“With the friendliest, fightingist, loving band, that ever set foot in the promised land, and we’re happier than them all. That’s why we call it Bonanza …” Noah sprawls on his stomach in front of the TV, his chin cupped in his hands. When he hears this theme song, his face breaks into a smile, revealing a few missing teeth and his love for all things Western.
Bonanza is Noah’s favorite TV show. The series’ protagonists, the Cartwright gang – Ben, Adam, Hoss and Little Joe – camp out in Noah’s thoughts when he starts to fear his illness. They remind him of the cowboy spirit inside him. To be brave and steadfast. No easy task for a 6-year-old diagnosed with medulloblastoma, but Noah rises to the challenge every time.
As his ultimate wish, Noah wanted to test his cowboy skills with a real buckaroo. Here’s where bona fide cowboy Howard Anderson came in.
Out on the Range for a Wish
A limousine delivers Noah to Oak Hill Farm for “Cowboy School” with Anderson. Surrounded by bales of hay and cardboard cacti, Noah knows that he’s in the Wild West now. First, Noah has to dress the part. He pushes open two swinging, wooden saloon doors and swaggers out, wearing a tasseled vest, suede chaps, boots and a red cowboy hat. His favorite item though is a shiny belt buckle in keeping with the classic cowboy garb. He even looks like a Cartwright.
Now, it’s time for lasso lessons. Anderson takes the rope and whips it above his head, wrapping it around one of Noah’s family members. Noah takes note and works on lassoing a lone cactus. His family watches as he swings the rope, smiling and shouting words of encouragement. They can see his anxiety and doubt fading; there’s a strong and gritty cowboy where their small son was just standing.
Next up is a trip to the stable where Noah meets his horse for the day – the true root of his wish. Noah puts his hands on the side of the chestnut-colored horse, feeling its steady breath. He throws his leg over the other side and settles into the saddle. Like a natural, he grabs the reins and steers his horse around a fenced pen, that endearing, gap-tooth smile across his face. He leaves the ranch with a “Cowboy School” graduation certificate, a Popsicle and a renewed cowboy spirit.
Riding Into a Better Future
Noah’s Western days aren’t over yet though. He still has a year of horseback riding lessons to look forward to. And the next time Noah struggles with fears of his illness, memories of his day as a cowboy may fortify him. After all, he’s part of the “fightingist” band out there.