— With a hearty "Hi yo, Silver, away!'' the Lone Ranger and his pale steed thunder across our television screen to the cavalry charge of the William Tell Overture.
We have the first nine episodes of this classic and start with the first, as the Texas Rangers strive to bring law and order to a wild country. They're riding over arid plains, a posse closing in on a terrorist band, and we're transported to the battles of yesteryear.
I haven't seen this for 50 years, and I'm surprised I still like it. Was this a kids show? I look and our kids are rapt, watching closely as a traitor among the Rangers leads them into a trap. They ride into a boxed canyon, where the outlaws are taking aim with rifles from the rim. As the lawmen rein in their horses, gaze up to absorb their fate, Buddy slides closer to his big sister on the couch.
Then the gang opens fire, and one by one, the Rangers drop in a hail of lead.
``This is pretty violent,'' says Hon.
``No real gore, though. No close-ups,'' I say.
``Which is good, because I can watch it,'' says Alice.
``When was it made?'' asks Uncle Chet, and I retrieve the DVD case, but reading it is impossible with my glasses on. And if I take them off I won't be able to see as one ranger, gravely wounded, survives. Hours later, minutes in TV time, he's crawling toward water when he's found by his old friend, Tonto, a Native American hunter.
Tonto dresses the white man's wounds, nurses his friend back to health and buries the other Rangers. When the lone survivor regains his strength, he vows to catch the outlaws and others who prey on the innocent.
Tonto hands him his guns and asks if he'll shoot the evildoers.
``I'll shoot if I have to, but I'll shoot to wound,'' says the Lone Ranger. ``If a man must die, it's up to the law to decide that, not the man behind a six-shooter.''
Moved by this noble ethic, Tonto vows to join the crusade.
As the episode ends, I pick up the case and read that it first ran in 1949.
``About what I would have guessed,'' says Uncle Chet.
``I remember watching it every Saturday in the '50s,'' says Alice.
``I was trying to remember what day it was on,'' I say.
``Let's watch another one,'' says Buddy.
``Later,'' I say.
``Just one more?'' asks his sister.
``In a lot of ways, this show is more about when it was made than 1870,'' says Uncle Chet. ``Truth, justice and the American way meant something in the '50s, at least in the movies. We all believed in presumption of innocence, habeas corpus, trial by jury, things that have gone by the wayside in recent years.
"Think about 1949," he says. ``It was just after World War II. Hitler and Hirohito were defeated by the good guys. And the victors, like the Lone Ranger, were magnanimous. We were offering the Marshall Plan, the United Nations, rebuilding Japan's economy. No wonder they loved Americans around the world.''
``How far we've fallen,'' says Alice.
``Now we're known for Guantanamo,'' says Uncle Chet.``Torture, forced confessions and military tribunals in concentration camps: the new American way.''
``I don't think `The Lone Ranger' would survive on TV today,'' says Hon. ``The audience is too jaded.''
``We're not jaded; we want to see another one,'' says the 10th-grader.
``We do,'' says Buddy, aiming the remote.
``Well, it's OK with me, if the rest of you want to,'' I relent.
``Let's. I like how the white man and Indian depend on each other,'' says Alice.
``They're brothers,'' I add.
``Yes, Kimosabee,'' says Uncle Chet. ``It's an Obama-like concept, way before its time: men of different races are brothers and can work together to bring justice to the land.''
``So Obama's a throwback to the '50s,'' says Hon.
``He's the black Lone Ranger,'' I say.
"Well, maybe his team could use that as a campaign theme,'' says Uncle Chet as the overture plays and the masked man rides again. ``Vote Obama, and restore the rule of law to the west and the east.''
Cooperstown News Bureau Reporter Tom Grace is traveling with his Uncle Chet, who he says is imaginary. Grace's column appears every other week.