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Chuck Hinman: IJMA No. 026: What You Got

It's Just Me Again. No. 026. What You Got When You Got Us. (from the version sent December 2010)
The next earlier Chuck Hinman story: Grandma's Doll : A Hinman Family Christmas StoryBy Chuck Hinman

December 13, 2005
Hi Paul and Mary Ann:

Mom has been gone three years, a few days from now. I think as a family, we have handled her passing better than I would have thought. As you know, I have a few reminders of her around -- "our" picture on the wall across from my easy chair here at Tallgrass, her favorite old scarf draped over that picture, her Red Door trademark cologne on the kitchen cabinet, where I get a whiff when I need it.

But I feel I am handling Mom's home-going in a healthy way after three years. I will NEVER forget her, but I have let her go for a while. That's normal and I am comfortable with that.

Last week in the Tulsa Tribune, there was a news item about the Children's Home in Sand Springs (west of Tulsa) which is going to be torn down. If you saw the article, you probably passed over it without any interest.

If you ever knew it, you have probably forgotten that your Mom -- Connie, your Aunt Louise, and Uncle Bill were all residents of that home when they were pre-school kids.

Here's how that happened, something which, if you are not interested in now, you will want to know the minute they close my casket lid. There isn't a soul that can tell you. The best authority on Connie's family and early life is her cousin Maudina Phillips, Weatherford, Texas, but her mind was sealed shut a few months ago by a stroke. She is living out her days in silence, a veritable authority on your Mom's early life. Pity, but that's the way it goes unfortunately.

Connie was born in Terlton, Oklahoma, a little berg south of Cleveland, Oklahoma. Her Dad, Oscar Pickett was irresponsible and undependable and everything else with the prefix "un" and "ir"! He and Connie's mom, Alma, had three kids in quick order, first Louise, then Connie, and last Bill. I am not sure what her Dad did but Connie's Mom died unexpectedly (perhaps of something like pneumonia).

Connie's dad was never a favorite of Connie's Mom's family and became even less a favorite, when on the day of her Mom's funeral he disappeared rather than assume the responsibility of providing for a young family. He did not "show" at his wife's funeral! Connie's Mom is buried in the Terlton cemetery in an unmarked grave. His alibi that he was distraught over the loss of his young wife Alma was never accepted by Alma's family.

The three kids suddenly became an unwanted commodity, something that weighed on Connie's mind deeply. It makes me shed a tear remembering Connie relate the unnaturalness of growing up not being wanted or loved, something most of us take for granted. Connie told how little Louise, two years older than Connie, took on the role of mother to her siblings at the advanced age of six years old. Louise never relinquished the duty even in her old age. More of that in other writings. Strangely, Louise never had children but she was a little mother to her siblings and they felt it, the strong bonding.

Boy, did your Mom ever overcome a tough start in life! I bet you didn't know the half of it, but if you are interested, I can tell you what I know, as her soul mate and lover. Sit down and listen. You'll be glad you did, I guarantee! This isn't short but it is the sometimes ugly truth and you should know it.

Connie's grandparents, the parents of her mother Alma, were old and poor and lived in the northeast part of Cleveland, Oklahoma, their home site now being under water in beautiful Keystone Lake. There were many aunts and uncles but understandably, none of them wanted the responsibilities of three little snot-nose kids. Connie never held them responsible and derelict of duties to their blood-kin, the Pickett kids.

So the kids became wards of the State of Oklahoma and lived in the Children's Home in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. This was a few miles away from the grandparent's home in Cleveland. Connie said that her Dad surfaced from his vagabond existence and took the kids for brief periods and lived in shacks here and there around Tulsa and Sand Springs. Connie said they loved it when Daddy showed up for a while but then he disappeared and they were back at the orphanage.

The only thing Connie's Dad was known to have done in the way of making a living was -- he was a unique artist. His technique was unusual. He painted not with expensive artist's brushes but with cheap brushes you buy at the dime store to paint a chair -- where the bristles were about an inch and a half wide. He used all kinds of cheap backgrounds, rarely canvas. The only material of significant expense would have been the many tubes of oil based artist's paint he carried in his knapsack with all his earthly possessions. Mundane as was his existence, because of his artistry, he had a "reputation" and was known wherever he lived. Perhaps because he was an "artist" with the well-known temperament of an artist, he might escape the bohemian term "Bum" which his in-laws readily attributed to Connie's Dad.

He had a drinking problem in addition to his other problems and would paint a nice picture, take it out on the street of the town where he was holed-up -- sell the picture for whatever he could get -- perhaps a dollar and take the money and buy a sandwich and/or some more booze. He existed a lifetime in this manner.

Most of the time, the family did not know or care where he was. Of all the family, Connie was the most benevolent and tolerant of his chosen lifestyle. She was the only one who might know where he was at any given time.

After Connie and I were married, she learned he was living in Muncie, Indiana. So, before you kids were on the scene, we drove to Muncie to visit him.

He lived in the proverbial "shanty along side the railroad track" -- noisy trains going by constantly. His living conditions were squalid as was his appearance. He apparently never washed the dishes he ate out of. He didn't have electricity and consequently no refrigerator. Partially emptied bottles of milk collected on the dirty table. Flies were everywhere!

A stack of filthy clothes that were never washed, just worn, lay piled on the floor, showing he wore shirts, pants, and underwear until even he couldn't stand them any more. They were relegated to this stack of dirty clothes and he put on something probably obtained from a mission. The stench was describable -- it was BAD BAD!

Understand, Paul and Mary Ann, this is your maternal Grandpa in Indiana, not some third world country. This was my introduction to my father-in-law, Connie's Dad! And you didn't think that could happen in our family, the Hinmans?

Make you wish someone else had adopted you? You may have gotten a bad deal, and just think, there are no refunds or returns. What you see (or don't see) is what you got and you are stuck with it! Wink and hugs! Hang on~!

Connie was visibly crushed on this rare visit to her Dad. I felt for her and what she must have been going through. He tried to put up a good front and announced that we were "going out" for dinner. THANK GOD FOR LITTLE THINGS! It was obvious he didn't have a dime to his name, so he did what he had done for a lifetime. He got out his box of paint in tubes. To his credit, he did have quite an inventory of paint. And he had a canvas, so he was in business!

He announced that we were about to see a miracle, a work of art produced in an hour or less. I was skeptical; I'll believe it when I see it, and I did! He had obviously done it all his life, triggered by when he was hungry or out of booze! I suspect he probably knew he was good even though you could definitely sense a lack of self esteem. How pathetic for even a bum. What a wasted lifestyle.

It was unbelievable, but I saw it with tears in my eyes, -- Connie's precious Daddy, her flesh and blood, mind you, shell of a dirty old man, cigarette dangling from his mouth as he painted a picture of a rural scene with one brush, a wide plain old enamel paint brush. He didn't change brushes between colors; he just meshed the colors together masterfully as a real pro. I was stunned to put it mildly!

He smoked incessantly as he painted, the ashes dropping off the cigarette dangling from his mouth on to the wet paint. He didn't appear to notice or care; he excused it as "adding needed texture." Actually, he was probably right. Only a legitimate artist would know.

He laughed often with the sound of a sick man who had consumed too much booze, smoked too much, and was obviously in his last days. He was putting up a front, no question.

A year or so later, I received a call at work (at Phillips) from the Police Department of Muncie, Indiana. They were investigating the death of Oscar Pickett. In his possession they had my telephone number of whom to call. He had been dead for about a week when they found him. This compounded the already horrendous odor in his place!

Connie and I left immediately to drive to Muncie to arrange his last rites. He had a handful of family nearby whom Connie had never met. Before the funeral, when Connie and I were disposing of his earthly possessions to a local trash collector, the only thing we found of any value was the pawn shop ticket for the diamond ring I have worn since the day I redeemed the pawn ticket, and the ring you (Paul) will get when I am "out of here." He had an old foot powered player piano and a ton of rolls of music which we sold to a local music store. Her dad was a talented musician apparently. There was a piece or two of music which he had written and had published. I believe we have already given you that music -- Paul. You will know.

On the day of the funeral, the only people present were the handful of family, perhaps six or eight of us gathered where the family sits in funeral homes. One was his sister from west of Muncie. Connie knew about her.

There was not one person in the auditorium at the funeral. No one except family signed the guest book. He was buried in a family plot on the Interstate west of Muncie.

When we returned to our motel room after the funeral, on the evening news, there was a news clip about the death and burial of a well known local personage, a vagrant artist by the name of Oscar Pickett. We learned later that a local entrepreneur of Muncie had bought much of the art work of Oscar Pickett. He in turn, framed it nicely and sold it for a handsome profit no doubt. The TV news clip indicated Oscar Pickett was known throughout the state in art circles.

I was later to understand that if you spent much time in Muncie, Indiana, you would no doubt run into, some time, some where the artistry of your Grandpa, Grandpa Oscar Pickett, your Mom's Dad and my father-in-law.

And that my precious kids, Paul and Mary Ann, is the heritage you inherited from your adoptive parents, Chuck and Connie Hinman. Kind of ugly, much bad odor, but raw truth.

In the next issue, you will learn that Connie's grandparents did in fact rescue them from the Sand Springs Children's Home, and provide a decent home under what seemed at first to be insurmountable problems for aged grandparents. It happens and you are a part of it.

Hugs and much love from Dad -- 12-12-05

P.S. I have no doubt I could fly to Muncie, Indiana, this afternoon and find some of your Grandpa Pickett's art, beautifully framed. I might be shocked at the price! I probably could do the same thing in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. And he is well enough known, if you know how to do it, you can find him, not me, on the internet because of his artistry. Surprised?

See: My writing No. 010 -- My Dad -- Arley Hinman for information on Arley Hinman.

-Chuck HinmanSee Oscar Conley Pickett

This story was posted on 2010-12-12 05:02:09
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