Artists, particularly those who dabble in the media of paint and brush, are known to be very eccentric. The time of day or lighting conditions may inspire them. Their creativity may rise to the surface only when the location suits them. Van Gogh’s genius necessitated the removal of an ear lobe to fully allow his talents to manifest themselves. For Mason, it may have been his selection of attire.
Larry and wife Nancy were long time Noel, Missouri residents. They lived on several wooded acres located just outside the small Ozark town. The two made frequent trips to town both to visit friends and shop. It seemed as though the two knew everyone living in the town which rested on the banks of the Elk River, and they, like everyone else in the area, were aware of everything that went on in Noel.
Larry and Nancy had known local sign painter Mason for years. Mason was the only sign painter in the area, and in 1967 signs were actually painted by hand with paint and brush. The quality of the finished sign depended solely on the artistic ability of the painter, and Mason was a true artist. Given only words and themes Mason would create billboard sized advertising masterpieces as well as small personalized works of art which always delighted the customers.
Larry often saw Mason shopping at Kilmer’s Grocery Store and the two talked about the weather, town gossip and the sign business. It seemed as though Mason was constantly working and the colors being used in his current project could be identified by those on his T-shirt and pants. Larry expressed an interest in Mason’s talents and Mason sometimes talked about recent completed projects as well as those in progress. Larry thought it odd that considering the many times he met Mason at Kilmer’s he never purchased more than one slice of meat; Never a slice of bread a tomato or anything else, just one slice of meat.
Mason’s wife Melva was a wonderful woman and liked by everyone in town. Larry often smiled when he saw her driving her light blue 1961 Chevy Biscayne. In September of 1961 Larry met Melva on a Noel sidewalk and the two began to talk. Melva told Larry there had been a death in the family and she and Mason were going to receive a small inheritance. Larry offered his sympathies but before he could finish his sentence Melva’s face came alive with excitement as she talked about a new Chevy she wanted to purchase from the local dealer.
Melva described the car in every detail and told Larry it cost twenty-one hundred dollars. Larry knew Melva and Mason were thrifty people and was somewhat surprised she was considering spending that much money but it was obvious her passion for the vehicle ran high. Melva was concerned that the car might be sold before the inheritance was received as the payment was one to two weeks away. Larry suggested that Melva talk to the owner of the Chevrolet dealership, who they knew very well, and possibly he would give her the car with a promise to pay in full within a few weeks. The very next day Larry saw Melva driving her new light blue 1961 Chevy Biscayne down Main Street with a smile on her face that was sure to last all day.
Noel’s December sun was normally unseen as it hid behind a blanket of dark grey clouds which hung over cold days and nights. But occasionally a blue sky would emerge and the sun would warm the land below. It was on one of those warm December days in 1967 when Larry and Nancy decided to drive the family truck to town.
As the truck headed down Sulphur Street Larry noticed someone standing on a ladder that leaned against the second story of an older two-story house. Before Larry could say anything Nancy recognized the person on the ladder and asked Larry if he could see what Mason was doing. Larry slowed the truck to get a better look.
It appeared as though Mason, a large man with a very robust figure, was attempting to attach a small sign to the siding just above the home’s front door. The sign, which had holly and berries painted on it, was surely hand-painted by Mason. Larry prepared to further depress the gas pedal when, without warning, Mason’s khaki pants fell down to his knees revealing significantly more of Mason than should be seen.
Mason pressed the sign against the wall with his right hand and grabbed at his trousers with the other. Both actions were occurring simultaneously while he tried to maintain his balance and his position on the ladder. Larry considered stopping the truck to see how Mason unraveled the predicament but knew that would appear to be far too conspicuous so he continued down the street until Mason was eventually out of sight.
Larry and Nancy talked and laughed about Mason’s unfortunate dilemma for some time, and then curiosity got the better of the two. An hour or so later Larry and Nancy returned to the house on Sulphur Street only to find the beautifully painted sign attached, while Mason was nowhere to be found. Possibly this had been a fairly routine experience for Mason which had been easily remedied.
Larry frequently saw Melva with that smile of content on her face as she drove down Main Street in her light blue 1961 Chevy Biscayne. As for Mason; Larry continued to see him at Kilmer’s Grocery Store but never mentioned the extraordinarily unforgettable sight seen by him and Nancy on Sulphur Street that warm December day.
Even now, and after all the years, a smile irrepressibly creeps over Larry’s face when he thinks about Mason, the sign painter.