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In Search of Larry McMurtry: We Meet Luke Part 1
by Evelyn Horan

I'm in Archer City, Texas, at the Dairy Queen, the one HE sometimes visits. I might now be sitting in a booth where HE has sat. I see photos, jackets of books, HE'S written and a yellowed newspaper clipping describing the making of TEXASVILLE, sequel to THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. Visual memories dart through my thoughts as here and there HIS aura lingers.

I've just toured not one, but three of HIS four bookstores, located around the square, all filled with new and old treasures, HIS personal collections over long years. HIS gift to the residents of HIS hometown, Archer City, and cities beyond are hundreds, thousands of "rare and fine" books for readers of all interests.

I am staggered by the implications, their evident potential, all waiting, available. HIS devotion to exquisite writing, now shelved, waiting for the literary traveler hungry to explore new roads, available, housed in HIS bookstores.

BOOKED UP ONE, TWO, THREE and FOUR are located around the small square of a once thriving, long ago Texas town, now dusty and quiet. I recognize the town. I grew up in one like it, Gatesville, Texas, Coryell County, sister in its restful and historic appearance to present day Archer City.

I am excited as I glance around the Dairy Queen. Soon I'll return to Booked Up One to receive an autographed copy of WALTER BENJAMIN at the DAIRY QUEEN. Oh, of course, I've already read it. I have a copy at home. In fact, I've read most of HIS writings and have my own collection of HIS works.

It was only after I felt my spirit deeply touched by the LONESOME DOVE video series, I happened to stumble across in a video store, that I began to devour HIS books. Like an addict, I cannot seem to get enough of HIS writings. They speak to my heart, especially those concerning frontier Texas.

Because of the LONESOME DOVE trilogy, my husband and I toured the Big Bend country and South and West Texas last year. I felt compelled to visit the area, so vividly described in DEAD MAN'S WALK, STREETS OF LAREDO, LONESOME DOVE and COMANCHE MOON. I poured over maps, charted the route of the cattle drive, and marked river crossings along the way to the Platte River.

An unexpected treat, on a float trip down the Rio Grande River, was to come upon what remained of the movie set of both DEAD MAN'S WALK and STREETS OF LAREDO. Its recognizable adobe buildings are nestled on the river's sandy banks in Lajitas, Texas.

Later, in a museum in the Big Bend, I was told HE lived in Archer City, Texas. I stored that information away, hoping someday . . .Unfortunately, our trip was unexpectedly cut short after we visited Fort Phantom Hill, West Texas. Just recently, we had to make a hurried trip to Pennsylvania, with a stop over in Ranger, Texas, to visit a friend. There I called the Chamber of Commerce, Archer City, for information. I was given the bookstore number.

I ventured to ask, "Is it all right to drive by HIS home?"

"HE lives in the old Archer Mansion," and "it would be all right."

I felt like a movie fan requesting to visit a star's home as often occurs in Hollywood, about twenty miles from my California home. I didn't like that thought. It was too frivolous for the depth of respect I felt for HIM.

But I longed to know more about this Pulitzer Prize writer who had so profoundly affected my life, as none other, although with l00 hours beyond the Master's Degree, over thirty years of classroom teaching, including a counseling and pupil personnel credential, I had read a number of textbooks and recommended reading.

I even free-lance write short stories and articles both secular and religious for children. Over 70 periodicals have published over 200 articles. Yet, I am not worthy to "touch the hem of HIS literary garment." In fact, although HE had just stepped out of Booked Up One when we arrived after an early morning start, I didn't know what I could say to HIM even if HE had been there.

I'd be too tongue tied like young Newt, when he tried to speak to Miss Lorena in LONESOME DOVE. But maybe, I could just say, "Hello, Mr. McMurtry," when I returned to pick up my book.

In the booth in front of me, sits a tall, broad shouldered, elderly cowboy wearing a new white felt hat and a clean, white long sleeved, western-cut dress-shirt over faded work jeans. His companion across from him is a fair-skinned young woman with dark hair.

As my husband and I wait for our order, a young man places two red baskets with fries and burgers before the other couple. Suddenly, the gray-haired man turns his craggy, weatherworn face toward the counter area.

"Hey!" his voice booms out, "Did the Dairy Queen quit putting 'maters on hamburgers?" His voice reverberates off the Dairy Queen's walls.

A young man, either in high school, or newly graduated, anxiously hurries to the booth.

"Would you like for me to bring you some?" he asks.

"Naw!" the cowboy exclaims,"Not now." He waves the boy away with a long arm and turns to his companion. "I don't want nobody in the kitchen spittin' on my 'maters before they bring 'em to me!" he grumbles.

I smile. I've heard such behavior can happen in restaurants by harried, disgruntled help.

Our order arrives.

"What's going on here?" my husband cries in a voice almost matching that of the cowboy.

"Oh, no!" I tell myself. "Joe, don't carry on. This is the cowboy's place. We're only visitors. Don't try to match his bravado."

Reprinted with permission of Evelyn Horan.
Photos: property of Evelyn Horan
Photos of Luke Smith reprinted with permission of Luke Smith/E.Horan

What has Joe just discovered?
Find out in Part 2 of In Search of Larry McMurtry - We Meet Luke
Click to learn more about Evelyn Horan!

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