Take a trip back to your hometown

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A philosopher once advised that if you have just one more trip to take, don't go to Paris or Rome. Go back to your hometown and meditate about what your life meant when you were growing up there. Think hard about how that little hometown turned you into the person you are now.

My own hometown is very small and very isolated. It's not easy to get there. But I try to visit it in my memory from time to time. My past seems so much more interesting to me than my future does.

Two staples of life, when I was a small child, were radios and rodeos.

Although I spent a lot of my childhood watching TV, my earlier days (5-7) were spent listening to the radio. I loved it. Let's see. There was "Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Persons." That was a great radio show, but I can't recall much about it other than there was this man who found missing persons and his name was Mr. Keene and he happened upon a lot of dirty secrets.

Better recalled is "The Lone Ranger," that famous masked man who teamed up with a faithful Native American companion to help bring law and order to the early West. I imagined, when I was 6, what the Lone Ranger's mask looked like and in my vision, it was heavy and sinister and so black a star could vanish inside it.

When I finally saw the mask on TV in black-and-white, it seemed so ordinary that I became a little depressed, even if I was only a second-grader from a fine home.

The great thing about radio is that it forces you to use your imagination. You never hear anybody talk without wanting to imagine what they look like. You never hear anything dramatized without wanting to run the movie version inside your head. I credit my considerable imagination with the fact that I am old enough to have listened to a lot of great radio.

I must admit that radio, at its finest, helped listeners with their imagination. Go to Google and find Old Time Radio Classics. If you listen to the radio version of the Western drama "Gunsmoke," for instance, you'll find that, out on those Kansas radio plains, dogs are barking, hooves are galloping, and wind is blowing. Those old radio folks knew how to do sound effects and then let your own imagination do the rest. As a kid, I would hear the gunfights on "Gunsmoke" and conjure up such excitement that, again, when I saw them on TV in the later 1950s, I was disappointed at how dull they seemed.

Not long ago I read that young people are rediscovering radio. They don't listen to radio on radio, of course. They listen to radio on their smartphones. I thought smartphones were cameras, but I guess they're radios, too. If young people really are going back to radio, they'll become the most imaginative generation since people like me stopped crawling and started riding one-speed bicycles.

But enough about radio. When I was a tyke, I couldn't help but be struck by how much the word "radio" sounded like "rodeo." No, I never "heard" a rodeo on radio. Even I admit that might be dull. I'd much prefer to go to the radio than hear it. But if radio thrilled me as a 6-year old, so did rodeos.

I grew up in Texas, which was rodeo-rich.

In fact, I even had a distant cousin, Jerry, who was a rodeo rider. I seem to recall that once, in Taylor, Texas, my cousins and I went to a rodeo where Jerry, who had hair so red you'd swear you'd seen it in a fireplace, riding a bucking bronco. I even recall other cowboys riding bucking bulls and being thrown off, but then a clown would go out to distract the bull long enough for the thrown cowboy to escape. It was as enthralling as a radio gunfight.

But here's the catch. I'm not sure this rodeo happened. Oh, sure, I definitely went to rodeos as a young brat. But I'm not sure I ever saw cousin Jerry in one. I know we TALKED about seeing him do his rambunctious thing in a rodeo. But I'm not sure we actually did, and none of my cousins can remember anyhow.

Besides,we're all old enough now to be losing our marbles anyhow.

But, hey, that's the point, isn't it? Doesn't all this come back to the imagination?

Even if I didn't see the Lone Ranger's mask, I imagined it, and it was of immense interest in my mind's eye. And even though I might not have seen cousin Jerry (we nicknamed him the Red Rider) in a rodeo, I still imagine doing so.

Let's see: Jerry got on a wild black-and-white stallion with fire coming out of its nostrils. Jerry was very brave, and although the horse sometimes bounced him three feet in the air, Jerry still held onto a thick buckskin bridle until the stallion send him sideways off its bareback. Jerry was turned into a missile that hit the wall of the grandstand, but he managed to get up and escape, even though the fire-breathing stallion, now turned into a dragon, barely missed burning Jerry Red Rider's jeans off. Throughout this ordeal, Red Rider never lost his white Stetson.

See how exciting things can be when you don't have to rely on eyewitness facts?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have an old episode of "Mr. Keene, Tracer of Lost Persons" to listen to online. In the last episode Mr. Keene was looking for a missing rodeo rider.

Tom McBride is the author of "Bent Dead in Beloit: A Mystery" and a co-author of the Marist College Mindset List.

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