I ran into an old friend in the Houston airport Tuesday evening. I was really glad to happen up on him because we were at the airport early and flights were being delayed by the storm back in Atlanta and my lovely wife, Lisa, and I had been alone for four days and were, quite frankly, talked out for the time being.
Lisa was at our gate, doing school work on her laptop computer -- yes, she is 51 and still in school. She is eager to receive the second doctorate in the Huckaby family. I'm hoping University of Georgia President Michael Adams hands me an honorary one on his way out the door so I will become the second doctor in the family, but that's about as likely as my youngest daughter Jenna, Queen of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry, becoming the new pope.
But I wander. Leaving Lisa to her school work, I wandered into the nearest magazine stand and started looking for a book to read while we waited for our plane to board and there in the store, staring right at me, cowboy hat and all, was my old buddy Louis L'Amour.
No, not the real Louis L'Amour. The man dubbed "America's Storyteller" died in 1988, at the age of 80. This was L'Amour's picture, starring at me from the cover of one of his books -- "The Daybreakers," written in 1960. It is the story of Tyrel and Orrin Sackett, two old boys from Tennessee who got crossways with the law and lit a shuck for the New Mexico territory, back in the days of the western frontier.
I had read the book a couple of times, but not in the past 30 years, so I purchased a copy and settled in for the rest of the evening.
In fact, I have read every book Louis L'Amour ever wrote, which is saying something. He penned 105 works, including 89 novels, 14 short story collections and a couple of non-fiction books. He was, indeed, a great storyteller. Almost all of his books were set in the 19th century American West and L'Amour, along with John Wayne and Roy Rogers, is the primary reason that I am so fascinated with anything and everything that has to do with cowboys and Indians and outlaws. I have no explanation for my affinity for in-laws.
You need to understand something. I am a picky reader. I will eat anything and everything, but I am a very picky reader. I couldn't get past the first chapter of "Killing Lincoln," even though most people raved about it and I had a deep interest in the story. Bill O'Reilly spent way too much time explaining what Robert E. Lee was thinking during the closing days of the recent unpleasantness between the North and the South and marveling at what a brilliant strategist U. S. Grant was. If he were such a great strategist he would have defeated Lee's undermanned armies in the Wilderness campaign, or at Spotsylvania or Cold Harbor.
I also couldn't read "The Help," because even though Kathryn Stockett told a great story, she did not do a credible job with the dialect. It takes a really talented person to capture accents and the nuances of dialects to the printed page. I grew up around black folks in the American South of which Ms. Stockett wrote and she didn't do justice to their language. I found that distracting and could not read her book. I loved the movie, though.
Louis L'Amour got dialect right, and he could paint such a picture with words that the reader could see the images of the scenes he described as clearly as if they were on a giant screen. When he describes a shootout you can almost smell gunpowder and his romanticized version of the Old West that never was has always made me want to mount a horse and head toward the setting sun.
L'Amour's work, in fact, had such an impact on my life that when Lisa and I were first married, many of our vacation destinations were influenced by which of his books I had most recently read. When I read "Fair Blows the Wind," for instance -- a novel about a guy shipwrecked on the Outer Banks of what would become North Carolina -- nothing would do but for us to spend a week camping there.
I almost drowned at Devil's Triangle and we got caught in a tropical storm and had to evacuate the island, but we had a grand time and I learned firsthand how accurate L'Amour's descriptions were. I knew I wouldn't rest until I had visited every corner of the world he wrote about.
I have, too. Many times.
So, yes, I really enjoyed running into my old friend in the Houston airport. Now I am in trouble, though. I read the book I bought in one night. The next day I dug out an old copy of "Sackett," the sequel. Now I have 103 more books I have to locate and re-read.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.