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  • Jessica Ritchie

Showing Gratitude: Lonesome Dove

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry was the first “grown-up” book I ever read. My dad started reading it first, which I thought was a little strange because it was the thickest paperback I’d ever seen and he’d never been a big reader. A few weeks after he bought his copy, I watched the miniseries with him and my grandpa and announced that I wanted to read it, too. My dad laughed like it was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard, which makes him sound like kind of a jerk until I explain that I was nine years old. I told him that not only would I read it, I’d finish it before he did. So, he bought me a copy, thinking I’d read the first few pages, get bored or overwhelmed by the vocabulary, and forget about it. That’s not what happened.

Lonesome Dove tells the story of retired Texas Rangers Woodrow F. Call and Augustus McCrae, and their massive cattle drive from Texas to Montana. It’s an epic masterpiece and arguably one of the most iconic westerns ever written. A brief summary could never do this book or it’s characters justice, so I’m not going to attempt one. The book itself will always be one of my favorites, and I think that would have been the case regardless of when I read it. But when and how I read it is what makes me so thankful for it.

Looking back now, I imagine my parents were absolutely horrified when I read the first few pages and kept going. This is a very adult western with plenty of prostitutes, a whole lot of death, and very few happy endings. Possibly not the best choice for a kid whose favorite book up to that point was The Baby Sitter’s Club: Stacey and the Mystery of Stoneybrook. My dad sat me down for an awkward conversation about some of the slang words and their meanings, but both of my parents encouraged me to keep reading. I spent the summer between third and fourth grade with Lonesome Dove in one hand and a dictionary in the other. And even with the time I spent looking up words I didn’t understand, I finished my copy of the book before my dad finished his. (Granted, he was an adult with kids and a job, and I was a kid on summer break with no responsibilities and nothing else to do. But I still consider it an accomplishment.)

When I finished the book, my parents decided if I’d read that, I could read anything. My mother gave me copies of Gone with the Wind and The Color Purple. My dad bought me a hardback copy of the sequel to Lonesome Dove, Streets of Laredo. I still had rules about the movies and TV shows I could watch, but my reading was completely unrestricted. (They probably would have stepped in if I’d reached for a Harlequin romance novel, but those have never been my thing.) My mother, who’d taught me to read when I was four, reasoned that reading was the best way to get an education and restricting my books based on my age would only serve to stifle my intelligence and imagination. She repeated that argument to the school librarian and my fourth-grade teacher when they refused to let me check out a book on a sixth-grade reading level. They didn’t really agree with her, but they let me check out whatever I wanted anyway.

I have plenty of other hobbies, but reading has shaped my life more than the rest of them combined. I will always be thankful to my parents for letting me lose myself in books that were “too old” for me, and to Larry McMurtry for making my first “grown-up book” one hell of an adventure.

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