Yesterday began like any other day. Going through the motions, being grateful for life, but still wanting more out of it, you know, the usual. I sipped my coffee and rummaged around for some “news.” The paper was a snooze. I was about to go into a rant about bloated belly futures and some other stock tips when I came across a bit of inspiration; an article on NPR.org that said Larry McMurtry, was selling his collection of over 300,000 books at auction in Archer City, Texas.
Now, I’ve been to libraries, seen shelves and shelves of books, room and rooms of them, but never a private collection of books so enormous that it takes up four buildings. I decided an adventure drive was just what I needed to bring me some relief from a stifling boredom and the unrelenting heat of this Texas summer. I hit the MapQuest and what-da-ya-know, Archer City is only a two and a half hour drive west. Yeah, head west to beat the heat, that’ll do it! So I did.
Two lanes split the parched landscape. I drove every bit of the 70 mph limit toward the pale blue sky, dodging the steel belted debris of those who’d come before me. After the first hour and a half of rusted signs and split rail fences, I stopped to cool my tires and snap a few photos. There was something that looked like a butte in the distance. As I got closer I could see three, but wasn’t sure if they were natural land forms or just earth pushed up to cover a landfill.
Not much further, there was a ridge line and soon I was on higher ground, surrounded by low trees, rolling pastures, paradise, of sorts.
Barely shy of an hour later was Archer City. I pulled to the curb, grabbed my camera and headed into Booked Up building #2.To be in the space, surrounded by titles of every imaginable topic was thrilling. Art, history, biographies, volumes of passion, wisdom, folly. It was glorious, but that was only the beginning. A nice young man was talking with another man about the restaurant across the street where he had lunch. “They have homemade pie,” he said. Of course I interjected, asking the name of the place. The young man asked me if I was registered for the auction and offered to walk over with me to one of the other buildings so I could register or get a guest pass.
We headed toward the building next door to the First Baptist, across the street from First United Methodist. It was loaded from front to back, books divided into lots filled every square foot of the space.
The young man introduced the guy, Michael who was running the auction. He was seated at a table in the back room. He was surrounded by books.
He explained the registration procedure and gave me a label with the letter “G” written on it. We chatted for a few minutes, then I started looking around and wrote down some of the lot numbers for titles I might be interested in bidding on, if I decided to participate in the auction. Before I’d walked back to the front, I’d written down a dozen different lot numbers. It was exhilarating. I couldn’t possibly purchase the thousands of books I had identified as too good to pass up. I needed some air. I stepped out the door and walked across the street to the Booked Up store. Two ladies and a little girl were seated at a table. I looked around a bit and one of the ladies said there were some signed copies of Mr. McMurtry’s books on a shelf in front of me. I picked up a copy of Lonesome Dove, then Buffalo Girls; I decided to buy it.
Just as I turned to take the book to the register, there he was, Larry McMurtry. He is tall. I said good afternoon, how are you. I think he spoke, but I’m not sure. I was overwhelmed. He sat down next to the little girl. I asked the lady if I could maybe get a picture with him and she asked if I was a reporter. I said, “no, I’m just a person,” and she told me to ask him. I did. He was gracious and stood next to me while the lady, holding the little girl in her arms, took our picture. I shook his hand, thanked him and said something stupid like, “you have a magnificent collection of books.” Stupid! I could have asked him anything. Anything!
I’m blaming it on the heat.
I left the store, got in my car, drove around the block and parked down the street. I got out and snapped some pictures of a marker about Jesse James and the intersection that is Archer City.
I went to the Wildcat Cafe, but they were closed. No homemade pie for me.
I left town, stopping on the side of the road every couple hundred yards, trying to talk myself into going back, registering for the auction, telling Mr. McMurtry I’m a writer, saying I know the last thing he needs is another book, but that I’ve written one and I’d be honored if he’d read it, even thinking at one point I should get a room at the Spur Hotel and stay the two days until the auction, bid on every lot and have a wild west weekend of my own there in that one traffic light town. Insane! This wouldn’t play well with my husband, and so, finally deciding none of that was going to happen, I kicked myself all the way back to Jacksboro where I stopped at City Drug because a road sign said they have clean restrooms and a real, full-service soda fountain. I was one chocolate soda away from feeling better.
A young woman was filling ketchup bottles. She asked if she could help me and I asked if she could make a chocolate soda. A few minutes later I was joined by some kids getting a couple of scoops of some multi-colored treat. They were adorable. I asked the woman with them if I could take their picture. She was their aunt. She was pregnant and her 10 year old daughter and another little girl sat next to her. We chatted. It turned out that three generations of her family had been in business there on that corner, in that store. They owned the place. That place. And there we were, talking, not about war, politics, the stock market or corporate anything. There, in the middle of somewhere, having ice cream with the kids on a scorching summer afternoon. It was great!
She shook my hand as I got ready to leave and told me to drive safely. I felt better. When I got home, I recalled my adventure to my husband and showed him the autographed copy of Buffalo Girls.
The last line of the story follows dialog about whether Calamity Jane was a woman or a man. When you read it in context, it’s pretty hilarious.
“No, and you know what? I don’t care what religion she was,” Johnny said. “I just liked the old girl.”
I hope someday someone says that about me.