Saturday, October 23, 2021

Sam and Satan


When it comes to discussing in-laws, I've heard people use descriptors ranging from the positive all the way to the very negative. When I browse through the rescued collection of Marilyn Sowle Bean's family photographs, it is clear her opinion of her brother-in-law Sam Bean was firmly on the positive side.

Not that Sam was an agreeable, plain vanilla kind of guy. Besides his lanky frame and exceptional height—courtesy of the family's inherited susceptibility to Marfan Syndrome—Sam seemed to have his own style. Granted, being a poodle trainer for the Shipstads and Johnson Ice Follies was not an everyday job—which certainly made for a fun uncle to visit on the job. But before there were angelic white poodles to occupy his every waking moment, there was Satan.

Before the Ice Follies, Sam was a horse trainer. Up in the hills above his home city of Alameda, California, there was a horse ranch where Sam spent much of his time. I never really knew about this past life obsession for Sam. Although Marilyn did tell stories about Sam and the Ice Follies, she never mentioned this other calling of her brother-in-law. Her pictures, now that I've found them, tell me a different story.

Gone, of course, is any story explaining Sam's choice for naming his horse, but a good guess might also reveal the type of horse-handler Sam was known as. Only from newspaper articles did I learn it was from Sam's reputation at the horse ranch that managers of the Ice Follies were able to coax him into trying his hand at more diminutive charges—first, a pony, and then the poodles.

Long after both Sam and his sister-in-law Marilyn were gone, looking at these photographs reminds me that some pictures are much more than personal portraits—they embed stories. Pictures can be a far more useful tool for triggering memories than we give them credit for—a good thing to remember at our holiday family gatherings.


Above: Sam Bean riding Satan at the Skyline Ranch in the Oakland Hills above the city of Oakland, California; undated photographs at about 1950.

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