The interview process with potential department manager candidates is something less than an exact science. Questions directed at forming a baseline for skill levels and technical knowledge of the discipline are rather straight forward. However, developing the open-ended questions that unveil a candidate’s personality, character and leadership is a bit trickier.

I am not sure where I acquired the question, but one I include goes something like this. “When you were growing up and were in elementary school, what was it you told people you were going to be when you were grown?” The follow up question depending on the candidate’s response is – why aren’t you?

This week I had occasion to think about how I would have answered the question if it were asked of me. My wife and I traveled to Fort Worth to celebrate her birthday and the evening was built around our first visit to the Bass Hall. I am sure it is a similar experience for other people who celebrate a birthday close to the 25th day of December. Celebrations tend to be influenced by Christmas. This year for Carol was no different; the entertainment was a concert of Christmas oriented music. The Nancy Lee and Perry Bass Hall is breathtaking. It is designed after the European opera houses and the acoustics are superb, even for a newspaper guy who wears hearing aids.

The performer Monday night has been writing and making music for over 45 years and his five-piece band consists of some of the best country and cowboy musicians here or anywhere else I know of. Michael Martin Murphey’s Cowboy Christmas was nearly three hours of outstanding blue grass, Christmas and cowboy songs. The cowboy music really resonated with me, and wandering through my mind’s memories for several days. You see, my answer to the interview question if I were asked would have been, I’m going to be a cowboy.

A half century ago it was popular for Saturday afternoons to be spent at the movie theater. In our neighborhood kids were lined up around the block waiting to pay their quarter for a full-length movie, a serial, a newsreel and several cartoons. It was the hey day of the American western genre and each week we watched our cowboy heroes on horseback catch the bad guys and save the day for some rancher or western town. The rest of the week, the Saturday matinee provided the scenario for the cowboy games played in the neighborhood.

I experienced a similar feeling a number of years ago. Dr. Al Tucker, a new member and Director of Graduate Studies at Howard Payne University, gave a musical program at the Brownwood Rotary Club. Tucker came from Sul Ross State University in Alpine, and it may have been that experience of living in the Big Bend area of West Texas that provided the background for his music. Accompanying himself on the guitar he sang a collection of cowboy songs that while not up to the professional level of Murphey, were very entertaining.

However, the real treat for me was the slide show that was a part of the program. Tucker had photos of all the old cowboys from the Saturday movies. Not just Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, the singing cowboys, but also the less famous Johnny Mack Brown, Lash Larue, Whip Wilson and dozens of others I quickly identified and readily remembered from Saturday afternoons at the movies.

Murphey performed a couple of Marty Robbins’ huge hits during his Bass hall performance Monday. During one of them I kept seeing an image on an old photograph taken years ago. It is stored in a box in an old chest of drawers in the guest bedroom and captures a young boy in chaps and wearing a brand new two-gun holster set. I could imagine this midwestern city kid thinking he was going to become the ranger with the “Big Iron on his hip.”

Why didn’t I end up a cowboy? It seems like life just got in the way. I suspect it was the same for many of the applicants who had to ponder my interview question.

Robert Brincefield is vice president and publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at