Bookstores have a way of taking me on all kinds of interesting detours. I was shopping for something completely unrelated when a Zane Grey collection called Western Colors caught my eye. I've never been especially interested in cowboy fiction, but I've always heard that my maternal grandfather absolutely loved it. While working on a family history project last year, I interviewed my Uncle Bud (his real name is Harold Grey McCranie), who told me that he is named for two of his father's favorite authors, Harold Bell Wright and Zane Grey.
As a young couple, my grandparents had a houseful of kids and no shortage of sick or sleepy children who needed to be rocked when Grandaddy came home at night. After overseeing a road crew for the county all day, he would tend to anything that needed to be done on their small farm, then have supper and spend time with his children. My mother, who is the baby of the family, can't remember much about her father because he died in an accident when she was ten, but she remembers sitting in his lap, getting rocked to sleep while he read his Westerns.
My grandfather was just 47 when his life tragically ended. As I scanned the titles of those novels—Riders of the Purple Sage, The Rainbow Trail, Desert Gold—I had to wonder if reading them would tell me something about him. By all accounts, he was devoted to his family—not just providing for them but spending as much time with them as a hard-working man could during the Depression. But we all need an escape now and then, a chance to imagine ourselves in a different life, a different world. Was he just enjoying a good story as he rocked my mother to sleep, or did he ever imagine himself saddling up and riding the range with the mysterious gunfighter Lassiter?
What truly amazes me (and makes me completely, unabashedly jealous) is that any writer could create a story so compelling that no amount of work, no degree of exhaustion, could keep a reader away. I think I have been dreaming of writing stories like that since I was little enough to be rocked to sleep myself. And so I will hit the trail with Lassiter and that spitfire Jane Withersteen, explore the Western terrain that mesmerized my grandfather, and see what it might teach me—about the writer and the reader.