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Thursday, June 9, 2011


wassily kandinsky, several circles, 1926 

In town this afternoon, I stopped in at Selma's for a moca. Duke Bledsoe was just inside the door. Duke has been living in Florida for several years. He drives back here a few times a year for real estate deals and other business he keeps going. Duke is one of the county's raconteurs I enjoy talking with. Duke is entertaining when he talks. He's a good story teller and I like to listen to him. I don't mean he tells Jack Tales or anything like that. Duke's stories are memories of something somebody did in the past that was particularly funny or poignant. Duke knows the history of the county. His dad was the Ford dealer on Main St. He grew up in town, son of a Sparta businessman. Starting in his early years he was an adventurer. Adventure is in his blood. Not long out of high school he was in Japan learning judo, knife fighting and other martial arts. He flew crop-dusting planes in the deep South, made good money. He's always flown planes and had one of his own. He's a clever and savvy feller with a fascination for that narrow line between focusing full attention and death. Attention wavers and he's gone. His favorite saying, There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots.

Sparta is Duke's base of operations for much that he's been involved in over the years, but at age 83 he's been free for several years from having to make quota income. He brought Karen up here from central Florida in the summers and they went to Florida condo for the winter. About every year they'd take a cruise somewhere. I think they like the dancing and the party atmosphere in the evenings, the social meals around big tables. They like the places the cruises go to, but from knowing them at least a little bit, I suspect they enjoy the carefree atmosphere of everything is taken care of, visiting with people by day, dinner and dancing by night. Vacation from the land of concerns. I was shocked when Duke told me he was 83. He looked maybe like 73. He got around extra good for 83. Got around good for 73. He hand builds airplanes for a hobby and sells them.

Buying and selling is Duke's primary talent. He told me once, years ago, about a learning experience with two men in Independence I knew, the attorney Lorne Campbell and dairy farmer from Volney, Joe Osborne. Lorne and Joe bought and sold real estate together. Joe did the selling Lorne did the legal paperwork. Joe told me that they'd get somebody here from Florida and Joe would take them out and be the one to do the selling. He let them think he was an old hillbilly that didn't know much and they could get a really good deal off of him. He sold them the land at 2 and 3 times its value. Campbell told me there was a time he represented 5 con men in SW Virginia. In the time I knew him, only one of them was still living. He did all the wheelings and dealings in their names with their money. They made and lost bundles of money at a time.

Duke got in with these two fellers when he was young, just getting going at real estate and wheelings and dealings. In these mountains, if you're going to make it by wheelings and dealings, you better be slick. Duke went in with them on some land deals and it worked out they ended up with everything and Duke with nothing. He told me that, I don't recall the details, like he was telling me something about Campbell that would help me see he was a low down scoundrel. But I already knew. I could have told Duke a whole lot more than that Campbell did that he told me about himself, including the story Duke told me about. But I couldn't disrespect Lorne Campbell in death any more than I could in life. Duke sat me down not many months after Campbell died to tell me all the dirty things Lorne Campbell had done in his pirate manner of con operations. I knew all the stories Duke told me, because Lorne had told me, himself, and I knew ones that were a whole lot worse that Duke didn't know about. I had the good fortune that Lorne Campbell chose me to tell his life story to in his last years. It was a full life.

When Duke started his story about Lorne and Joe, this was back around 1990, I saw it coming. Young real estate man wannabe jumped in the deep end with the big dogs and got an expensive for-profit education. Duke is the kind of guy who knows his way about, wherever he is. He bobs back up. He likes buying and selling because it takes some slick thinking. He's liked flying a crop-duster since he was young. I believe he loved the controlled dare-devil aspect of it. Keep your focus and you come through clean. And if you go out, it's clean: Bam--you're dead. It's not a matter of lose your focus and you're dead. It's more like you just don't lose your focus. A moment's loss of focus can snag a power line by not lifting up soon enough. Oops. Hark the herald angels sing. In that way, I see Duke as something of a tightrope walker without a net, somebody with a skill I can't even think about learning. I've always appreciated Duke's quick mind and his open mind. I don't mean to imply he doesn't have his own way of seeing things. Duke is a man of these mountains who is uniquely himself, as is the rule, and makes his way with a quick and retentive mind. I have a great deal of respect for Duke and all he's able to do.

We sat at Selma's coffee shop today for about half an hour, he with a smoothie and me with a moca, talking about whatever came up. I learned he has a Ferrari 4-wheel drive tractor with a Lamborgini engine. Only Duke Bledsoe would find such a thing. I asked where he found it. He said, Italy. Karen is out in Utah this time of year. Has to do with post-cancer maintaining reasonable health. Duke takes care of the place in Florida, comes by Sparta, goes out to Utah. He and Karen recently returned from cruise of Southeast Asia. He told me a great deal about Singapore. She's planning the next cruise. I miss Karen. Last time I saw her was maybe a year ago for half a minute, or even a quarter minute. That's better than not at all. Duke and Karen are very different people, like Republican and Democrat, in so many ways it's everywhere, drawn together and held together by a very real love they have between them. Both Duke and Karen I name among my favorite people.


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