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Irons in the fire: Bronc riders and nuns

Paul Marchant Published on 01 September 2014

Well, he walks out in the arena
All dressed up to the brim
Said he’d just came down from a place
Called ‘Highland Rim’

Well, he said he came to ride the horse,
the one they call ‘The Brute’
But he didn’t look like a cowboy
in his Continental Suit

—Marty Robbins,
“Cowboy in the Continental Suit”

Of all the many things my two youngest sons and I have come to agree to disagree on, perhaps the toughest one for me – besides their diverse musical tastes – is their wardrobe selection.

Now, it’s not like they have half-inch gauges in their ears, rings in their noses and pants hanging halfway to their knees, but it’s not all cowboy all the time. So naturally, you can understand my consternation.

I’ve never yet been mistaken for a Calvin Klein model, and nobody has ever complimented me on my Armani suit, but I have ventured past the old standard 13mwz Wranglers and blue plaid shirt with pearl snaps.

I can rock a wild 20X, or even a cinch shirt. I actually wear three different styles of jeans, and I’m quite fond of my square-toed boots.

Within the narrow confines of western ranchwear style, I’m quite open-minded. My boys, for some reason, feel it’s OK to wear a T-shirt and ball cap to work cows. More often than not, they even wear basketball shoes in the hayfield. What’s with that? I’ve always been of the mind that long-sleeved shirts, Wranglers and boots are the uniform of the ranch.

However, as I’ve aged, and possibly (or possibly not) gained wisdom, I’ve found that I don’t have enough steam to maintain my position as head of ranch fashion police. I’ve dropped the argument, acquiesced to the vigor and stubbornness of youth, hip-ness and coolness.

In the midst of my defeat, I’ve pondered my cause. Is it possible that the reasoning behind my noble cause was a bit flawed? How could that be? Well, it be. Marty Robbins said so in 1964. “The Cowboy in the Continental Suit” is a catchy ballad that tells the story of a snappy-dressed dude, apparently dressed to the nines in his city duds, who makes an impossible ride on an unrideable bronc.

And he does it with cachet. The preconceived notions of all the top hands are crushed at the gate when the new guy climbs aboard “the one they call The Brute.”

The Buckskin tried to run him down
But the stranger was too quick
He stepped aside and threw his arms
Around the horse’s neck

And pulled himself up on the back
of the horse they called ‘The Brute’
Sit like he was born there
in his Continental Suit

I’ve always really liked this song. When I was a kid, I probably just liked it because of the nifty beat and because it was sung by Marty Robbins. Over the years, I kind of forgot about the song until I found a reason to wax philosophical.

The lyrics, I believe, offer a potload of insight to the views and perceptions of both the protagonist and the antagonists.

We snickered at the way he dressed
But he never said a word
He walks on by the rest of us
As if he hadn’t heard

The small-minded studs watching the new guy were quick to judge despite their knowing nothing about him. I think I’ve seen this happen in real life.

It didn’t matter at all to the hero of the story what anybody thought of him. He was sure enough of himself and his abilities that it didn’t matter a lick what the naysayers and ignoramuses thought.

He was probably the kind of feller who would have acted the same whether in bib overalls or his famous continental suit.

The moral of this story
Never judge by what they wear
Underneath some ragged clothes
Could be a millionaire

Everybody listen
Don’t be fooled by this galoot
This sure ’nough bronc buster
In a Continental Suit

Although a little common sense should prevail in a guy’s choice of apparel when he’s on the ranch, I’ve learned a thing or two in my nearly half-century of judging people. One thing is that when I make a harsh judgment from a first impression, I’m wrong more often than not.

I know, too, that the shoes don’t make the man. Kaycee Feild could ride a tornado in flip-flops. Ariats or Justins don’t make him more of or less of a bronc rider. On a more noble stage, Mother Teresa was an angel in a nun’s habit and sandals. Yves Saint Laurent could not have improved her character.  FG