Scrapbook Two Hundred Twenty Four…

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November, 2019

 

Three Sevens and a Vacuum Cleaner

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Bitburg Air Base about 1957

When I arrived at Bitburg Air Base in 1957 they didn’t have housing for Peggy and I. She was coming over from the states to Germany in about 6 weeks, so I checked into the Bachelor Officer’s Quarters. It was okay for a temporary place to stay, with a strong emphasis on temporary. The bathroom was flanked by bed rooms on each end. The bed was a wooden Army folding cot about 20” wide. I think it was designed for a combat zone by someone who hated the human body. But I was going to stay there for only a few days, right? 

No, wrong. When my wife finally arrived, we still didn’t have suitable living quarters, so Peggy moved into that cot on top of me. Getting up in the middle of the night for a potty break was almost impossible and I don’t want to say anything more about that. 

A month of that and they moved us into 4 rooms on the 4th floor of a 4-floor walk-up. I think the Air Force had never heard of an elevator. We were young and happy and not making much money. But life was good because we both went way out of our way to make it that way.

The question of buying a vacuum cleaner came up a few times. The cost was $19.95 and we were not budgeted for that kind of extravagance. Peggy was pretty insistence and she usually got her way. I balked and we had several “discussions.”

Fortunately for me, our squadron was sent on temporary duty to Wheelus Air Base, just outside of Tripoli, Libya, where we had a gunnery camp. Derelict trucks, tanks, and airplanes were placed out in the Sahara Desert for us to shoot at with our F-100 fighter guns. Occasionally we saw packs of wild dogs and we strafed them instead. They were known to attack and kill pilots who had to eject from a crippled airplane. 

Wheelus was not the end of the world, but it was rumored you could see it from there. They had a thing called a Ghibli. It was a sandstorm that came out of the west and you could see it coming from 75 miles away. With the winds out of the Sahara blowing sand more than 60 mph, it was almost overwhelming. Visibility could reduce to 20 feet. When we saw one of those things coming there were 2 options. You could run back to your tent and be 100% miserable for 2 days, or you could rush to the Officer’s Club and be 95% miserable for 48 hours. 

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It didn’t happen very often, but when it did, I chose the club. They locked the doors, taped up the cracks, and nobody got in or out until the Ghibli ran its course and dissipated in the Mediterranean Ocean.

That left us with 2 things to do at the club, eat or play poker. The problem was the food. They had powdered potatoes, powdered milk, powdered ice cream, and cooked meat that no one ever talked about. That left me with the poker option, and there were a few games scattered around the club that I could sit in on.  

I forgot to say that there was also bourbon, scotch, vodka, and myriad other such libations that freely flowed into everyone’s mouth but mine. I didn’t drink.

Fortunately, about 6 years earlier, when I was a corporal, there were frequent poker games in the barracks. Not wanting my lot to fall upon chance, I went to the base library and checked out Hoyle’s Book of Odds. We played only 5 card draw or 7 card stud, dealer’s choice. 

I memorized all of the odds for each game, and made myself 2 rules, never ever play a hunch and don’t bluff again after you’ve been caught bluffing. I also knew that most poker players who drank while playing, liked to play hunches.

At Wheelus, one dark Ghibli night, in the wee hours, it came to a showdown between me and my boss, a major named Charlie Davis. The game was draw and I was dealt 3 sevens, a jack and a duce. I discarded the jack and asked for one card, which didn’t help my hand. By holding 4 cards I figured my boss would think I was holding either 4 to a flush, or 4 to a straight. The odds against drawing a helping card were very high and I’m sure my boss knew that. He probably grinned when I wasn’t looking.

Charlie was sitting straight across the table from me and the 4 other players dropped out. I was startled when the major also drew only one card. Was he trying to do to me what I was trying to do to him? I figured his best hand to be 2 pairs and my 3 sevens would beat him.

The pot was big, over $40. Nether of us was completely broke, we just didn’t have much money. This pot was the culmination of the nights work, and important to both of us. I was thinking about Peggy. 

He bet five-bucks and suddenly it was put-up or shut-up time for me. Should I fold my hand and let him win? He was my boss and my career depended on how he rated me at the end of the year. 

Or did I call his bet and take the pot home? I didn’t dare raise. My thought processes were on fire. I would probably work for the Major another year or so, no more. But Peggy and I had already been married 5 years (going on 66 now). The decision was easier than I thought and that night I phoned Peggy and told her she could buy the vacuum cleaner. 

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And Major Davis wrote me an efficiency report that got me promoted to Captain. 

In all of these years of marriage, my wife has never argued with me, but I’ve argued with her a few times. Always, when she sensed strong words were coming, she’d say, “Well honey, I’m sure you’re right,” and she would walk away, which totally debased me. She knew that in 10 minutes we were going to do it her way anyway, so why discuss it. But I was always the winner because I won the argument. That’s just the way us alphas are. f

 

 

 

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Twenty Three…

scrapbook

November, 2019

Pansies on the West Fork

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I really like this picture. That’s my dad on the left, Mike Hall on the right, and me in the middle again. My dad used to be taller than me but now I’m shorter than he used to be. 

The photo was taken at the West Fork Cabin Camp that was operated by Gary and Linda Evans – good friends of my parents. Mike and I owned the Hall & Fenn Real Estate Company in Santa Fe. 

If the log building in the background were to disappear you might see the West Fork of the Madison River confluencing with the Madison River. That’s where it is.

Out of the photo, there on the close right is where my mom had a pansy garden that she planted and tenderly tended each summer day. She died while sitting in their Airstream motor home just 10’ north of this photo. A tall pine tree guarded her pansies. The flowers are gone now, and so is my dad. It would be kind of like a toast-of-thanks if I could go there next summer and pour warm water on roots of that pine tree. But I don’t even know if it’s still there.

You can’t see the Madison River either, but it’s just 20’ behind the two pine trees on the right in this picture. My parents could hear the ripples rippling at night as the water worked its way downstream toward Ennis Lake, not too many miles away. 

Mike and I were on our way to the 1st annual Charlie Russell Riders fest-out on the Sun River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. It was an annual event, and still is. The fishing was good, but I didn’t go back again because there were too many people, too much talking, too much drinking, too much eating, and too much of several other things I didn’t much care for. 

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Sun River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

One of the things I remember about that trip was Bob Dunn’s horse kicking a hornet’s nest. I’m sure Bob remembers it too, and I hope his face has recovered.

Coming home we had to stay under the clouds between Denver and Santa Fe because I didn’t have an IFR clearance. The clouds kept getting lower and lower and the mountains kept getting higher and higher. And many of the clouds had mountains in them. 

After a while we found ourselves cruising generally south and lost. That was before GPS and all of the radio navaids were hiding behind mountains where my antennas couldn’t see them. 

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Great Sand Dunes National Park

Finally, we saw the Great Sand Dunes National Park, which contained 5,000,000,000 cubic meters of sand, so we knew we were near Alamosa, Colorado. I flew a few miles west to highway 285 and let almost all the way down. We were pulling up to clear telephone poles and a few small towns. 

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Control Tower at the Santa Fe Airport

Landing on runway 20 at Santa Fe was almost straight in and easy. The FAA tower operators wanted to know how we made that flight without getting in the clouds. I told them I was magic. They couldn’t prove what they couldn’t see and I wasn’t going to tell the rest of the story. f

 

 

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Twenty Two…

scrapbook

October, 2019

 

Athletic Addie

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Addie Fleischaker was athletic, or at least she used to be. At a decade or so past middle age her physical prowess, when I knew her, was mostly used up on the golf course. 

She was part of the Singer/Fleischaker Oil Company in Oklahoma City, and a very good friend and art client of mine. I saw her as a quiet and reserved person who liked to seclude in the background. 

We didn’t communicate much but I considered her to be a very good friend. So when I heard through the grape vine that she was going into the hospital for a very serious backbone operation, I was understandably distressed. 

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Without saying anything to Addie, I went into my private collection of prehistoric Zuni fetishes. There were a few that fit the description of what I needed, a stone bear or mountain lion fetish with an elongated back. I wrapped it carefully, and put it in a box with a note.

Addie, I hear you are going under the knife for a bone fusion. If it were anyone but you, I’d be worried. I’ll throw in some powerful medicine to help you. This is a back fetish. Please keep it in your hand during the operation. It will work for you if you have faith. I’ll be with you in my prayers. Good luck.

Forrest

PS it is important that you have faith.

Addie was quiet. I didn’t hear anything from her for a long time. No news was out there anywhere.

Then I received a letter.

Forrest, 
Not only am I playing golf with the girls again, but today I made a birdie on the 4th hole. That never happened to me before. I want you to know that I went into the operation with your fetish in my left hand. I had the nurse tape it closed so it couldn’t fall out when I was asleep. I had faith in it and the doctor said it probably helped me. I owe you a boa hug.

PS I really did have faith in the fetish. 

Addie

Don’t you just love stories that have a happy ending? f

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Twenty One…

scrapbook

October, 2019

 

Us and Mexico Beach

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The date on this photo reminds me of some fun times. I had recently graduated from pilot training and was now learning to fly the F-86D at Tyndall AFB, Florida.

Peggy and I rented a very little house at Mexico Beach. It was on the Gulf of Mexico and only a few feet from high tide. My twenty-five-minute drive to work along the Gulf of Mexico was very relaxing.

Immediately behind our place was a fresh water lake that had a mind of its own. It was fed by a small streamlet of water that was barely big enough to get you wet. But over time it dumped enough water into the lake to fill it up.

But there was a problem. The tide came in every day and moved enough sand to dam up the outlet that allowed spill-water to flow from the lake into the gulf. So the lake just kept filling and kept filling.

Something had to give, and eventually the lake over filled and breached the sandy dam. Water rushed out for a day or two and drained the lake. Then the process was ready to start all over again. This took place not far from where we lived.

Enter me. 

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One time some tourists walked on the beach past our house and picked up some of my sea shells that had washed up overnight. I just watched, trying to contain myself. How dare do those guys do that without my permission and in broad sunlight. 

Coincidentally, the lake had reached its total fill, and the tourists were almost out of sight. It was my turn. I took a stick and drew a thin line several inches deep. It was about 50’ long and spanned from the lake water to the downhill side of the sandy berm. As gravity worked its magic, fresh water pushed the sand down my manmade gutter toward the salt water in the gulf.

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At first it was a dribble that turned into a trickle, that turned into a flow. And before long it was a maniac river 40’ wide and 4’ deep. I wondered if the sheriff would come and get me.

He didn’t. When the tourists returned, they couldn’t figure out where the river came from all of a sudden. After their bewilderment subsided, they backtracked and cut up to the road. It was the only way they could get back to where they started several hours before. I never saw those guys again and I hope they’re not still mad at me.

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 In 1954 I was drawing 2nd Lieutenants pay. I don’t remember how much it was but I remember it wasn’t very much, and we had a monthly car payment. To help make ends meet Peggy fished off the pier at Mexico Beach. She didn’t like to bait the hook or take the fish off. Fortunately, there were always a few old guy fishermen around to help her.

That evening after work, I cleaned the fish and Peggy cooked them. We even had shark filets once in a while. It was a young family effort and life was good. 

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Mexico Beach after Hurricane Michael

Then, 44 years later hurricane Michael came along and almost completely disappeared Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base. I took it personally. It was kind of like life got mad at me. Look at it this way. My family home in Temple burned to the ground twice, they tore down my junior high school building and they liked it so much they tore down my high school building. Over time I’ve lost 2 ½ inches and 24 pounds, my family won’t let me drive outside of Santa Fe, trout in the Pecos River contain mercury, and I probably have less than 20 years to live. How can things get any worse? If it were not for my upbeat attitude and a bunch of good treasure hunting acquaintances, I’d worry about myself. f

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Twenty…

scrapbook

October, 2019

Singer-Fleischaker Oil Company

 

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Armand Hammer

Armand Hammer was a good acquaintance of mine.  He said, “Every great happening begins with a benevolent gesture.” I made it one of my rules. This Joe Singer story is about that philosophy. 

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Oscar Berninghaus painting similar to “Forgotten”

I always wanted to advertise full page color. The Santa Fe opera bulletin was small so they allowed me only a 1/4th page ad. The painting I gave them was an Oscar Berninghaus night scene of a horse tied to a hitching post. It was snowing and the lights in the cantina across the street were inviting. You could almost see music coming from the windows. The painting was untitled, so I called it Forgotten.

I’m guessing about this next part but I think it’s a pretty good guess. Joe and Richard, and their wives, were at the opera. Ann and Addie were full of the music and scenery, but the men were seriously bored. While thumbing through the bulletin, wishing the opera would hurry up, the men came upon my ad. It was a melancholy scene and it struck a chord with them. They wanted to look at it. 

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Fenn Galleries, now the Matteuchi Gallery

The next day, they came in Fenn Galleries Ltd, and I met them at the door. It was love at first handshake. We drank coffee (I always put cream and sugar in mine to help kill the taste) and laughed a lot. We just really got along. 

The women headed for the vault where the Indian jewelry was housed. And there was plenty of it on display. Squash blossom necklaces were hanging from every square inch of the ceiling, turquoise bracelets, rings, and ear drops were everywhere. There must have been 1000 pieces if you counted them slowly. The girls (you can call a female a girl until she 16 and after she’s 70, but not in-between) wore big grins. They didn’t have any Indian jewelry but suddenly they wanted some. The romance of Santa Fe was homing in on them.

I gave my secretary a wink, and she knew what that meant. As the girls darted from one display to another, I unlocked all of the glass cases. It was fun to watch their enthusiasm. Soon, my secretary appeared, right on cue. “Mister Fenn, you’re wanted on the phone. It’s an important call and I think you should take it.”

As I was walking out, I said, “OK girls, I’ve got so much of this stuff, pick out what you want and it’ll be a gift from me to start you on your Indian Jewelry collection. I’ll be back in a minute.” 

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After about 10 minutes I returned to see what they had amassed. Ann was wearing a $6,500 #8 spider web turquoise chunk necklace, and Addie had on a bracelet-ring set that was worth about $4,800. I said, “Lordie, I should have known you’d pick my very best things.” The girls giggled.

Joe and Richard were the Singer/Fleischaker oil company in Oklahoma City. They were not art collectors especially, but when they saw what we offered, they started thinking about it.

That night we had dinner at The Pink. After about an hour of talking about everything, and eating some of Rosalie’s hot apple pie with rum sauce on the side, the girls got up and walked across the street to the Desert Inn, where they were staying. Joe and Richard lit up expensive Cuban cigars. The air got quiet and I just sat there, taking it in. I liked both of those guys.

Finally, Joe said, “Forrest, we’ve got a lot of money and everyone is trying to get it. We never had anyone treat us like you did today.” Suddenly I felt like we had a father/son relationship, but I don’t remember which was which.

The next day they came in our gallery and purchased about $265,000 worth of paintings, including Forgotten, 

Armand Hammer was right. 

But there were shadows on the horizon. Ann told me a story in private. Their son Paul was a medical doctor in the Army. Without telling his father, Paul volunteered for combat duty in Vietnam. The news infuriated Joe. He argued, why in the world would you willingly put your brilliant future in harm’s way? The arguments were fierce and frequent. 

The night before Paul was to leave for Southeast Asia, Joe and Ann threw their son and his wife, a huge black-tie dinner/dance bash at the country club. Hundreds of their friends and relatives were in attendance. Two hours into the event, and right in the middle of the dance floor, Joe and his Paul got into it again. 

Paul stalked out of the dance, went to Vietnam, and was killed in action.

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It weighed heavily on Joe, who blamed himself for what happened. He suffered long periods of severe depression.

Some months later Joe happened into our gallery unannounced. He was in Santa Fe to buy oil leases from the state. 

I had recently traded four big Walter Ufer paintings from the Houston Art Museum. They were big, two were 30”x 40” and the others were 40”x 50.” They had been purchased with an endowment left to the museum by a wealthy philanthropist named Ima Hogg. 

The paintings were hanging in our high room and the two of us were looking at them. “Joe,” I said, “these smaller paintings are perfect for your collection, but the 40 x 50s are too big for your house. Why don’t you buy all 4 of them and give the two large ones to the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, in memory of your son.”

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National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City

Joe didn’t say anything. I think he was stunned. Finally, he said something silly. “How do I know they want them.” I told Joe that Dean Krakel was the director. “I’ll go call him.”

The problem was that Krakel was an expert, and if you didn’t know it, he would surely find a way to tell you. I had had a couple of strained business deals with him in the past. I worried about it most of the night. He could blow the deal if he wanted to. It was no skin off of his nose either way. I almost felt subservient to the situation. 

Then, in the wee morning hours it came to me. I predicted nearly every word that would be said. I had to bait Dean one time then close the deal if I could. I needed some luck.

The next afternoon we were standing in front of the paintings. Dean on the right and Joe on the left. I was relaxed in the middle.

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Dean didn’t act like he was impressed, but I knew he was. “They’re very nice,” he said, and he walked over to the big painting on the right. The wall sticker said $275,000. “Wow” came out of his mouth. “Where’d you get the precedence for that price?”

“Dean, there’s no precedence for that price because there’s is no precedence for that painting.”

“Yes there is, we have “The Corn Thief,” it’s the same size, same artist, and a better painting. We gave $250,000 for it.”

“I know that Dean, and I’ll give you $300,000 for it right now. You’ve either got to buy mine or sell me yours.” 

“There’s no way you’re gonna get mine.”

Joe Singer said, “Well then, I guess we bought some paintings.” I smiled inside and congratulated both Joe and Dean.

We hanged the paintings and remodeled one corner of the museum. Paul’s stethoscope and Purple Heart were proudly displayed in a glass case alongside his scrubs. I gave them some Indian rugs and other things to warm the place a little. It looked really nice and Joe was beaming.

Later, Ann told me, with a tear, that the veil of remorse had lifted from Joe’s body and he was his old self again. 

A personal note.
They said I was eccentric, and they still do. Maybe it’s true. The art business was good to me because I gave so much away. It was certainly unorthodox. When you start out with no education, no experience, no inventory and no money, there are not many more nos that you don’t have. So you do what you have to do to make things work. My rewards came from every direction, and helping them along was just good business. f

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Nineteen…

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October, 2019

 

Good food times in SF

Today is Saturday, October the 26th and that means it’s chili cook-out time at Christ Church in Santa Fe. I attended the event last year and that experience demanded that I not miss it this one, The temp is above 50, the sun is shining full bloom, and the wind is naught but a wisp. So I drove about 15 blocks down hill to the church. The parking lot was packed, so I had to walk a short distance past an antique car show to get in.

That church must be the friendliest place in the whole country. Two of the 3 pastors worked their way through the crowd to shake my hand. One of them was John Standridge. He’s originally from Kerrville, Texas so we had to talk about BBQ. He’s also bearded and I couldn’t let that pass without a comment. But then to the chili line. 

Twenty-two crock pots were all lined up in a row. They were full of 22 different kinds of chili, all plugged in and steaming hot. I read some of the labels: beef, chicken, buffalo, “meat,” glutton free, and green. I’m sure each recipe was a very closely guarded family secret.

 My plan was to check each one. It was a contest to see who was the best chili cook, and I planned to vote. The first pot I tried had some thin white pasta things in it. I never saw pasta in chili before and I’m sure the chili purists would disapprove. Anyway, I put a little in my bowl and sat down to eat. When no one was looking I removed a Tabasco bottle from my pocket and sprinkled some on. 

The pasta chili was good, really good and a little of it just made me hungrier. So back in the line I pretended to walk up and down checking out the other 21 crocks, knowing full well that I would end up back the #5 crock, the pasta chili crock. Heck with the contest, I was seriously focused and not at all interested in being distracted. I don’t know who made that pasta chili but I’d like to put her on my Christmas card list.

The other 299 people who passed past the crock line depleted the respective pots pretty fast, and as soon as one got low it was quickly filled again.

There were other things to eat also, like veggy queso, corn bread, green and red salsa with chips, regular “mac and cheese,” sour cream, and beans “cooked in tequila & beer.” I hope somebody around there had a liquor license. A volunteer wandered through the tables carrying large pitchers of ice water. 

A bunch of costumed little kids were running around everywhere, a few being chased by their moms who were also in costume. It was a recipe for chaos but it wasn’t. It was just fun. I think the kid contest was won by Zoro, but the adult contest was much more complex. The serious competitors were 3 ladies wearing huge hats made of feathers, leaves, and something else. My favorite had dangerous looking red hair under a pull-down feather fedora. It was a rather striking ensemble. The runner up was a young-looking middle-aged woman who had really short green hair. She was soothing to look at so I just watched her. 

A few dogs of carryable size were there also. I checked them out and decided that none were as cute as Willie. 

My path to the door was almost blocked by the dessert trough. I didn’t even want to think about it because I was totally totaled out.

Everything was free and the caterers were all church volunteers. Those people really know how to put on a do. You have to love that Christ Church. I have friends and a daughter who attend services there regularly. Maybe I’ll start going more often. 

The way to my car took me through the antique auto show. About 20 were being shown off, and it was interesting. One silver thing was so low that if you were riding in it down the road your jockey shorts would be about 8” above the asphalt. A speck of dust would not dare land on that thing. I asked the owner if it would go 500 miles an hour, and he said, “not with me in it.”

My favorite though was a strikingly blue 1956 Ford Thunderbird. It had a V-8 engine with 255 horse power. There were only 15,631 made and it sold new for $3,151. 

I drove home in my dirty Jeep Grand Cherokee. It was made in the USA in June of 2011. It says on the side that its trail rated and I’m not completely sure what that means. The odometer reads 19,139 miles. The right-side mirror is broken and the back-left tire is 2 pounds low. I have no idea how many horsepower the engine has and I don’t even care. That car has always taken me there and brought me back again. We’re a team, and that’s all that matters to me. f

 

 

 

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Eighteen…

scrapbook

October, 2019

 

Kid’s Toys  

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Here’s an old photo of me and Skippy in the back yard of our house in Temple. I don’t remember that car. Wish I had it now.

It looks like my big brother is holding me back from running him over. Makes me wonder what happens to great toys like that when the kids get too big to play with them. They’re probably just thrown in the dump.

If I were 50 years younger I might go back to Temple and excavate the dump and see.

The swing behind us is strung from a grape arbor my father built. Can you see the grapes growing up on wire to the left? It’s hard to see the wire, but it’s there just the same. The swing was my mother’s idea.

I don’t know how old I am in that picture, but I was born in 1930. You guess. f

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My house is gone now, but the arbor once stood in the green splotch shown in this photo, and left of our garage, which still stands. f

 

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Seventeen…

scrapbook

October, 2019

 

Verdun  

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I took this picture in 1958. It’s a small part of the Verdun battle field where in WW-l, the Germans fought the French for 303 days, the longest battle in that war. 143,000 soldiers were killed.

Because this “war zone” was still littered with land mines and other terrible killing devices, no civilians were allowed near it.032

I was one of 26 pilots in the 23rd Fighter Squadron stationed at Bitburg, Germany. There were many other fighter squadrons scattered around Europe, and we needed a gunnery range.

So a very narrow swath of a dirt road was cleared of mines all the way to the end, where a makeshift tower was erected. A chair and a radio were its only inhabitants. I stood duty as range officer there several times. It was a terrible job. Big red signs were planted every 200’ or so along the road going in, DANGER – DO NOT GET OFF OF THE ROAD. I didn’t.

Occasionally, a strafing F-100, using ball ammo, would hit some kind of live ordinance that was hidden just under the ground surface of that seemingly extinct battle field, causing an explosion. And once again the echoes of 1916 would rumble across the serene French country side, causing temporary panic in the local kitchens.

In some places the residuals of war last on for many years after the formal fighting has stopped. Verdun is one of them.

Plato said, “Only the dead will know the end of wars.” When are we going to stop this madness? f

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Sixteen…

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October, 2019

 

Relentless Pursuit 

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In the early 1980s, I was working on my first biography of Joseph Henry Sharp, who in 1915, was a founding member of the important Taos Society of Artists. I was so raw at writing that I started out using a pencil on a yellow pad. My day job was running our Santa Fe gallery and we didn’t own a computer.

In some of our magazine ads we asked for information about Sharp. One day a nattily dressed man walked into my office. The guy’s chest filled out his shirt so completely that his tie looked like an aberration. When he sat down without being invited, I figured he had something important to say. I took a sip of Grapette and tried to appear nonchalant. 

“Whatcha know about Sharp etchings,” he said with an attitude. It sounded more like a statement than a question. I explained that as far as I knew, there weren’t any. “Then what’s this?” He threw an 8 X 10 black & white photo on my desk.  

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Photo of a Sharp etching

It was of a Sharp etching for sure. The artist’s scald was all over it and the signature was right. I was astonished in an ecstatic sort of way. 

I asked the man if I could please make a copy for my records, and I motioned to my secretary. “No you can’t,” the jerk said, as he grabbed for the photo. I quickly turned it over and read the logo on the back. JOHN WHITAKER PHOTOGRAPHY – CINCINNATI, OHIO.

The guy stormed out of my office like he was late for lunch with the queen.  

The logo was burned deeply into my mind, and it started me on a research expedition that lasted for many months. 

I must have made 20 phone calls in pursuit of that etching because it was fresh information to me and I needed it for my book.

The Whitaker photo business in Cincinnati had changed names and was being run by a wonderfully accommodating man. He gave me the name and address of lady who owned the etching. Phone calls and letters to her went unanswered. Requests for information about Sharp etchings in my magazine ads were ignored. 

I received information about the artist from museums and galleries, but nothing about his etchings. The trail ran cold for about 20 more phone calls. Then I started getting some breaks. 

I’ll shorten the story and get to the good part. I called a very elderly lady in Liberty, Indiana, and said, “Madam, about 1903, your father purchased at public auction in Cincinnati, 14 Joseph Henry Sharp zinc and copper etching plates. Included in the lot was a cigar box filled with etching tools.” There was a short pause, then in almost a whisper, she said, “No, I think there are 16 of them.”

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Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953). Copper etching plate, ca. 1900. Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Forrest Fenn.

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Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953). Copper etching plate, ca. 1900. Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Forrest Fenn.

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Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953). Copper etching plate, ca. 1900. Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, WY. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Forrest Fenn.

It was a lightning strike moment for me. 

They were stored in her garage and much too heavy for her to lift. When she agreed to sell them, I made plans to meet her the very next day. “Please have your doctor or lawyer present when I arrive.”

When I entered her home, 16 etching plates were spread out on her living room carpet. They were beautiful. Her attorney, John Something, was standing guard, probably not knowing for sure why he was even there. He struck me as being the kind of guy who would hit himself in the head with a stick because it felt so good when he quit.

I inspected each plate to make sure it hadn’t been cancelled. All but one were Indian portraits. They were in perfect condition.

I asked what she wanted for the 16 plates. Her lawyer started expounding on how valuable they were and…she interrupted. 

“Mister Fenn, I don’t know what they are worth, probably not very much. What are you willing to give me for them?” I said “Madam, I will give $5,000 each for the 16, that’s $80,000.

They both were shocked, and numbed, almost into incredulity. Their faces gave testimony to that fact. John Something sat down and began cleaning his glasses. 

“Mister Fenn, I think we have a deal.” The attorney had checked me out so I handed that beautiful lady a check, kissed her on the cheek, and was gone.  

What I had going for me was a note Sharp had written many years earlier stating that his intention was to print 250 copies from each plate, but most he had printed was 23.

We had a special porous paper made, each sheet with a large F hidden in the watermark. It could be seen only when held up to a strong light source. I didn’t want our etchings to be confused with those Sharp had printed, which were more valuable. 

Over the next few months we had a professional print maker finish printing the editions for us. That totaled 3,632 etchings that varied in value from $100 to $1,800 each. It was a wild expense for our gallery, but everything was tax-deductible. We donated 50 or more sets of the etchings to museums, art schools and other non-profits.

And more importantly, we bound an etching in each of 100 limited edition copies of The Beat of the Drum and the Whoop of the Dance and Teepee Smoke, my two biographies of Joseph Sharp. Each book was leather bound, numbered, and signed. For years they lumbered off of our book shelves. 

We gave the 16 etching plates to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center with the stipulation that no additional copies would ever be printed. 

Our gallery sold hundreds of the etchings, both individually and in sets. They also made great gifts for birthdays, weddings, Christmas, anniversaries, graduations, and “I’m just thinking of yous.”

The complicated etching operation was spread out over several years and I never knew how we came out financially. I hope we at least broke even. 

Those were happy days for me, partly because I was busy doing the things I liked doing. And now, nearly 40 years after I acquired the etching plates, I have 1 etching left. It’s a portrait of White Swan, who, after the Custer Fight, was found deaf and dumb on the battlefield. Sharp was deaf, White Swan was deaf, and so am I. Maybe that’s why I’ve kept this particular etching. f

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White Swan Etching by J. H. Sharp

 

 

Scrapbook Two Hundred Fifteen…

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October, 2019

 

Business Partners  

Personnel retention was always a concern and we were constantly trying to think of creative ways to deal with it in our gallery. I never wanted to reward an average or mediocre performer. It was too easy to change the performer. 

One day I got an everybody-wins idea and it didn’t cost anything, at least not very much of anything.

Mary Lou was a good employee who had been with us for more than a year. Everyone liked her. One day I took her to lunch at the Shed. It was near the plaza on Palace Avenue, and they had the best Mexican food place in town. While we were eating enchaladas (I always called them that). We talked about her boyfriend who had a good job, and was well liked in the community. Then I asked Mary Lou how she liked her job at the gallery, where she planned to be in 5 years, what could we do to improve our operation, and a few other nosey questions. 

I was impressed with her answers, so after we finished our sopapillas and honey, we walked a few doors east to Guadalupe’s Shoe Store. 

I told Mary Lou that I had to run to the bank and while I was gone, she could choose anything in the store she wanted (Ladies really like shoes). 

Guadalupe came over and said hello. As I headed for the door I turned and said, “but you have to pick out what you want before I get back and the bank is just 2 blocks away.”

Guadalupe, whom I had known for many years, helped Mary Lou select some imported shoes, a nice hand bag, and a belt to match the new spring ensemble that was in her wardrobe at home. 

After I complemented Mary Lou on her taste, I winked at Guadalupe and we walked out of the store without paying. I didn’t want to discuss money in front of Mary Lou. That would have been vulgar. Guadalupe knew I would return later in the day with a bunch of dollar bills in my hand. 

We were mostly silent on our way back to the gallery. I closed the door to my office and we sat down.

“Mary Lou, I particularly like your work ethic and the way you handle yourself. We want to keep you here. As an incentive to stay I’d like to give you half interest in that painting,” and I pointed to an Eric Sloane hanging on the wall near my desk. I saw a flash in her eyes that said she knew I wasn’t kidding. 

It was a $15,000 painting that we had recently purchased from Eric for $7,500. I explained that the gift came with 3 rules. One, she couldn’t tell anyone that she was half owner in the painting. Two, she couldn’t get pushy. “Let someone else sell it.” And 3, you must work at our gallery when it sells or the whole deal is off.” She blushed and nodded at the same time. It was a cute gesture. You had to like Mary Lou.

She had to be thinking that she was now our business partner, in a small way. She became more diligent and almost daily brought cut flowers to put on the front desk.

When the painting sold a week or so later, I wrote Mary Lou a check for $7,500. The transaction cemented our relationship with a top employee, and we got our cost back. We didn’t make any money. Our profit was intrinsic, and an investment in our future. 

We used that technique with several other “Mary Lous” during our 17-year tenure on the Santa Fe art scene. There were a few “Billy Bobs” too. 

The secrets about what we did eventually leaked out and I became known around town as Daddy Warbucks. 

Louise was different. We needed an accounts receivable clerk and she applied. She was out-flowing and a little gushy, but that was ok. 

That night I knocked on her door about 8 o’clock. She had invited me to meet her husband. I had to step over a hoodie to get in the front door, and “things” were strewn all around the house. Dinner dishes were dirty in the sink, on the table, and on the divan. Something gooey-red was spilled on a chair. I didn’t dare sit down.

This gal was not going to work in my accounts receivable department.

Messy people are usually extroverted, smiley, and meet people easily. That seemed to be Louise’s forte’ so I hired her to work in sales. I was a good decision because she kept our staff morale up. We even taught her to wash coffee cups. 

And then there was Grace. She was a gentle Spanish lady, severely Catholic, who must have been sent to us from the personnel department in heaven. Both of her husbands were murdered and her son was hit by a car and killed at night while trying to change a flat tire. 

Grace quickly became part of our family, and after 42 years with us we talked her into retiring. That was 6 years ago. I once told her that she was “the strawberry in the milkshake of my heart.” I think she repeated that comment to everyone in North America and some of the ships at sea. My wife just rolled her eyes. 

We still give Grace her salary but she has to come to our home each a month to pick up the check. We just want to see her and make sure she’s okay. Her daughter drives Grace now because she’s 94 years old. 

The gallery business in Santa Fe was good to my family for 17 years. We worked with some really good people and met a bunch of celebrities. And you know what I found out about them? They were just plain-ole people who had a highly specialized talent. But doesn’t that describe all of us? 

Sometimes when I write stories like this, I feel really good when I’m done. Maybe I’ll go make some hot chocolate and pet my dog. f

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Me, my wife, my daughter, some Mary Lous and a couple of Billy Bobs