Jennings Osborne and the eye of the needle 

His worldly possessions went under the hammer last week. The collection of a lifetime, scattered to the winds.

Page 4 of 8

While we were standing in the bedroom, chatting with Wood and a few others, Mitzi Osborne appeared. She was still in residence there, though she's lined up a house in Hillcrest. They'd been looking for a house for her for awhile, Wood said, when Breezy called on a rental in Hillcrest a few weeks back. Once the man who owned the property found out it was for Mitzi Osborne, he offered, without even being asked, to let her live there rent free for six months.

Though we'd never met, Mitzi immediately came across as one of the nicest people I've ever had the chance to talk to: warm, funny, upbeat, risqué at times, wonderfully self-deprecating. She and Jennings are both from Fort Smith, born three days apart at St. Edward's Hospital. They met again after high school, and were married in November 1965, getting engaged after just a few dates. Some people are born for one another.

Everything in the house had a story attached to it, and Mitzi is the keeper of those stories. The dummy, for instance, is "Safeman," built to accompany single women on long car trips to make it look like they have a male companion, purchased as a gag at long-gone Service Merchandise. The rocking horse they bought at a charity auction in Las Vegas, the Osbornes bidding against the wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hulk, she said, was not pleased when he lost.

Mitzi said getting rid of things over the past few weeks was not easy. She'd stayed up until 5 a.m. that morning, vacuuming the acres of carpet in the house. She was allowed in recent weeks to pick some things she wanted to keep. They didn't, she said, stand behind her with a whip while she did it.

"It's hard," she said. "Bubba helps me. I'm getting better at it, though. I hauled six bags out to the garage last night. I keep everything. I'm not a hoarder, but I keep stuff. I've got Breezy's stuff that she did for me when she was little and learning to write. I kept it."

After awhile, I asked her why, when so many rich folks are content to invest their money, she and her husband gave so much of theirs away.

"It's like this," she said. "You just keep giving until God stops giving to you. This is a no-brainer, don't you think? That's the way I had to look at it. Sometimes we gave when we didn't have it — a lot of times."

She seemed, I told her, amazingly composed for a woman going through such a trauma.

"Well, I leak a lot," she said. "Must be some kind of pressure release. I cry at the drop of a hat. I almost did it a minute ago, but I said: 'Nah, I'm not going to do that.' I'm trying. I can be very trying, and I can be even more trying at times."

At that, she waved her hand as if shooing away the present. The next morning, the big house we were standing in would sell at auction for the fire-sale price of $265,000, plus a 10 percent buyer's premium. That's a little over $25 per square foot.

The sale was still in the future though. Soon, Mitzi launched into a story about how her husband once decided he wanted to buy a lion to pace back and forth in a barred cage in front of the house, but backed out when he was told the cat's urine was so concentrated and smelly that it would kill the grass. Before long, everybody was laughing, tomorrow forgotten for the moment.


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