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Frank's Shot of Redeye Adventure

I fondly remember playing cowboys and cowgirls as a kid. Packed up somewhere in a box at the bottom of my hall closet is a small blue cowgirl suit, a Christmas gift one year. A silver cap pistol, white ten gallon hat and blue leather boots completed my western ensemble.

I'm sure I looked adorable in it, but it wasn't too comfortable to play in; I preferred blue jeans and sneakers. Still, I've never been able to part with the little fringed skirt and vest — the good guys always won when I wore that outfit.

In the 1950's the neighborhood kids would watch a cowboy movie on Saturday mornings, then go home and reenact the best parts. True westerns had to include certain key ingredients, of course: good guys and bad guys, a barroom brawl, a horse chase, and a gunfight. Often the action began with a saloon scene when a thirsty cowpoke, hero or villain, would "belly up to the bar."

According to an internet article on the history of bourbon in America, "As the country expanded westward, whiskey could be found in any respectable saloon, and some not-so-respectable ones as well. Trail-weary cowboys could wash down the trail dust with a touch of ‘red eye.' Although the old westerns portray ‘red eye' as cheap whiskey, it is actually the good stuff. Bourbon does not get its characteristic red tint until it has been properly aged."

Frank McKeel, who grew up in Darlington, SC, vividly recalls one of his own cowboy-related adventures — "A Shot of Red Eye."

"As a young boy about six years old, I was a big fan of western cowboys such as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, Johnny Mack Brown, Whip Wilson and the Durango Kid. These real men could handle any situation. And since I was a young cowboy, wearing a hat, boots with spurs and two-gun holsters, I knew I could handle anything that came my way.

"One day I put all this confidence to a test. My father and mother were not at home, so I thought - now is the time. I had seen many an hombre belly up to the bar and shout at the bartender, "Give me a shot of red eye." I had on all my cowboy paraphernalia, and I knew with my six-year-old wisdom that I could do the same.

"I got down my father's bottle of Kentucky bourbon and proceeded to pour myself a shot of red eye. As that golden brown whiskey trickled slowly from the bottle into a shot glass, I thought to myself, I will become a real man now. What a momentous occasion! I took that shot glass, held it up to the kitchen window and marveled at the sunlight shining through. I slowly lifted the glass, full of manhood, bidding goodbye to childhood.

"Real cowboys and real men drank it in one gulp, giving a sigh of conquest, pleasure and relief all at once. So with one hand on my six-shooter and the other holding the shot of red eye, that's what I did. I took it all in one big swallow. Well, it went instantly from my tender lips all the way down to my small toes and the sensation was immediate — burning pain. I felt as if I was on fire, and I realized why this stuff is sometimes called Firewater!

"Slamming the shot glass down on the kitchen counter, I ran from my make-believe saloon into the back yard. Falling down and knocking off my cowboy hat, I dug my spurs into the ground and began to cough, spit, gag, scream and generally thrash about, trying the extinguish the fire within. Relief could not be found. I wallowed in the dirt for several minutes, trying to put out the terrible fire I had inflicted upon myself at the imaginary Long Branch.

"After a while the torture began to subside and I was finally able to stand upright again. I thought to myself, a cowboy would ride his horse ten miles into town just to have a shot of red eye. He must have been crazy!"

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