When I was five or six years old, my dad took me to see a cowboy movie. I don’t recall the title, but I think the hero was played by Randolph Scott. He filled a lot of white-hat roles in those days, and I have a vivid memory of him sitting on his horse with that craggy face of his turned toward the sunset at the end of the film.
The thing that most stuck with me about that movie, however, was an early scene where Scott walked into a darkened bunkhouse just as the first streaks of dawn crept over the horizon and said to one of the slumbering ranch hands, “Rise and shine, buckaroo, it’s time to roll out, get your duds on and saddle up.”
I might have forgotten all about that early movie, except that my dad took to waking me in the morning for school with the admonition to “roll out, get my duds on and saddle up.”
I guess I always thought those words came out of the old west and that “duds” simply referred to the clothes that cowboys wore. Sort of the way cowpokes always seemed to have a “hankering” for some good “vittles.”
Turns out, however, that duds had very little to do with the good guys, the bad guys or the horses they rode in on. Instead, the word came out of Middle English in the 17th century, “dude,” meaning old clothes or rags.
A couple hundred years later the Dutch talked about a “dudman,” which referred to a scarecrow or the old clothes scarecrows were dressed in.
By the time I started climbing into my duds and saddling up, the country was deep into the Great Depression, and a lot of folks were wearing old clothes.
As the years wore on and the world moved into yet another war, the term duds took on another meaning – bad ammunition. Bombs that failed to go off.
In the war-torn streets of London during the German Blitz, folks were happy to see duds, bombs that failed to detonate and simply bounced around knocking down the garden wall instead of wiping out the entire city block.
I don’t remember when my dad stopped rousing me mornings to get my duds on. Probably about the time I waltzed into high school and was suddenly way too cool to be a simple cowboy anymore. I think for a time I preferred my mother’s call to simply “get up and get dressed.”
Later, however, and sometimes yet today when the sun comes up in a certain indefinable way, I still get a hankering to simply roll out, get my duds on and saddle up.