“I wonder if Grandpa Les ever knew Louis L’ Amour?”
The question popped into my brain a few weeks ago as I stood in front of a plexiglass-covered display case holding an impressive collection of vintage paperback westerns, all written by Louis L’ Amour. The compilation resides inside a quaint writing shack at the Frontier Fort, a tourist attraction located in Jamestown, ND. The town has a population of less than twenty thousand, but it proudly boasts of being hometown to a number of famous individuals including singer Peggy Lee and writer Louis L’ Amour.
I remember Grandpa Les, my maternal grandfather, as a quiet man who played lots of golf after retiring from the post office. Grandpa almost always left a Louis L’ Amour paperback sitting on the table next to his recliner.
Isn’t it funny what our minds recall about our loved ones from our early years?
Jamestown also happens to be my hometown. If you’ve ever driven through central North Dakota on I94 and passed by, chances are you did a double take if you spied the “World’s Largest Buffalo” just off the highway. This 26’ tall concrete structure has stood over the Frontier Fort since before I was born, and I know I’ve visited ‘the Buffalo’ at least once, every single summer.
Favorite activities during these annual visits used to include playing in the railroad cars, followed by sticky fingers from dripping cones piled high with scoops of hard ice cream. I even have vague memories of skipping down to a cave in the hillside below the giant statue when I was a kid, but there are no caves now, so either my mind is playing tricks on me or the cave was filled in, perhaps deemed unsafe. This year, a rope blocks the entrance to the remaining railroad car and the shop with the ice cream was empty.
While some old favorites at ‘the Buffalo’ (we never call it the Frontier Fort) are gone, new exhibits are being added. Change is a constant, even back home.
This brings me back to where I started with this post, and why I insisted on visiting the Louis L’ Amour writing shack before it closed for the season. I’d picked up a well-loved (aka worn) copy of one of his books from a used bookstore earlier this summer, and I wanted to get some pictures of it alongside other mementos from the famous author’s career.
This writing shack exhibit has grown in significance for me as I continue to immerse myself in the world of writing. Chances are that if you love old westerns, you’ve heard of Louis L’ Amour. As I stood reading the information on display about him, it occurred to me that he might have been around the same age as my grandfather.
Was there any chance Grandpa Les knew Louis personally? I know Grandpa liked his books.
Anytime I’m curious about something related to our family’s history, the first call I make is to my sister-in-law, Joey. I posed my question to her, immediately piquing her interest, too. She remembered Mom telling her that Grandpa Les was born in Wisconsin, but somewhere along the line he moved to Jamestown, well before my mother was born.
If his move wasn’t until after 1923, the year the sign in the writer’s shack said Louis and his family moved away from Jamestown, then I probably had a disappointing answer to my musings.
But Joey loves a mystery, so she got digging. The girl is a wizard when it comes to genealogy. It didn’t take her long to locate census records from that time period.
Now we were getting somewhere. Grandpa was born on September 23, 1907, in Merrill, WI. Louis was born on March 22, 1908 in Jamestown, ND. Census records show Grandpa still living in Wisconsin with his family in 1910, but by 1920, the records indicate they’d moved to Jamestown.
Suddenly, it was at least possible that these two boys, only six months apart in age, may have played basketball together at Franklin School. Or maybe they shared a table at the Alfred Dickey Free Library, crafting poems or short stories together. We know Louis blossomed into a very successful and prolific author, but I also have a booklet from Grandpa’s high school days that include pieces he (Les) wrote.
The school and the library are both included as part of a walking tour which highlights locations important to Louis in his early years.
Both men left this earth years ago, but their legacies live on. Louis’s legacy includes his many books, short stories, and poems, as well as numerous movies and TV shows based on his work. Grandpa’s legacy lives on and continues to expand through our family.
Call me sentimental, but I’m always struck when I consider the many ways we continue to follow in the steps of those who have gone before us.
I’ll never know if my Grandpa Les and Mr. Louis L’Amour played basketball together at Franklin School, but I know I played some ball there. Did the two of them both write in the library? Yes, I suspect they might have, but maybe not at the same time. I know I spent many hours there, researching papers throughout my high school years. Even now, copies of the novels I’ve written sit on the shelves in the Alfred Dickey Library. There is a whole section in the library dedicated to Louis.
During my visit to the writing shack, it felt surreal to place my fingers on an old typewriter Louis might have used to craft his best-selling stories. As I sat at that desk, my daughter-in-law juggled her phone in one hand, snapping pictures of me as I “played” at what it might have felt like to be an author back in Louis’s day, while she also held my five-month-old grandson in her arms.
I can still picture Grandpa’s face the first time he held my first born. Now it’s my son’s baby visiting an exhibit that honors the work and life of the man I suspect was the baby’s great great grandfather’s favorite author.
Were Les and Louis ever friends? I’ll never know. But Jamestown is a small town, and I suspect their paths crossed. Maybe they even helped each other celebrate a birthday or two. It’s a fun thought, regardless.
Happy heavenly birthday, Grandpa. I miss you. Thank you for passing on your love of books to me. And thank you, Louis, for sharing your talent with the world. You both left your marks on this earth.
Keep watching for those connections, Kim
Today we celebrate Independence Day here in the United States. July 4th is often a day associated with parades, family reunions, fireworks, and barbecues. Here in North Dakota, where June weather can still be on the cool side, this holiday usually means summer is finally here.
As with so many holidays, we sometimes forget the "why" behind the special day. We might not pause to think about the brave people that banded together against a much more established entity over 245 years ago, some literally fighting to the death for a cause they believed in. I tip my hat and say a heartfelt thank you to all the men and women that have fought through the years, and continue to fight, to keep us safe and free, here in the United States of America.
Freedom means different things to different people. The older I get, the more I realize two things: finding true freedom is an ideal worth striving for, and there is nothing easy about it. As the saying goes, "Freedom isn't Free." The past two years have proven we can never take freedom for granted.
While many of us don't literally "fight" for our freedom as part of a military branch (thank you to those that do!), we are all fighting our own battles to find and maintain the balance of freedom we seek in our own lives.
It starts (and ends) with our freedom of choice. The life I live today stems from the many decisions I've made throughout my lifetime. The same holds true for you. Some are big choices that obviously change the trajectory of our lives. Some feel like much smaller, seemingly inconsequential choices we make on a daily, or even hourly, basis. But the crazy thing is, it's often those tiny choices we make that can have the most significant impact on the quality of our lives. Freedom to choose is a beautiful thing, but making the best choices for ourselves as individuals takes constant vigilance.
Maybe we should each take a dry-erase marker and write this on our bathroom mirror for a daily reminder: "Make Good Choices!"
Because there is little else in life that has as big an impact on the quality of our lives than the small, day-to-day choices each of us make, often with little thought. It might be how we respond to the comment of a stranger on social media, or something a loved one says. What we chose to eat for breakfast or whether we get out and walk for fifteen minutes in the fresh air versus sitting at a desk for hours on end without taking a brain break. These little choices, compounded over time, make us who we are today.
A second chance in any part of our life where we'd like a "do over" is on the other side of making different choices.
My hope is we learn to choose wisely more times than not. Sometimes this can take years, or decades, to learn. We'll never be perfect, but we can be better than we were yesterday.
The freedom to choose what we want to do, to be, and to have can lead to a more joyful life.
I can't stress enough how important it is to prioritize where we spend our precious time. The years pass much too quickly.
I'm sure you've heard of "The Dash" by Linda Ellis. The poem is a poignant reminder to really live the time between our birth date and our death date and to focus on the things that matter.
Every Memorial Day weekend, we visit the graves of close family and friends to plant flowers and show respect. Strolling through such a hushed place is a powerful reminder to respect the freedom we have to choose how we spend our time here on earth. As I look upon the dates on tombstones marking the end of someone's dash, I can't help but wonder if they suffered any regrets when the end came.
Once again, as we celebrate Independence Day in American, I'm recommitting to the simple things:
What choices do you want to make to give you the type of freedoms you seek? What we strive for will look a little different for each of us, and isn't that the greatest freedom of all? The freedom to be ourselves?
Choose wisely and make the most of your dash...
Always here to cheer you on, Kim
Kimberly Diede Author
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!