I interviewed Charles Matheus in 1996; he had come back to Jerome AZ to visit his mother. I asked him about what it was like to grow up with the hippies. He chose to tell me this story about his parents and their friends, part of the older generation of eccentrics that had moved there in the sixties.
“I felt like I was surrounded by love. Before I talk about love, I have to talk about the billboard. In 1973, one of the focal points of conversations among my family’s friends was how to get rid of the billboard. It was the only billboard for 50 miles around Jerome AZ and it was right at the apex of the curves in Deception Gulch. It took up the whole of our friend’s Larry Ahern’s living room window, a hideous “7-Up Power” ad in paisley flowers of Day-Glo orange/green/fuchsia. In an election year, the ad was temporarily replaced by an ugly mug of a sheriff running for the county spot against the USA’s red white and blue.
“One day, the billboard was gone. Most people thought it was Katie Lee who took it down. She was considered a radical before anyone knew the width of that word. In those years, she was a Western singer who sang about cows, horses, prostitutes and the disappearance of real cowboys.
“Ten years later, I was reminiscing with my Mom, just before I went to college. ‘Wasn’t it great when Katie Lee cut the billboard down in Jerome AZ.
‘That wasn’t Katie, that was your father,’ said Mom. ‘One night he and his buddy Larry were sitting at the dinner table getting pissed off and they decided to do something about it. They went into the coal shed and got the blue chain saw they used to cut wood from up on Mingus. They made three cuts and toppled the billboard into the weeds, where it still lays.’
During an investigation of the crime, Winnie Foster, one of our friends that had moved to Jerome AZ in the 1960s, confessed that she had done it, but the cops didn’t believe her. By that time, she was getting on in age and had broken a hip. She told us she wanted to spend a night in jail as part of her ‘bucket list.’ Winnie lived in a blue and white house across from the Methodist Church that her friends and family called “Foster’s Folly” because they thought she was crazy to buy a home in Jerome.
“My father died when I was young. I can’t describe what it is to feel proud of someone I hardly knew, nor can I tell you what’s it’s like to love someone who’s gone, but that’s love and love is hard to talk about.”