Roy Rogers Memorial Festival
Portsmouth, Ohio 2004
the way you ride the trail that counts;
Here’s a happy one for you!”
A personal report by Amy Mintzer
Beta readers Carol, Moira and Rachel
I had my doubts at first.
An eight hour and three minute ‘trail’ ahead of me to spend perhaps,
at most, a few minutes with our beloved hero, Mr. Robert Fuller.
I’d never heard of Portsmouth, Ohio
before. It’s location?
Incongruous to my original estimation of a ‘stone’s throw’ from
Pennsylvania, it’s nestled tidily along the Ohio River, which is, instead, a
stone’s throw away from northern KENTUCKY!
And, yes Y’all, it IS considered to be in ‘The South.”
Why Portsmouth, Ohio?
It’s boast to Roy Rogers or Leonard Franklin Sly encompassed his life
from the age of eight until his westward excursion in 1930 to live and work in
California as a truck driver, fruit picker, and western music singer.
(FYI –I learned this at the Festival.
Country music is singin’ about your neighbor’s wife.
Western music is singin’ about your neighbor’s horse.)
Without getting too deep into Mr.
Roger’s biography, his velvet voice and clean-cut appearance swept him into
America’s spotlight and gilded him there in memory as one of the country’s
cowboy legends. One landmark
reads…”Boyhood Home of the King of the Cowboys.”
So…I’ll tell you what I missed.
Thursday night (my daughter
Lindsay’s high school graduation), there was a
welcome mixer where the members were ‘encouraged’ (like anyone would need
any prompting) to mingle with the stars. The
stars attending: Kim Darby (True Grit), Steven Kanaly (‘Dallas’,
Ray), Stella Stevens (General Hospital) Andrew Prine, Heather Lowe, Russ
McCubbin, and of course (drum roll, please….) Robert Fuller.
Also in attendance were Cheryl Rogers Barnett, (adopted
daughter of Roy and first wife, Arlene) and “Dusty” Rogers (Roy Rogers
junior, son of Roy and first wife Arlene, who died in childbirth).
Friday (travel day),
I missed a question and answer panel along with a Luncheon with the Stars.
Then in the evening there was a reception by the indoor pool with
entertainment by the Carter Sisters; three multi talented ladies playing a
mandolin, steel guitar, and keyboard, singing with pristine harmony.
That’s what I missed.
When I arrived, Friday evening around
ten o’clock, the remnants of that particular function were winding down.
The first floor lobby had full view of the ground floor tropical pool so
after checking in, I walked within a few steps of the glass to have a look at
the pool area. I didn’t recognize
anyone…thankfully. I’d just driven eight and a half hours-- stopped for gas
and necessities twice---and every mile (construction included) was clearly
etched on my ragged exterior!
I wrangled into the hotel’s elevator,
trundled down the corridor and dropped my bags in the room.
Relieved? Not really.
I just had this feeling that Mr. Fuller wasn’t going to be there or
I’d wake up to find he’d left early…or some such business.
The idea had worked on my nerves a bit.
So, I went to the bar— very uncharacteristically –and purchased a calming beverage to take to my
It took me a while-- four episodes of
comedy TV –but eventually I felt myself begin to wind down from the trip as my
pores began to absorb the room’s stale cigarette smoke.
(Harmonica cue: Play
‘em if ya got ‘em! Fade to
June 5th, 2004. Final
day of the Festival. Looking out my
hotel window, I could see that a few people were leaving already.
One cowboy had his boots lassoed to his luggage instead of wearing them
on his feet! My nerves were in
knots. Would Mr. Fuller be there? (Again, this was a tiny town.
The portion of population that wasn’t in attendance at the Ramada had
migrated about five miles outside of town for a colossal ‘swap
market’ to all of us Yankees.) I
pressed THE elevator button and waited.
The doors opened. Surprise! (I
couldn’t have scripted this better myself—well maybe I’d have
written in at least one cup of coffee first.
However….) Jaws dropped open –for a brief time.
He was the first to recover. “Well, my God, what are you doin’
My own thoughts, ‘You know I was
thinkin’ that same thing?’… left me that same instant
I heard the familiar voice and recognized the handsome form that owned
“What do you think?”
I hopped into the crowded metal carton as he placed an arm around my
shoulder. “I came for the swap meet.” The
day just got better.
“Did you just get here?”
I think that’s what he said.
“Last night.” I think that’s what I said.
“Last night?” I think that’s what he said.
“Late. About ten o’clock.” I think that’s what I said.
long of a drive?” Something
“Six hours.” Sounds better than eight or nine-- and in an
elevator full of people, right?
“Six hours.” The smile that crossed his features lead me to believe
that he was touched that somebody would actually do something like that just to
spend a little time with him.
“Well…maybe closer to nine
hours—or so.” Something
“You’re crazy.” Exact words here. I remember him saying this.
He laughed. Bling! Ground
As a security provision, the stairs
could be accessed from the inside only; exit doors in the stairwell would lock
automatically preventing re-entry from the outside. I’m usually inclined to
take the stairs, but having only one single elevator for transport in this event
proved to be an advantage. One
elevator ride had me chatting with Mr. Kanaly—a lovely articulate gentleman.
Still another time the doors opened to reveal it’s cargo, which
included the Lone Ranger and two John Wayne look-alikes!
“ I love this place!!”
The celebrities were available in the
dealer/vendor room from ten o’clock until three and although there wasn’t
much on the agenda for the day, our hero was no less busy. Signing this, smiling for that, chatting with all kinds of
admirers on and off camera. Didn’t
want to bug him so I made my way around the room… There was very little space for two-way traffic.
I was talking with the likes of the Lone
Ranger, Rooster Cogburn, and John Wayne, and getting their autographs when I
felt a hand on my shoulder and a voice in my ear. Don’t remember the exact words but about fifteen minutes
later Mr. Fuller and I were sitting and chatting about everything from soup to
nuts; family, friends, and politics to horse racing and fishing; scuba diving to
playing the spoons. Before we knew
it, an hour had slipped past. He
returned to the dealer room, and I sat there hanging, attempting to absorb
everything that had been said, all the while my respect for him deepening.
He’d reminded me that there was a Western Look-A-Like
contest scheduled at two o’clock and the banquet in the evening.
Indeed there was and the celebrities were the judges.
‘Rooster Cogburn’ won.
Smarty Jones didn’t--alas.
The event was dampened somewhat by the
news of former President Reagan’s death.
His passing was honored with a moment of silence at the beginning of the
The banquet. I arrived there a little
late because I’d sort of gotten caught up in the Belmont Stakes.
Everybody was already seated and so the pickin’s were limited—and
everybody knows how embarrassing seat-pickin’ in public can be.
I sat in the back with three lovely gentlemen who offered me a vacant
spot at their table. Every
now and then Mr. Fuller caught me glancing his way and gave me a characteristic
grin and wink. I was too excited to eat so I talked.
Thankfully, my dinner companions didn’t seem to mind.
A couple of times he stopped by the table for a quick comment or two.
Following the meal Devon Dawson, a
lovely young redheaded cowgirl performed a lively assortment of Western music
with emphasis on Dale Evans material, of course.
Divinely talented, she played the guitar and sang. Her enthusiasm was
apparently contagious for nearing the end of her act; a soft rhythmic clicking
of spoons could be heard in the background in the vicinity of the celebrity
dais. The occasional head turned to
look for the percussion’s source. I
wouldn’t have needed to turn my head to know where the sweet sound was coming
from, although of course I wanted to catch the moment and have it burned into my
brain! For her final song, “Happy
Trails” she invited him to the stage area to accompany her which he did-- very
elegantly. Cameras were flashing wildly. Mine
So…. sixteen hours of trail dust
traded for a few moments with our Adorable cowboy.
Worth every minute!
But, it wouldn’t have mattered if I had been there for all four days;
the time would have vanished similarly, in a moment. And although the trail home wasn’t exactly a flash,
shortening the span was a parade of new fond memories, accompanied by the
occasional sweet sound of rhythmic clicking spoons.
sing a song and bring the sunny weather!
trails to you
we meet again!”
clickety-click clicety-clickety-clickety-click, click click!)
June 6, 2004
(*) lyrics by Dale Evans
A special note of gratitude to my beta-readers, Carol, Moira and Rachel for their time, energy and creativity! Thanks for keeping me somewhat polished (well you did what you could), focused, and real! You’re the best!
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