Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson
Juan F. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson, “smart hillbilly,” boy of the South, born and bred in Louisville, Kentucky, son of an insurance salesman and a stay-at-home mom, public school-educated, jailed at seventeen on a bogus petty robbery charge, member of the U.S. Air Force (Airmen Second Class), copy boy for Time, writer for The National Observer, et cetera. From the outset he was the Wild Man of American journalism with a journalistic appetite that touched on subjects that drove his sense of justice and intrigue, from biker gangs and 1960s counterculture to presidential campaigns and psychedelic drugs. He lived larger than life and pulled it up around him in a mad effort to make it as electric, anger-ridden, and drug-fueled as possible.
Now Juan Thompson tells the story of his father and of their getting to know each other during their forty-one fraught years together. He writes of the many dark times, of how far they ricocheted away from each other, and of how they found their way back before it was too late.
He writes of growing up in an old farmhouse in a narrow mountain valley outside of Aspen—Woody Creek, Colorado, a ranching community with Hereford cattle and clover fields . . . of the presence of guns in the house, the boxes of ammo on the kitchen shelves behind the glass doors of the country cabinets, where others might have placed china and knickknacks . . . of climbing on the back of Hunter’s Bultaco Matador trail motorcycle as a young boy, and father and son roaring up the dirt road, trailing a cloud of dust . . . of being taken to bars in town as a small boy, Hunter holding court while Juan crawled around under the bar stools, picking up change and taking his found loot to Carl’s Pharmacy to buy Archie comic books . . . of going with his parents as a baby to a Ken Kesey/Hells Angels party with dozens of people wandering around the forest in various stages of undress, stoned on pot, tripping on LSD . . .
He writes of his growing fear of his father; of the arguments between his parents reaching frightening levels; and of his finally fighting back, trying to protect his mother as the state troopers are called in to separate father and son. And of the inevitable—of mother and son driving west in their Datsun to make a new home, a new life, away from Hunter; of Juan’s first taste of what “normal” could feel like . . .
We see Juan going to Concord Academy, a stranger in a strange land, coming from a school that was a log cabin in the middle of hay fields, Juan without manners or socialization . . . going on to college at Tufts; spending a crucial week with his father; Hunter asking for Juan’s opinion of his writing; and he writes of their dirt biking on a hilltop overlooking Woody Creek Valley, acting as if all the horrible things that had happened between them had never taken place, and of being there, together, side by side . . .
And finally, movingly, he writes of their long, slow pull toward reconciliation . . . of Juan’s marriage and the birth of his own son; of watching Hunter love his grandson and Juan’s coming to understand how Hunter loved him; of Hunter’s growing illness, and Juan’s becoming both son and father to his father . . .
From the Hardcover edition.
of the Hunter S. Thompson Archive. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Thompson, Juan F. Stories I tell myself : growing up with Hunter S. Thompson / Juan F. Thompson. — First United States edition. pages cm ISBN 978-0-307-26535-7 (hardcover) — ISBN 978-1-101-87586-5 (eBook) 1. Thompson, Hunter S. 2. Thompson, Hunter S.—Family. 3. Authors, American—20th century—Biography. 4. Thompson, Juan F. I. Title. PS3570.H 62Z 89 2015 813’. 54—dc23 [B] 2015006934 eBook
his guilt was no consolation. He had let me down at a crucial time, and the only conclusion I could draw was that it hadn’t been sufficiently important to him to overcome his resistance, his inertia, his dislike of crowds of people, his exhaustion, or whatever. If the fights between him and my mother demonstrated his capacity for cruelty, this incident demonstrated the extent of his self-centeredness. We never talked about it, he never explained or apologized, I never asked why he hadn’t come.
now. He was old, pale, and drawn, and a victim of his own disease. It hit me hard then that the most dangerous drug for my father wasn’t cocaine, it was alcohol. Hunter had never been a binge drinker or a stupid drunk. He was a maintenance drinker from the time he woke up to the time he went to bed. He didn’t slur his words, or suddenly go into rages (no more than any other time), confess his deepest feelings, become syrupy sweet, or pass out on the couch; you could say he handled his liquor
the game was on, side conversations must be quiet and discreet. Hunter would let people know in clear terms that their jabber was unwelcome and that they could either shut up or move to another room. Persistent violators were not invited back. This was all very well for adults, but it was not reasonable for small children such as his grandson. While Jennifer and I watched the game, Will would play on the floor in the kitchen, and sometimes he would cry, or screech, or drop something. One time
son in the hands of those well-meaning amateurs, doing nothing resembling schoolwork and spending the days in a tenement house in urban Washington, D.C. But I didn’t come to any harm, and at the time it must have seemed like a good idea. If Hunter had an opinion about it, and in retrospect I’m sure he did, I never heard about it, we never talked about it, and I remained at the Free School for the remainder of that year. (I did end up repeating third grade, though, when I returned to Aspen,