Uncle Fritz was one of the anomalies in my family. Among the throngs of do-gooder farm folk was this urbane swell who was an executive for a Santa Monica construction company. He took a shine to me through his martini haze and lavished his Jack Paar wit on us during his annual visits.
He even wanted me to live with his family when I was a high school senior so I could establish residency and attend UCLA.
Mother put her foot down. She was never controlling after I left home but Bloomington was about as far as she was willing to go for starters. Partially this was a result of all my childhood illnesses. But mainly it was because she had a powder keg on her hands and LA would have been too much, too soon. I probably would have become a junkie.
One summer Uncle Fritz was perplexed by my sudden involvement in 4-H. We lived in the country, though not on a farm, and I had succumbed to peer pressure at my junior high. Out of boredom I needed something to do.
I pursued things like Forestry, where I learned about Indiana’s indigenous trees. And something called Wild Life which took on new meaning after two days of Uncle Fritz’s double entendres: “Has your Wild Life group made it to that strip bar on Harrison yet?”
And there were rabbits. They were cute at first but their fecal production was astounding. I did my best to keep the cages clean but it soon became overwhelming, I couldn’t manage. The bunnies grew as did the mysterious organisms they lived with. One was so ill it expired during the summer judging at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. There’s material for a Kenny Rogers’ song there: She Died at the County Fair.
Needless to say attempts to be lumberjack or outdoorsy have never been convincing. But it doesn’t prevent me from appreciating the primitive aspects of it all. Like the Naive landscape that dominates the north wall of my bedroom.
I marveled at the 7′ by 9′ behemoth for years in a Fort Wayne junk shop. At $80 I couldn’t understand why no one hadn’t swept up this masterpiece from some back room bar or VFW hall. I finally decided it would be the perfect backdrop for Christmas in the condo’s family room. So I bought it ten years ago.
Besides its size, it was painted on wood and weighed a ton. I borrowed a short bed pickup and rather precariously secured it with rope to transport it home. The slow drive was via back streets as I anticipated a crash and boom at any moment. Thankfully, I made it without incident.
The last hurdle was the nosey 80 year-old retiree next door. His personal radar picked up every click of my remote opener. He was usually out in the drive before the door finished rolling up. After the tense ride home I was in no mood for small talk about the curious piece I was hauling. As the door opened he was nowhere in sight so I accelerated slightly to get in quickly.
Then there was a thud, a squeal and I was stuck. I jumped out to see I had not waited long enough for the door to clear. The impact from the top of the picture over the cab had caught it and bowed both side rails. One-quarter of the two-car garage door was hanging limper than last Saturday night’s trick. The painting, on the other hand, survived the collision like the Hoosier hard woods I’d studied and admired.
Instantly Mr. Buttinsky was out advising me on what needed to be done. And in a way I was relieved he had something to talk about. At least I didn’t have to explain the principles of Outsider Art.