Returning to Charles Kuralt's America for November in Rio Grande Valley, New Mexico:
I asked Slim how he got started.
"Well," he said, "I was born in Nineteen-and-sixteen. I moved with my family from Oklahoma to Texas in a covered wagon. As a boy, I was a rodeo rider and roper, and learned the difference between a good saddle and a bad one. I could never afford a good one, so I started in repairing bad ones and trying to make them better, and I discovered I had a natural feel for leather. I apprenticed myself to a great saddle-maker, Pop Bettis, there in Lubbock. He did it right, and from him I learned to do it right, even if I ended up with a lot of wasted leather, which I do."
A wiry man in boots and blue jeans spoke up from the crowd. "Do you always make fancy saddles?" he asked. "I prefer a plain saddle, myself."
This struck me as a pretty nervy question, like asking Michelangelo why he put all those prophets and sibyls on the nice, clean ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But Slim took it in stride.
"Well," he said, "but a plain saddle don't increase in value. One time I said to a man with a plain saddle, 'If you don't think no more of your horse than that, I'd hate to see your wife. What do you dress her in, burlap?' Just kidding him, of course."
The plain-saddle man looked chastened. Fearing he'd hurt his feelings, Slim added, "Of course, it's all in your taste and your background. I'm not saying I know it all. Far from it. If I thought I knowed it all, I'd just climb into that casket and shut the door. I've been making saddles for sixty years, and one of these days, I hope to learn how to make saddles."
Slim Green struck me as the model of the ideal Western man, capable and confident, but reasonable and tolerant, too, and blissfully free of the self-importance I've detected in some big-city artisans of lesser accomplishment. An Indian woman in the little circle around him, thinking to kid him, smiled and said, "On that covered wagon trip to Texas, you didn't get ambushed by Indians?"
Slim took the question seriously. "No," he said, "I've always got along with everybody. When I came to New Mexico in the Twenties, somebody said, 'Well now, you're going up there with a lot of different kinds of people with ways you don't know nothing about.' I resolved to always meet 'em halfway -- and then take one more little step toward 'em after that."
Those were the words I carried away with me from my morning with Slim Green. Pretty good credo for living in New Mexico, I thought.
Or any place else.
Tags: Charles Kuralt, America, New Mexico