When Larry McMurtry Had Texas In His Back Pocket


Over the past few years, I’ve harbored two “bucket-list” items to fulfill before I reach room temperature. One was to visit Marfa, Texas, the self-proclaimed and pompous art nouveau hub of Texas and the holy ground where the movie “Giant” was filmed. I envisioned a hip desert town with fine food, good booze, and every inhabitant wearing Justin boots. I got a dusty, dirty, ugly little town with two nice hotels and no decent food.

My Marfa bubble was busted within thirty minutes of entering the town. I would have suffered a breakdown or a medical event, but my wife held me together until we made it back to Alpine, packed our gear, and headed back to Granbury.

The second and most anticipated bucket item was a visit to Archer City, Texas, the hometown of our revered Texas Nobel Laureate, Larry McMurtry. The small town boy knocked William Travis and Stephen F. Austin of the “favorite son” list.

Mo and I were headed to Colorado Springs to visit her daughter and family, so stopping in Archer City to visit McMurtry’s hallowed book store ” Booked Up” would make the trip an event to remember. This bubble was more significant than the one I had for Marfa. If not for Hemingway and Steinbeck, there would have been no McMurtry. If not for McMurtry, there would not be other great writers that learned from him.

The website said the store is open for business. It wasn’t and had not been for a while. I peeked through the dusty glass front door, and some autographed books were displayed on a table, where they once had been for sale. I was about as hang-dog as a man can get.

A fellow pushing his garbage bin to the street was helpful and filled us in on the particulars. It’s a good yarn but could also be a steaming pile. Small towns run on gossip, rumors, and legends.

The old man leaned on his trash bin, got close to the window where my wife sat, and let her rip.

When McMurtry passed on, he left his two town bookstores, his typewriter, and 30,000 rare books to the lady that ran them for years; Khristal Collins. His wife Norma Fay and his writing partner Diana Ossana got the cash. His estate hired a hot-shot New York book bow-tie-wearing appraiser to give the books a value. It seems the fellow opened a few books and some stock certificates fell out, then some more books and more certificates hit the floor. Now, he had to go through every book in both stores. It may take years. Let’s hope his wife checked their mattress.

In the literary world, the man is not a mere mortal, except that he did pass away at home a while back, so I was disappointed that a writer of his Homeric wizardry could actually expire.

I can imagine Larry sitting on his front veranda in the late afternoon, enjoying a good glass of scotch while contemplating his next book about the fictitious town of Thalia, Texas, and he fades with the setting sun.

When and If the Booked Up store re-opens, I will make the trip back to Archer City. I’m still hoping to meet Sonny, Duane, and Jacy.

10 Replies to “When Larry McMurtry Had Texas In His Back Pocket”

    1. I tell you Jack, it was a major let down. The shop looked like it was closed for lunch, but had not been open for a year. Without McMurtry, the city may dry up and blow on the wind. The Dairy Queen was closed because of no employee’s. Althoght Merna’s Cafe had a great lunch. No Jacy, although our waitress was as cute a gal as any you could find in Texas. Left her a $5.00 tip, my wife wanted to adopt her.

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      1. Yep, that’s what the gal at Merna’s said. It’s a small town and likely to grow smaller since Sir Larry has departed. He was the glue that kept that place going.

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    1. Yeah CB, you could feel it. Archer City is Larry McMurtry. I recently finished two of his books, ” Rhino Ranch” is based in Thalia and has Duane, Sonny and Jacy 30 years later. “Zeke and Ned” is mostly a true account of growing up and the turmoil on the Cherokee Indian Nation in the late 1800s. He co-wrote it with Diana Ossona, great book. Good to see back.

      Liked by 1 person

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