Internet emails continue to circulate long after they first debut; so, I was recently reminded of a vacation highlight that we had visited during 1980; this was on the same trip in which my parents and my daughter would share their first Disneyland experience together.
Victorville was one of our stops. We purposely deviated from the main highways toward Apple Valley to see the recently relocated Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum. From the moment we entered, we were in a place that was very un-museum like in its displays and its life size exhibits. I have never again experienced the same feeling in any other historic collection.
I’ll never forget watching my mother “take in” a glass memorial case at the beginning of the self tour. For some reason, I only remember two of the three children honored in that case: the military-clad elder son that the Rogers had lost and one other (also adopted) little Korean daughter who had died in a church-sponsored bus trip crash. The third child was their little daughter with Down’s syndrome. A sign of the times, medical technology was limited and she had lived only until age two.
As mothers, there was nothing more heartbreaking in our minds than the death of a child. Mom and I let the men walk on ahead to keep My Only occupied; but we both knew what the other was thinking. It had been a year of medical challenges for Only Bro, so we’d planned this vacation to temporarily remove our folks apart from the day-to-day concerns that were quickly wearing them down.
We had no idea what was in store that coming holiday season; for now, it was enough that we could step away from a glass encased memorial and move on to the next chapter.
With each turn, there were both recognizable artifacts and the family’s real lifestyle possessions, replicated in a respectful and welcoming manner. We were not intruders; rather, we were guests invited in to observe and linger where we wished for as long as we cared to, in what I can only describe as the closest thing to walking inside the pages of a 3D family photo album that I’d ever experienced.
Signs helped narrate their home style. George Montgomery had purposely designed the lovely wooden dining set with a spinning center lazy susan to accommodate a family with nine children. I was old enough to have remembered George Montgomery in his own movies; that he was a master wood crafter was not well known beyond the immediate movie industry. So, the table setting was there, surrounded with the quintessential dining room wallpaper and décor one would have expected to find in an American family’s 50’s home. Roy and Dale were no different than their fans, it seemed.
I’ve never been good with fur; alive or dead. So, to see Trigger still in the flesh and the family pet Bullet sitting there to greet us was a bit alarming for me! I tried hard to hide my discomfort; but as children can be extremely perceptive, my daughter soon picked up that Mommy wasn’t really smiling very much as we discussed the two animals. I’d never make a taxidermist, nor would I ever want to live in any room with glass eyes staring at me!
Thankfully, we passed the fury critters and came upon an old friend. This next object I gratefully admired; it was the very inanimate but precocious Nellie Belle. Now, this was a hoot! I could just picture ‘ole Gabby having left the parked vehicle right there! The Sons of the Pioneers history wasn’t too far from this main arena; also adjacent were some of the lovely costumes that both Dale Evans and Roy had worn. We adults even recognized the movie titles that they came from; only now we saw their actual lovely detailing in living color. Once again, we were reminded of what it felt like to visit old family friends and gleefully await for the host and hostess to join us.
The day we visited, the greeters shared that Roy still came down to the museum to chat with his fans. This was not one of those days, but we were okay with that and thanked the greeters for their warm hospitality. The entire ambience of the museum was engaging enough for us, as the inside décor reflected honor and good taste; both personal and movie collectables had been preserved for the public to enjoy. And enjoy them thoroughly we did.
Sadly, the two year old email that colored my memory of the Victorville attraction was the Christies Auction House summation of the demise of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Branson. Per Roy’s wishes, his children had promised that the exhibits would be sold off and the museum closed once the attraction could no longer pay its own upkeep. Seems that not enough lil’ pardners even knew who Roy and Dale were; not even in a tourist town like Branson, a place known for its traditions and reverence for all things Americana.
While few of us understand our personal stewardships will one day end, Roy had realistically foreseen that his earthly fame would eventually be replaced. Like any good steward, he had prepared his children, lovingly giving them permission to make the difficult decisions when the times changed.
How fortunate we were to have shared some of the happier trails of yesteryear…