RIP Larry McMurtry

I learned that Larry McMurtry died today. Although he was a popular and most talented writer, I found Terms of Endearment and some of his other work unbearably sad, and didn’t want to read or watch more. No Lonesome Dove for me I saw The Last Picture Show and I remember my brother hiding my younger sister’s eyes for certain scenes.

The news clip I heard on NPR referenced his Archer City, Texas bookstore, which he opened because there was no local bookstore. I visited Archer City several years ago and bookstore does not begin to describe it. I was visiting my brother who was attending to business interests in Ardmore, Oklahoma, one of which is also a local independent bookstore, The Bookseller—shout out to manager Lois Proctor.

But anyway, we took a day trip to Archer City. Like many small towns, Archer City’s downtown was in decline. However, McMurtry had taken over buildings all around the square for book sales. There was a new book store, but also used book stores arranged by type of book in buildings all around the square. Each building was full to the ceiling with book shelves full of biographies or mysteries or non-fiction or children’s books or whatever. Shoppers were free to roam at will and bring any purchases to the main store. I remember buying a first edition book on foxhunting as well as a beautifully illustrated book on minerals and gems for my husband. Had I not been flying home in a few days, I’m sure I would have purchased much more.

When we arrived at the main checkout location, we saw the author himself out on the curb unloading books. A shopper asked him to sign one of his novels. He said, “We don’t do that, but there are signed copies for sale in that shop.”

We drove by the Dairy Queen and the local movie theater and someone pointed out the roofline of McMurtry’s modest home. McMurtry used his small- town background in rural Texas to tell stories of the West and portray the culture and relationships of several eras. His works became cultural icons in themselves. So, RIP Larry McMurtry, author and bookseller.

Eclectic

As we endure the pandemic, Facebook is full of games and quizzes to pass the time. At various times in my life, I have seen requests to describe one’s self in one word. I have finally figured out my one- word description—eclectic.

I thought about this while we were eating dinner last night in our dining room, that room being an example. We sat at an oval table (Habitat for Humanity Restore find), its shiny dark surface at the moment covered by a faded cabbage rose tablecloth, purchased new from Home Goods. Across from me was a pine sideboard we bought when we first moved to North Carolina from Kentucky, since the massive antique oak table and buffet we had wouldn’t fit in our home. On the sideboardwas the silver chest given to us by my husband’s brother and wife for a wedding gift, a lovely lemon candle and a beautiful porcelain lamp I found at a thrift store. Above the sideboard is an antique mirror my mother bought in Kentucky.

Behind my husband was a tall china cabinet, a Salvation Army find, now painted a shiny deep gold. The original painting of a New Orleans plantation home dripping with Spanish moss sat on top of the china cabinet. We bought it as a souvenir of our honeymoon. The wall behind me held a watercolor hunt scene and a smaller such painting adorned the wall beside the china cabinet. We sat in French country light wood chairs, purchased from a friend who bought them from her mother’s retirement home for $10 each. We had them recovered in 2005 and have enjoyed them ever since, with two previous tables. Behind me, in the right corner is a reproduction grandfather clock willed to my husband by his aunt.

When we moved to this house, my husband mentioned wanting to buy a new, matching dining room set. But after pricing such things, he decided our eclectic collection might suffice.

And not only my décor fits that description. My wardrobe is equally varied. Classic sweaters and pearls, leggings and tunics, jeans and sweatshirts and one or two designer dresses have all caught my fancy. My various careers might also fit that description. How comforting to know what I am.

A New Hero: Mary Roberts Rinehart

One of my early favorite authors was Mary Roberts Rinehart. I loved her mysteries which were set in the Pittsburgh area, my home town. But until I Googled her today, I had no idea how prolific a writer she was.

In 1903 alone, she wrote forty-five short stories to help with family finances after that year’s financial crash. She was often referred to as the American Agatha Christie, even though her first novel, The Circular Staircase, was published fourteen years before any of Christie’s.

In addition to her many novels and hundreds of short stories, she also served as a war correspondent for the Washington Post during World War I and interviewed many heads of state. Her formal training was as a homeopathic nurse. No MFA, but she was awarded an honorary PHD in English from George Washington University. She survived breast cancer and wrote about it in The Ladies Home Journal in the days when it was a taboo subject.

She died in 1958 at the age of 82, about the time I started to read her novels. Wow. I’d better get busy.

Cherry Heads Unite

We are now official Cherry Heads, having seen Blackstone Cherry at the Beacon Theatre in Hopewell, VA. Thanks to our friend and my husband’s distant cousin, Richard Young of the Kentucky Headhunters, we received a backstage pass to visit John Fred Young, the awesome drummer of Blackstone Cherry.

This extremely talented yet very humble young man greeted us warmly and talked about family and the donkeys and American Saddlebred horses which roam his family farm, descendants of the horses bred by his grandfather, James Howard Young in Edmonton, Kentucky.

This energetic southern rock band rocked the house. They are touring the states and leaving for England in July where they are already sold out at the Ramblin Man Festival in Kent, England. John Fred told us with awe, Cheap Trick is supposed to front for us.

On June 22 they will meet up with his father’s and uncle’s band, Kentucky Headhunters at Bristol, VA. It will be a rocking good time for sure.

Tangled Tail

Does Maddie continue to investigate with Irish Garda Commander Simon? Does she adopt one of their human trafficking rescues? Find out in Tangled Tail –a case of diamond smuggling which leads to greater mysteries.

Now available

Desert Tail released today

Desert Tail (formerly published as Turkmen Captives) was released August 15 on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indigo and Kobo. The sequel, Tangled Tail will be released in September by Blue Fortune Enterprises.

Horsing Around

Tomorrow we are driving to the Shenandoah Horse Show, formerly the Roanoke Valley Horse Show which has moved to the Virginia Horse Park in Lexington, hence the name change.Although we are now horseless we still horse around quite a bit.

A few weeks ago my husband was lucky enough to show the nice pleasure driving mare owned by Tommy and Jeanine Lovell in Asheville, NC. I spent a week being a substitute riding instructor at Legacy Saddlebreds in Winston-Salem. I have the joy of teaching children to ride without being there when a horse colics, or the water freezes or the tractor won’t start. (Been there–done that.)

I have written a children’s book about horses, tentatively titled The Riding Lesson which will be released in October by High Tide Publications. I also wrote an e-book on How to Buy Your First Horse.

So while I don’t walk to the barn to feed on a daily basis, actually I did feed today for some wonderful horse people who do competitive driving, horses are still in my life and most importantly, in my heart.

Happy Trails

Susan Williamson – Horsing Around

I am so fortunate to be a substitute riding instructor for Legacy Saddlebreds. I work very hard for a week, meet and visit with many wonderful children, teens and adults and then go home, realizing that I won’t be there when the temperature dips or swelters, the horse colics, the water freezeds, or the tractor breaks down. (Been there, done that.)

I had a good week. No one fell off and hopefully most riders enjoyed their lessons. I went to the Blowing Rock Horse Show and helped to put 26 riders in the ring in academy classes. These are classes in which the riders compete on lesson horses, with the rider being judged rather than the horse. All of our riders had good rides, some had great rides. The classes were large and competitive. I saw many friends from the horse world.

Teaching for a week reminds me how good riding is for everyone: physically, obviously, but also emotionally and mentally. I see little girls come in and hug their favorite horse. I see riders work through a challenge on a difficult horse. And most impressive are the riders who earn lesson and show privileges by working at the barn. Catching horses, grooming, tacking up, washing horse laundry, feeding and doctoring horses, hosing down a hot horse—they undertake a tremendous responsibility and are happy doing it. Our children grew up that way and I’m glad to see other children and adults take on those responsibilities. They are truly character building.

Some of the highlights of my week:

Me: “Why should you walk around the front of the horse instead of the back?”

Student: “He might poop on you.”

Me: “What are you doing in the middle of the ring?”

Student:  “It’s my eye’s fault.” She had gotten dust in her eye.

Adult Student: “Why is my horse not listening?”

Me: “Because you aren’t telling him what to do.”

My wish for everyone is to be as happy as an intermediate rider being permitted to canter.

Susan Williamson – Say What?

They say we become our parents. I can remember hearing my mother yell at the TV if a newscaster dared to make a grammatical error. I find myself yelling at the TV, the newspaper and many novels. “Where are you at?” makes me cringe. I hear sentences ending in “at” from the pulpit, the newsroom and the politician’s mouth. Apparently, shortly after I graduated from high school someone removed the rule that said not to end a sentence with a preposition.

Diagramming of sentences must have also ended. “It was her/him/them,” is another   frequent offender. Has no one heard of the predicate nominative?  Do they call it something else these days? Do they mention it at all?

I realize that grammar rules can be relaxed in dialogue, but are all speakers grammatically challenged? One book I read quoted a college English professor as saying, “She is older than me.”  I think not, or at least, I hope not. The construction here is that there is an omitted but understood verb. “She is older than I (am).”

Direct objects also suffer misuse. “They took Jim and I out to dinner.”   Since no one would say, “They took I out to dinner,” I don’t understand why this is confusing. “I” which should be “me” is the direct object of “took” as is “Jim”.

I don’t claim to be perfect. I know I have written sentences that are shall we say, less than illuminating. I know I have used punctuation incorrectly at times and the wrong word for a given situation. Our language can be a subtle and confusing thing. But the grammar that I hear so often mangled was once taught in seventh grade, if not earlier.

Once learned, grammar remains. Our son, who was a less than stellar student, still corrects his grammar when he is talking to me. “See, Mom,” he says, “I did learn something.”  If he could teach a class for local newscasters, there might be hope.

Susan Williamson is a novelist and freelance writer as well as a former extension agent, riding instructor, newspaper editor and food-coop manager. She is the author of How to Get By As Time Goes By, How to Buy Your First Horse, published by High Tide Publications. She also the author of the novels Turkmen Captives and Dead on the Trail. She is a contributor to Next Door Neighbors Magazine as well as Tidewater Women.