A few weeks ago, I and a crowd of fans, shoppers and curious onlookers spent a chilly Sunday afternoon touring Elmore Leonard’s house– browsing his bookshelves, checking out worn holiday decorations in the basement and rusty hand tools in the garage, fingering a favorite coffee mug.
Elmore “Dutch” Leonard died in August 2013 at the age of 87, following a stroke. In March 2014, his heirs brought in a management company to hold an Estate Sale, parting with the trinkets and trivets the author, one of Detroit area’s “favorite sons,” had amassed during a lifetime of successful storytelling.
Leonard was a prolific author whose credits include more than 45 novels, a number of short stories and a TV series Justified which, at the time of his death in August 2013, had enjoyed a successful five-year run. A number of his novels had taken on new life on the big screen–prominent among them Get Shorty, which featured an all-star cast including John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito.
Elmore Leonard lived just a few miles from our house; so when I read in the local paper about the estate sale, I pencilled it in on my calendar. On April 8, I drove the nine miles to the ritzier suburbs north of Detroit. Should I stop? I wondered–but there, right in front of the house, a car was just pulling away from the curb. And I love books. And I love a bargain.
I walked up to the door.
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Elmore Leonard’s furniture was old, a little out of date–just what you’d expect from an 87-year-old guy who focused on his writing, not on his material possessions. His garden furniture was not what I needed; his electric scissors, faded plastic. His favorite books, lined up in the many bookshelves in the home, were “tough guy” stories: weighty tomes by Mickey Spillane and Raymond Chandler and Mario Puzo.
I left with empty hands. What I did carry with me, though, was a deep awareness of the brevity of life, the folly of grabbing onto our “stuff”. Leonard will never again linger over a Scotch and Soda during a late-night writing session, never jump feet-first into the pool on a writing break. His home, his car, the things he loved–they’re all there, but the “Dickens of Detroit” is gone forever.
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I met Dutch Leonard some years ago, when he spoke at his alma mater, the University of Detroit Mercy; and I know he was a person of faith. Wherever he is right now–in heaven with Christ, or on the road there–Dutch Leonard isn’t thinking about these trivial things he left behind.
“There is great gain in godliness with contentment,” said St. Paul in his first letter to Timothy, “for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Timothy 6:5-7).
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Elmore Leonard, rest in peace. May God welcome you to the mansion he has planned for you from all eternity.