Yesterday began like any other day. Going through the motions, sipping coffee, rummaging around the internet for some news that wasn’t depressing, you know, the usual, when I came across an article on NPR.org that said Larry McMurtry was selling his collection of over 300,000 books at auction in Archer City, Texas. A private collection of books so enormous that it fills four buildings floor to ceiling was just what I needed to bring some relief from stifling boredom and the unrelenting heat of another Texas summer. So, I hit MapQuest and discovered 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 – a paradise – of sorts.
Just shy of an hour later I arrived in Archer City. I pulled to the curb, grabbed my camera and headed into Booked Up building #2 where I was surrounded by books on every topic under the sun – art, history, biographies, volumes and volumes of passion, wisdom, folly. 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, and that’s when 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 which is across the street from First United Methodist. It was loaded from front to back with books divided into lots that filled every square foot of 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 I thought 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 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 just inside the door. 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.
I turned to take the book to the register and there he was, Larry McMurtry. He is tall. I said, “Good afternoon, how are you?” I think he replied, but I’m not sure. I was overwhelmed. He sat down next to the little girl at the table. 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.
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 that I know the last thing he needs is another book, but that I’ve written one and would be honored if he’d read it. Then I could 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 would not 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. Her 10 year old daughter and another little girl were seated 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 we were in the middle of somewhere, just regular people, having ice cream 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 share the story of my adventure with my husband and showed him the autographed copy of Buffalo Girls.
The last line of the story follows some 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.