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Art and “The Slumlord Years”

Okay, last time, I left off with my Mom becoming gradually, but thoroughly disillusioned with the Academy. At about the same time, my father was growing bored of his job at the Labs. So, they set out to find new worlds to conquer.

They found two, and in very different places...

How that happened is a tale, as they say, of some complexity, but I’ll start with their first new enthusiasm, real estate. They were both interested in it, but, I think, for very different reasons.

My father because his father, my grandfather, was into it. You’ll recall that my Granddad started off as a rancher and a banker. Then, after the Crash, he ran a gas station. Later, when things were a little better, he became a gasoline wholesaler. From there...well...I’m not sure of all the things he did. But, eventually he became a realtor, and I gather he was very good at it. When I knew him in the 1960s, he was a real estate assessor, and, I’m told, was quite in demand.(1)

So, anyway, that’s where my father got the property bug. My mother, though, came at it from another angle, and here I’m actually just guessing, but I think I’m still right. I think my mother loved owning real estate, and working on it, because of her own difficult childhood. Suppose you had been, at one point or another in your young life...not homeless, but too close to it to be comfortable. How do you think you would react after that? How would you behave when you knew that, just maybe, owning a home might mean the difference between sleeping in a bed and sleeping in a street?


About the photos: Just a couple today. First, my Mom and Dad and a much younger version of my now almost-40-year old son, David. This must have been in the late 1980s. We were at South Padre Island.

They got into real estate even before I left for Graduate School. They got involved with several limited partnerships--mostly people my father knew or met at the Labs...and bought and later sold small apartment buildings. I worked for my dad on some of them--not very expertly, but I did my fumbling best. My dad, by the way, doing an enormous amount of the maintenance on the properties, even though they were technically owned by partnerships and the other partners should have been available to lend a hand. And some of the partners were, indeed, always there...but a surprising number of them proved difficult to find when something needed to be mended.

By the time I left for school, my Mom and Dad had begun to work less with limited partnerships. Instead, they either worked on properties they owned outright themselves or which they owned with one or two trusted partners who were also close friends. Again, for a long time they dealt in small apartment buildings -- duplexes, four-plexes, that sort of thing -- or in individual homes which they leased.

Oh, and an aside, during this period, my mother did a good deal of the maintenance work with my Dad. She proved an expert home craftsman, or craftswoman, fixing this and repairing that. At one point, I gather, my father would occasionally hoist her up on his shoulders so that she could work on ceilings. No. I’m not making that up.

Second, a photo of a photo. This is probably the last format portrait my parents ever had taken. They sent it as a gift to us and I’m guessing that it is from somewhere in the very early 2020s.

Eventually, they made rather good money at all of this, and they turned to it full time. My father retired from the Labs. My mother left teaching -- she had been a high school teacher for much of this period -- and they took to real estate as their actual careers. Later, my father would jokingly call this period in their lives “the Slumlord Years.”

But, gradually, as they got older, they began to move away from real estate. Partly, that was because they were simply not physically capable of doing the hard labor any more. And, well, once again, they may have been getting a little bored of it. Finally, by the time Martha and I moved to Albuquerque to look after my Dad, they had sold everything except their house, and their assets were mostly cash and stocks. (3)

Oh, and one other thing...they had one other portfolio of investments...

They had...


Tons of it.

Stay tuned for more on how that came to be.



1. When I was very young, and we’d visit my grandparents in Kansas, my Grandfather would take us out for drives and show us buildings that he’d assessed or in which he was simply interested. I had no idea what he was showing us, but I appreciated the time he took to display the properties which he thought remarkable.

2. I can’t say if my mother knew real want. Certainly, my grandmother and my mother’s siblings worked very hard to keep things together for the family. And they were in farming country, so I’m guessing that food was relatively plentiful.

But, still, and much later, I did wonder sometimes. My mother looked a bit like Audrey Hepburn. She had the same elfin features. But, part of the reason Hepburn looked the way she did was because she’d known hunger and malnutrition while she was a child in the Netherlands during World War II.

That sort of worries me about my mother’s experiences.

3. Actually, there was one last outstanding investment they had--specifically, a debt. They’d loaned money to a man they thought they knew. Turned out he was a bit of a con artist and a crook. He simply chose not to repay the loan. I think he thought that when my mother fell ill my father would be too busy to try to get his money. Then, when my father died, I think he thought that I would let the debt fall by the wayside. He was wrong in both cases and after two years of more or less unrelenting efforts, and threatening to seize a piece of property that he owned, we finally got most of our money back. Not all. But enough.

Someday I’ll tell this story in more detail. But not right now.

Copyright©2024 Michael Jay Tucker


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