions were enforced along a narrow path. The older I get the more his memory seems to reappear. How he would have done something or what his reaction might be are the points of those reflections.
From the standpoint of early influences, both had great and lasting impact. What a gift that was. What a different time, though, it was. Their lessons were as simplistic as they were ageless.
You could say they, too, were played in the key of C.
In the age of dysfunctional two-party governance, electronic dependency, wokeness, transgender pronouns, ink spots, vaccination jabs, and national decay, the system is proving to be a direct adversary to such influences.
Rather than a union of common ideals and protector of freedom, it has become a tyrannical behemoth antagonistic to us. For its own defense, it has erected protective layers that are now largely impenetrable. Simplicity is its enemy.
The world we were taught to uphold has been altered.
Some will understand. For others, the explanation can be best understood by saying … this or any other government is not God.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico.
Wilmeth is right. Tried, True and Tested by Tim Ryan is a wonderful album.
The title song sets the tone for the entire album. You can listen to the tune by going here.
The Key of C, mentioned by Wilmeth, can be heard here.
My favorite though, is Horse Thief Row, which reminds me of a traumatic event as a youngster. The tune is about the old time cowboys getting together and swapping tales. In Corona, it was either at the post office or out in front of the DuBois Drug Store. As a very young tyke I loved sitting on those big cement steps and listening to the old timers' tales. I was severely lacking in one area though...I couldn't spit brown! It somehow made me feel deficient, and I remember thinking "I can't wait till I get old and I can spit brown too." I eventually figured out it had nothing to do with age and I fixed that problem and have been fixin' it ever since.
You can listen to Horse Thief Row here. ~~ Frank DuBois