McMurtry proves you can go home again

Woodrow F. Call  (Tommy Lee Jones) and Augustus McCrae (Robert Duvall)

It has been said and written that once you leave home, you can really never go back. Larry McMurtry, renowned Texas writer, proved that not only can you go home again, but also that you can take much of the world with you. Readers and followers of his books and screenplays feel as comfortable talking about “Lonesome Dove,” a fictitious Texas town, as some folks do Fort Worth or Dallas. The characters are real and have taken up residence in the hearts and minds of the faithful. Everyone has a favorite. Yours could be Augustus McCrae or Woodrow F. Call, two of the finest Texas Rangers to ever mount a horse. Or just maybe you fancy darling Clara Allen, who came to Galveston to buy wares for her store, or brave Joshua Deets. Blue Duck, a merciless killer, also captured hearts on the big screen and on countless televisions around the world.

I had occasion to go to Archer City, Texas, McMurtry’s birthplace and home, and spend some time. My late husband had relatives that had lived there for a lifetime and they knew where every interesting and exciting place was in the area, but they also knew where the out of the way and not so well known spots were. We, of course, ate more than once at the local Dairy Queen, site of so much of the action in The Last Picture Show, and I was allowed to roam in many of the old town’s bookstores looking at rare, hard to find, and interesting volumes collected by McMurtry and his staff over the years. We also drove out to the famed author’s home, which was once the town’s country club.

It is said that when McMurtry first started his writing career, he did not know if the dusty plains and hardscrabble ranchers he grew up with would garner anyone’s attention. His family often sat on the front porch of the little farmhouse a few miles out of Archer City and told stories into the evening. McMurtry, as a youth, listened and years later would bring those stories to the printed page and ultimately, the movie screen. Being a student of history and later a teacher, he was armed with facts and information. After leaving the ranch and going to college, teaching, and traveling, he, like so many others, returned home to the place of his birth and continued to write.

Critics said his writing was harsh and that he made the Old West and Texas, in particular, raw, dusty and hard. He wrote what he saw and what he knew. Readers loved it. As the years passed and his body of work grew, history proved the author right and the many accolades and awards he has won, including a Pulitzer an Oscar, and so many more, have assured him a major place in history. But more than his place in history, McMurtry has helped the world to understand our Texas and the brave men and women that shaped it as they sought their destinies and made their living. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t free, but it was rewarding.

“Lonesome Dove” and the sequels and prequels are perhaps his most famous works, but this prolific author has written more than 30 other novels, 14 books of non-fiction, biographies, book reviews, essays and memoirs. And this is not counting his work for the screen. He also dedicates time to another passion, the collection of books, many rare, first editions and finds that he treasures. His work has been compared to that of Charles Dickens and William Faulkner, among others.

We are told that McMurtry, who married the former Faye Kesey, widow of a famous writer, in 2011, spends his time between his home in Archer City and a friend’s place in Tucson, Arizona. He is now 80 years old and still writes every day using only a manual typewriter — a Hermes 3000. Some of his best work, other than “Lonesome Dove,” is perhaps “Horseman, Pass By,” written in 1961; “In a Narrow Grave: Essays on Texas,” 1968; “Duane’s Depressed,” 1999; and “Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen” in 1999. Every reader and devoted follower will add personal choices to our list.

Every person reading this column needs something fun to be interested in outside of work, profession, politics or heavy responsibilities. For me, it is reading, and I am personally hooked on all of the “Lonesome Dove” stories and got quite excited one afternoon driving down the freeway from Dallas when I saw a plain white sign with black lettering stating “Lonesome Dove Baptist Church,” along with an arrow, directing folks to a unimpressive side street. Because of the traffic in late afternoon, I could not safely get off the freeway and drive back to the road, but you can bet your best Texas boots I am going back one day soon and find that little church. It probably has nothing to do with the book or the movie, but I was enthralled with finding it and knowing that it existed.


Brenda Cannon Henley can be reached at brendacannonhenley [at] yahoo [dot] com.