by Evelyn Horan
There's no MEAT on this hamburger!" Joe exclaims in bewilderment.
The cowboy twists around in his seat and peers over his shoulder with a wide grin.
"They shorted you too?" he asks, extending a massive, gnarled paw of a hand. "I'm Luke," he says.
"I'm Joe," my husband says, shaking Luke's work-worn hand.
There is no hamburger meat on my bun either. The young red-faced waiter quickly picks up our baskets.
"Jake!" he calls, striding toward a youth behind the kitchen order counter. "You forgot the hamburger meat!"
By this time, Joe is sharing one of his repertoire of short jokes with Luke. I can only hope it's not too colorful. Luke might not enjoy shady jokes.
There is a chuckle and I decide to change the conversation. "We've been visiting the bookstores. Do you happen to know Mr. McMurtry?"
"Know him?" Luke grins again. "I've knowed Larry since he was a itty-bitty baby. I used to work for his daddy."
"Is that right?" I exclaim. Imagine my good fortune! The weathered cowboy has known Mr. McMurtry all his life.
As we enjoy our burgers, Luke and his young companion chat with us. She says she helps Luke out on his ranch with the work both indoors and outdoors. Luke shows us some snapshots of work activity in his ranch corral, including a graphic close up of the gelding of a horse.
"I think Larry has modeled some of his cowboy characters in his stories after Luke," the girl tells me.
I didn't doubt it. I notice Luke's strong, broad shoulders, his long, outstretched legs and his dusty, black cowboy boots.
"You're a fine figure of a man, Luke," I say. "I'll bet you can't be much over seventy."
"I'll be eighty-one, my next birthday, July 31st."
"No kidding!" That was hard to believe. Luke was still tall and unstooped. Maybe he was, rightly so, Gus McCrea.
Luke was talking about his Texas longhorns.
"Oh, do you have a picture of them?" I ask. "I love the longhorns."
"No, not with me," Luke says. Then, he tells me Larry put a copy of his latest book in his mailbox, but he hadn't gotten around to reading it yet.
I am amazed how everyone I meet in Archer City, accepts the fact that this celebrated and world-renowned Larry McMurtry, Pulitzer Prize winner, admired and respected by the greats in all walks of life, is treated so casually, as just another neighbor, as one of their own.
It's charming, yet humbling for a man of Mr. McMurtry's stature to return to his home community and be just "Larry" to the townsfolk.
Although a novice writer, I sense that, perhaps, in a small community where the hustle and bustle of city life doesn't intrude, Mr. McMurtry can be close to His taproot of creativity, drawing from this town of fresh air and openness, new energy for new writings. I can't imagine it flowing as clearly or as comfortably in large metropolitan cities.
We return to Booked Up One. Again we missed him. I feel sad and yet, I am grateful as I carefully open my new copy of WALTER BENJAMIN at the DAIRY QUEEN, and see his handwriting, "To Evelyn, Good luck. L.McMurtry."
I had hoped he would have included my suggestion: "Good luck with your free lance writing for children." But how was he to know the deep admiration and respect I give to him for his work and his characters, now my friends, or for the hours of pleasure I receive from his unabridged books on tape, while I travel to tutor students or substitute teach? He's a busy man, so many important people in his professional and personal life. I will treasure his words, always.
We exit Booked Up One. I wish I could stay longer. I've taken snapshots of the store, the town square, the Dairy Queen and his comfortably attractive, unpretentious home near the school in my view, a good place to write.
As we stand by our car, a dusty pickup with muddied tires from an earlier rain, pulls up beside us. Luke and his companion step out. She is carrying a small note pad. Luke exchanges greeting again with Joe.
"Give us your address and Luke will send you some snapshots of his longhorns," she says, in a voice filled with true Texas hospitality, and I feel once again, the warm spirit of this small Texas town.
"I'll be glad to send y'all pictures," Luke says.
"We talked about it and figured to catch you back at the bookstore," the girl says, as I dig in my purse for a pen.
"Thank you ever so much," I say, returning my address. They board the pickup smiling and waving as they pull away.
We back out of the parking lot. As we exit town on our way to Wichita Falls, I am thinking about Luke and his Texas longhorns, and Mr. McMurtry, and Gus and Call, Lorena and Clara, and all the others. I am hoping Mr. McMurtry has another Texas series in him like LONESOME DOVE. Or is it too much to hope for?
"Good luck, Mr. McMurtry, and good writing to you," I murmur, as we exit Archer City.
It is now several weeks after my visit to Archer City. I am hoping Luke hasn't forgotten to send me some pictures of his Texas longhorns.
Last week I received in the mail a delightful surprise! Two envelopes were filled with wonderful photos and newspaper clippings of activities on Luke's ranch. I learned that a few years back Luke made it a practice to invite family and friends and their children to spend time at his ranch participating in the various jobs involved in "cowboying".
These pictures, which I will treasure always, prove that Luke, whom I shall always remember, is a living example of a gracious gentleman and a genuine Texas cowboy! I am grateful to have had the unexpected pleasure of meeting him.
© Evelyn Horan
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