The search is over. I found it. I bought it. I brought it home. My library is complete.
Recently, I was able to meet, for the first time, Runelle and Ruth, first cousins of my mother. We had reconnected through email and decided to meet and exchange memories and pictures of our common ancestors. I was delighted to discover that Runelle had a picture of our great grandparents from 1905. What a treasure.
Almost as exciting was a collection of books that she had on her living room bookshelves. There, staring back at me, was something I had been looking for the past 30 years — a complete, 123 volume collection of leather-bound, hardback Louis L’Amour novels. My wife later told me she could see me drool just looking at them. As we were leaving, I mentioned to Runelle to let me know if she ever wanted to sell them. She then uttered the words I longed to hear. “They are for sale.” Twenty minutes later, we left with some great pictures, new memories, and a long-sought-after collection of Louis L’Amour books. My wife observed I have not stopped smiling since.
If you are not a fan of Western fiction, you may consider my excitement a bit excessive. If you find Louis L’Amour novels too formulaic, you must wonder at my reaction to this serendipitous purchase. Allow me to explain.
Five years ago, when I lived in Conyers, Georgia and before the creation of TheBuddyBlog.com, I shared a personal Reflection with my email audience. I titled it Daisy Grace, Louis L’Amour and Fried Chicken Fridays. Reading it now, for the first time on my blog, may give you some idea why I cherish this author’s novels and why ever since those Fried Chicken Fridays in the 1980s, I have been in search of this collection.
Here’s what I wrote in 2014.
Recently a local columnist, Rob Jenkins, wrote an article for my hometown newspaper, the Rockdale Citizen. His article detailed the lessons about manhood he had learned from reading the Western novels of Louis L’Amour. Reading Jenkins reflections on L’Amour sparked 30-year-old memories of Friday lunches at the home of my Aunt Daisy Grace McElhannon.
My late wife, Tootie, and I lived in Athens during the 1980s and loved every minute of it. Small town life was a blessing, and our experience only confirmed my dad’s observations when we first moved there. “Son, you won’t have any problem adjusting to life in Athens. It’s when you move back that will be tough.” He was right.
Part of the joy of living in Athens was being close to extended members of the McElhannon family. My Uncle Fayette (a local physician) and my Aunt Daisy raised nine children and lived in an antebellum home just east of Athens. I recall my Aunt Daisy being a woman whose tongue was sharp, whose wit was quick, and whose heart was golden. For many years, she had an open house for lunch on Fridays and welcomed any and all to sit at her table and enjoy her version of fried chicken. Whenever my schedule permitted, I would take the short drive out Highway 78 for a quick lunch and fellowship with my cousins and their friends.
And there was always a crowd at Aunt Daisy’s.
About this same time I discovered the joy of reading the Western fiction of Louis L’Amour. Yes, his stories tended to follow a common and familiar, some may say, tiresome formula. But, his fictional heroes always sat tall in the saddle, were ruggedly handsome, with a few days growth of a beard, and could best be described as wide in the shoulder and narrow in the hip. The quintessential hero would mind his own business and seldom speak; he never backed down from a fight and always defended the defenseless. The hero of a Louis L’Amour novel was a man of honor.
To my utter delight, I also discovered that my Aunt and Uncle maintained a rather extensive library that included paperback copies of most of L’Amour‘s 100 plus novels. With her permission, I would grab a couple of books with each visit and exchange them for more the next time I dropped in for a Friday lunch. In a little over a year, I had read them all. Graced by the hospitality of my Aunt Daisy and inspired to be a man of honor from Louis L’Amour, Fridays in Athens provided a double whammy of life lessons, all while enjoying some mighty-fine fried chicken.
Life was good in Athens.
You can understand why any mention of Louis L’Amour prompts the sweet memories of my Aunt’s luncheon hospitality and her literary generosity. Jenkins’ article in the Rockdale Citizen also reminded me that L’Amour’s concept of manhood influenced my own. Jenkins hailed how his dad taught him much by giving him books to read that “portrayed men behaving decently.” Jenkins highlighted the lessons he learned from reading L‘Amour’s westerns:
- Any decent man would rather die than lay one finger on a woman in anger.
- Men are responsible for protecting women and children from those who would do them physical harm.
- Real men do not treat women like objects and shun men who do.
- Keeping your word is the most important thing of all.
- Men don’t go looking for trouble, but they also don’t back down when they, or those too weak to protect themselves, are being threatened.
- Men don’t like calling attention to themselves, but they are not afraid to stand up and be counted when circumstances warrant — even if they’re standing alone.
My compliments to Mr. Jenkins for reminding me of the power of good fiction to shape one’s imagination and provide strong male role models of how men should behave especially in the face of rude, inappropriate, and bad behavior.
Never underestimate the power of a good story.
After all, how amazing is it that a short article in a Conyers, Georgia newspaper could spark 30-year-old memories of my Aunt Daisy, Louis L’Amour, and Fried Chicken Fridays. Memories to cherish and life lessons to ponder, for sure.
Thank you Mr. Jenkins.
Now five years after I wrote that Reflection, and thanks to my newfound cousin’s willingness to part with her late husband’s book collection, I am finally able to add these chronicles of “men behaving decently” to my library. My nine grandchildren, seven of whom are boys, are currently all under the age of eight. But soon, I hope, they will be dropping by, from time to time, asking to borrow a Louis L’Amour novel.
We might even serve them some fried chicken too.
I think Aunt Daisy would be proud.
Note: Thanks to Mahir Uysal at Unsplash.com for the picture.