Scrapbook One Hundred Seventy…


MARCH 2017


Once in a while I do something right.

Wilson Hurley was an artist, and a good one. The price of his paintings frequently ran up to around $100,000 for the larger ones. He was entertaining in a conversation. His father was Patrick Hurley, who, during WW2 was Ambassador to China. As a kid Wilson travelled widely with his father and he had personal letters from Generals MacArthur and Eisenhower. In 1945, Wilson graduated from West Point and became a pilot in the Air Force, serving as a forward air controller in Vietnam. We always had plenty to talk about.

Well, sometime in the 1980s probably, some guy ran a red light and hit Wilson’s car. The jolt pinched a nerve in his neck. He was incapacitated, unable to paint for a year maybe. He couldn’t make a living so he sued, and it went to court in Albuquerque.

Since I had a gallery in Santa Fe and sold Wilson’s paintings, I was called to testify as an expert witness about the value of his work, and how much money he lost by not being able to paint. I was duly sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Problem was I didn’t like the defense attorney at first sight, and every sight after that. I didn’t know the jerk, but he was someone I very much enjoyed not caring for. His villainous face and bulging eyes made him look like Peter Lorre. The judge broke with tradition and wore a blue robe, my favorite color. The scene was set with only a few spectators.

Well, most of the questions from the jerk’s mouth came out reeking with sarcastic idioms that were aimed at discrediting me. He covertly insinuated that I was a derelict witness, not qualified to be on the stand. I was happily getting fed up with this guy. When one of my answers turned into a short dissertation, the defense jerk interrupted me. “Yes or no, Mister Fenn, yes or no,” he yelled in a croaky belligerent voice. All of a sudden the court room was a very hostile environment. I just sat there as the lawyer’s eyes captured me. It was like a 40 pound turkey staring at a June bug.

I turned to the bench and said, very apologetically, “Judge, I swore to tell the truth and the whole truth. If the defense attorney won’t allow me to do that I must respectfully withdraw my oath.” There was silence in the court as everyone sat stunned. The defense attorney looked like he’d just crawled out from under a garbage truck. I posed straight ahead and tried to stay collected, hoping the judge wouldn’t cite me for contempt.

Finally he called the lawyers into chambers and as they disappeared, and the door slammed, I relaxed. It could go either way, I thought. When Wilson, who was also a lawyer, saw the jury feigning snickers his frown turned to a smile. When the legal force returned, the judge said I could answer the questions as I pleased, and I was re-sworn. I ducked that bullet with impressive form. Wilson agreed.

Surely what I did was not only legal, but necessary, although no one had ever heard of a witness being unsworn before. At lunch Wilson paid. I ordered chicken fried steak with the gravy on the side, and no veggies. It had been a good day. f

Wilson Hurley


Scrapbook One Hundred Sixty Nine…


MARCH 2017


One late Friday afternoon in 1951, I found myself in Eunice, LA., visiting Peggy Proctor and her family for the weekend. It was raining when a buddy dropped me off on his way to somewhere else. Peggy and I had been dating since our early grades in high school and everyone considered me part of her clan.

At the time, I was a PFC in the Air Force making $95 a month, and attending Radar Mechanics School in Biloxi, MS. I was on the red-eye shift, 1800 to midnight.

Sunday evening came too early and I had to be in school the next afternoon or really bad things would happen to me. The Korean War was new and the military was unreasonable about discipline. PFCs were easy targets.

I told Peggy to not worry about me and when I heard her front door reluctantly close behind me, it was dark and Biloxi was more than 200 miles away.

After walking a couple of blocks while holding my little suitcase over my head against the irrational moisture, I heard voices coming from a little church just ahead. The front doors were open and the warm incandescent lights were compelling. When two ladies saw me dripping in the vestibule they rushed over, and with typical Cajun hospitality, pulled me inside for coffee.

The congregation was playing Bingo. All of a sudden I was in a completely different world.

I didn’t have enough coins to jingle, but I did have a quarter, just one quarter, and the sign on the wall said “Cards – 25 Cents.” What the heck, I thought, and I invested all of my cash. There were three winners in the first game and I was one of them. Now I had $3.75, and hope was flickering.

The bus station was three blocks away and I started running. The drizzle stopped bothering me. When the ticket man told me the fare to Biloxi was $3.95, I felt numb. I spread all of my money on the counter and asked if I could please buy a ticket with that amount?

His finger started counting and with each word he spoke my pulse rate increased. Our eyes locked for an eternity and then he said, “No you can’t buy a ticket with that amount,” still looking at me hard, “but I’ll give you 20 cents.”

I waved to my friend behind the counter as I climbed into the bus. He was smiling, and I knew everything would be alright.

I came away from that experience with some thoughts to live by.

  1. There is no such thing as a self-made man.
  2. Give it your best shot and see what happens.
  3. Never underestimate the power of a quarter.
  4. Give some of it back when it is needed.