Thankful for a Stranger’s Disappointment (The Real Value)

December 1, 2015

It’s no secret that I collect the artwork of Texas artist, W.A. Slaughter. I am almost at that point in my life that I don’t need or want any more of his paintings. From time to time, I get contacted by individuals who have inherited some of his paintings or need to sell one. I always respond to these inquiries because I view it as a stranger contacting me to help them in some way. I was taught that a “good neighbor” always tries to help others when asked…

Recently I received a note from a man along with a photo of W.A. Slaughter painting that he inherited and wanted to sell. The man lives on the East Coast. Due to my travel schedule, the note sat on my desk for a couple days. One evening I was about to leave the office and I was tired, ready to go have dinner and go to bed, but I felt in my heart the need to call this man.

When I called him, I felt he was apprehensive to accept a phone call from a stranger and talk to someone whose voice he did not recognize. After it dawned on him that I was calling about his painting, the somber voice became upbeat and open to freely talk. He shared with me that he had inherited the painting from his parents and he needed to sell it. I told him that I really didn’t need any more paintings, and give him my thoughts on how to sell it to obtain the best price for his inheritance. I even offered to find out the market value of the painting from some experts.

The man didn’t want my help. He said, “I want to sell you the painting because I have some bills to pay and my kids will probably sell it anyway.” As he explained his situation to me, I could hear the sincere stress in his voice, which earlier had been a protective verbal façade. I could hear the pain in a man’s voice that needed help. I wondered…if I could possibly be the answer to this man and his wife’s prayers in their moment of need.

I quickly changed gears and decided I was going to try to help this man, in a greater capacity than I had originally intended. I told the man that I would have someone contact him to arrange the purchase of his painting at his asking price. He wanted me to know that any calls needed to be made after 11AM because he “worked the night shift.” I concluded the call with the stranger by saying words to the effect that I hoped everything worked out for him and that I would be thinking about him.

To my surprise, the person I had contact the painting seller arranged for the painting to be shipped to me within a couple of hours. I worried about the shipping due to the seller needing my help, and I needed to send him the agreed upon funds upon receipt and inspection of the painting. I know that there were several phone calls between the people handling the purchase for me. I didn’t want the man to worry that I would not pay him after shipping me something that sounded so special to him and his parents before him.

I felt a little crazy to be in Texas worrying about some stranger on the East Coast and the shipping of his painting (even though we had it insured!) The painting arrived and I excitedly opened it. My excitement was not as much about getting another painting, as much as it was my sincere desire to send the man the money that he so badly needed.

My heart sank when I finally got through all of the cardboard, bubble wrap and tape. Painfully, I looked at the painting and rubbed it with my hands to feel for the brush strokes and bumps of oil paint on the canvas, but to no avail. I then rubbed some of the authentic paintings in my office to confirm that they did not feel the same. I jumped in my car with the painting and drove to the art dealers who I consider to be experts on the work of W.A. Slaughter. They looked at the painting from 10 feet away and quickly said, “That’s not a painting…that’s a print on canvas.”

I felt sick to my stomach! I had the person who was handling the transaction for me let the seller know what he had learned. I just felt sick for the seller and for myself, who wanted to help this man. I was told that the seller was devastated at the news and that his “prized” painting would be shipped back to him. I wanted the man to know that he and his family were in my thoughts and prayers and that all will work out, even though it’s painful for him right now. I wanted to offer him hope.

So why am I sharing this story? Because we often have disappointments throughout our lives. I am sure that people have inherited family “prized” possessions that don’t have the financial value that was placed on them: the silver that was actually silver-plated; the diamond ring that turned out to be fake; the property that had lien on it that no one knew about; or that collection of limited edition Elvis plates that was not as financially precious as perceived. This list is endless. I am sure that some people even feel a sense of betrayal for being led to believe that something had value, when it in fact had little to no value other than sentimental.

The true value of things entrusted with us, if any, are the memories of those who entrusted us their treasures. As far as the stranger who approached me… As the famous radio announcer, Paul Harvey, used to say, “Now for the rest of the story.” There is more to the story about the stranger who approached me, but that won’t be told. Perhaps we both have learned something from each other that will allow us to be better servants and stewards in our service to others.


Written by KING AEROSPACE Founder, Jerry Allan King-Echevarria.