On the night before Christmas, Conniption’s streets lie empty and dark. The shops and stores of the town are closed for the night, slumbering under a blanket of fresh snow. Only the saloon shows signs of life as a single rider, gunfighter Hipshot Percussion, rides through.
Hipshot is a loner, a hard man. He passes the church, the saloon, and rides away from town. He rides past the home of lawman Rick O’Shay, his best and perhaps his only friend. Hipshot knows he would be welcome at any of the three places celebrating Christmas, and yet he stops at none of them. Instead, he rides to the top of a snowy hill and draws rein. Removing his hat, he raises his eyes to one bright star that hangs above the valley and says,
“Happy Birthday, Boss.”
During my nearly 20-year run with my first syndicated cartoon strip, Rick O’Shay, I wrote and drew approximately 6,300 daily strips and perhaps 1,000 Sunday pages. And yet no other single cartoon that I produced even comes close to equalling the popularity of the “Happy Birthday, Boss” page.
Why, I wondered. What is there about that particular cartoon that has touched so many people across America and around the world?
I think the answer lies in the nature of our relationship with the natural world and with the power that created the universe in which we dwell. As individuals we may have been disappointed or turned off by organized religion. We may have followed dark trails that led to dead ends and pain. We may even have come to deny the existence of a creator at all. (If we can do that, Hipshot says, we just aren’t paying attention.)
Growing up among cowboys, sheepmen, and ranch people in eastern Montana, I noticed a common trait. Men who earn their livings in the natural world are often deeply spiritual men. They may not confess an established denomination, they may not have been inside a church or synagogue since childhood, but they nearly all seem to be aware of a creative power in the world, a power Hipshot refers to as “The Boss.”
How could it be otherwise? Men who live close to creation, whose lives and welfare are affected on a personal level each day by the weather, who witness the cycle of the seasons, the miracle of birth, the progression of growth, decline, and death, how could they not be believers?
This year, whether your journey takes you to the top of a snowy hill on a winter’s eve, whether you acknowledge Hipshot’s church as your own, or whether you find your trail leads to a stable in Bethlehem beneath a single bright star, I wish you and yours every blessing on this birthday of The Boss.