When I was in college and for many years after I spent a lot of time reading anything I could get my hands on that dealt with the 1960’s. It’s a time period that still holds an interest for me today. I read Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and was hooked. I then read anything and everything I could about Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Neal Cassidy, the Grateful Dead, Larry McMurtry and my favorite Ken Kesey, among many others.
I tell you this because I once spent a summer travelling in the company of Larry McMurtry. Certainly not in the way you are thinking and at the time I didn’t even know who he was, but nonetheless I was around the man for months. When I was in high school I played on a national basketball team that traveled the country. One of my teammate’s mothers is Diana Ossana (of Brokeback Mountain fame). Larry McMurtry (who co-wrote the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, but who is better known for writing Lonesome Dove) is one of her best friends (my teammates godfather, in fact) and at that time was living with her after recovering from a heart attack. We spent a lot of time in a car travelling from game to game and I frequently rode in the car Diana Ossana drove with Mr. McMurtry riding shotgun. We (the players) had never really heard of him and always asked our teammate, "Hey, why is your mom always hanging out with that old dude?" I remember him as being quiet and gentle and very generous. He would buy the team meals very frequently, but wouldn’t tell us. We would find out later and when we would thank him he’d put his hand up, dip his head, and softly say, "Of course."
So, what’s the point you might ask? For the life of me I wish I would have known then what I learned a few short years later. I wish I had grasped the significance of who this man was when I had daily access to him. I would have loved to pick his brain, ask him about his time in the 60’s, ask him about his relationship with Ken Kesey, and ask him about his writing process. I had a famous author in front of me on an almost daily basis for months and we just thought he was some old dude who wrote some books. The ignorance of youth.
Thinking back it seems surreal that this well-known and respected author spent a summer watching and supporting a high school girl’s all-star team and all the while never once letting on that he was "somebody". It’s almost embarrassing to me now knowing who he is and knowing that none of us had a clue. Diana Ossana is a success in her own right, but we didn’t really know that either. If I could just go back I would savor those four months and relish being in the presence of successful authors and a living icon (in McMurtry’s case). The saying, "If I only knew then what I know now…" really is appropriate.