Monday, October 23, 2017

Ol' Max Evans--The First 1000 Years

Max Evans Iconic 

It's coming up on five years since we moved to New Mexico full time. One of our first literary encounters was with Max Evans, who called himself Ol' Max Evans even when he wasn't particularly old, cause he's a cowboy or was, and that's how ol' cowboys talk, and he's nothing if not an ol' cowboy talker, Ol'  Max is.

He didn't invent the genre, but he had long been the icon of it.


I remember very well first meeting him. He seemed to think I was someone he knew, and he kept circling around and checking me out, and he finally sat down next to me and said, "I'm Max." I said, "Yeah, I know. How you doin'?"

He looked me up and down and said something like, "I'm just happy I'm still around to tell about it; be 89 next birthday, can't complain."

He didn't look a day over 79 and I had no idea how old he was at that time.

Slim Randels had already done a biography of him, "Ol' Max Evans -- the First Thousand Years" which I don't think I had at that time, and if I did, I hadn't read it, but I would eventually. In time.

Ol' Max had a new book out, well ... it was a compilation of some of his animal stories from years ago, and he told about his involved and complex relationships with animals over his long lifetime. NOTE: I think that's what the first time we saw him was about, the release of "Animal Stories", but you know what? I'm not really sure now, because all the times we've been at some Ol' Max event, and there have been quite a few, seem to swirl into a common encounter, not separate at all. I probably wrote about it at the time, but I honestly don't recall.


One animal story in particular stood out for me: "One Eyed Sky". It is perhaps the finest animal story in American literature. There is nothing else that comes close. Ol' Max has repeatedly told the story of writing it in a frenzy up in his studio in his house in Taos, typing furiously over a day and a night of passion for his topic and his story, and coming downstairs in the morning where his wife Mrs. Max (Pat) and her friend were having coffee in the kitchen and they looked at him and said, "My God, all the blood's gone from your face."

And Ol' Max said, "All that blood's right here," holding out his manuscript.

I asked him once, "When did you write 'One Eyed Sky'?" 'Cause I'd never found a date on any of the copies I'd read, and his answer was just, "When I lived up in Taos." Which could have been any time between 1949 and about 1967. Or so.

I still don't know.

Mrs. Max told me it was around 1960, but she wasn't completely sure herself.

It's kind of that way with Ol'  Max. The year a thing happened doesn't matter nearly as much as the thing that happened itself.

He went ashore at Normandy, he says -- and I assume he did -- but when that happened is not what needs to be remembered. It's that it happened. Not when...

And so it goes with Max. You may not get a straight answer from him, but you'll learn more than you ever thought possible from listening to him.

Or reading what he wrote.

We lost touch and I got very worried; I thought I should call Mrs. Max and find out what was going on with him, but then I thought, no, if it was bad, she would have enough to do without fielding calls from near-strangers, and it would be better just to let things go the way they would. I thought Max was probably quite ill, and during that period I was pretty ill myself.

Then one day Ms Ché showed me an article in the Santa Fe Reporter: "Ol' Max Evans -- The First 1000 Years" would be premiering at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival on October 19. Ohhhhh...

The article talked about Ol' Max and the film, a biopic narrated by Peter Coyote and Sam Elliot, but it didn't say where or when it would be playing, much to my and Ms. Ché's frustration, but there you are. When a thing happens is not as important as that a thing happens. Must learn patience, eh?


I did a web-search and found out that the premier would be playing simultaneously in both of the theaters at the Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Fe, and it was sold out. No! Of course it was!

But, come Sunday the 22nd of October, it would be playing at the KiMo Theater in Albuquerque, and it was free, and we said, "Well, we'll go." Just like that, and we did.

We didn't expect Ol' Max and Mrs. Max to be there. He's 90-something. Almost 1000. But sure enough there he was, with Pat and Margo and a whole bunch of friends. We said hello, and his eyes brightened when he saw Ms. Ché for they had bonded years ago, and I think he was just happy to see her.

"Hey, Pardner" he says to me, and there are layers and layers of meaning which I won't get into, but that's all I really needed to hear. I was so glad to see him, and I told him so, and he knew. Yeah. He was frail as heck and had oxygen tubes up his nose (yep, I had to do the same thing for so many months), but he was hail and hearty for a 1000 year old man, and it turned out he could walk on his own and had a grand time greeting friends old and new before the start of the film.

And the film was wonderful. It's the second biopic of New Mexico literary icons we've seen in the last few weeks ("Nasario Remembers" was the first), and we were delighted with it, as was every one in attendance, including Ol' Max who got up onstage and answered questions for a good half hour after the film. He was as crotchety and funny as ever. When it was over, Ms. Ché waited for him to come down from the stage, and they had a... moment.

I'll say no more about that except I think it made his day.

He sure made ours.

Thanks Max. Pat. Lorene. Slim. Ollie. And so many others.

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