I found Uncle Leon!!!
It wasn’t really that he was actually lost… he’d just not been around our family for many years (since his mother died) and we hadn’t seen him. See… Leon has always been ‘his own man’ and prefers solitude, quiet, and being unattached. He lives where-ever he can, which is typically in and around the little town of Solvang, CA. At the time “I found him”, I was actually living in the San Francisco area, but had driven my big old Cadillac down the Los Angeles area to teach at a conference. While there, I also visited with my mother and sisters, and we got to talking about ‘where is Leon’, and not even my mother knew. So, I figured that since I was driving back UP to the San Francisco area to get home, I’d take a little different route and see if I could find him.
I drove the two hours to Solvang, and just dumped into the downtown part of the city. It’s a quaint little Dutch settlement, and very touristy. I went to the Information center and struck up a conversation with Florice, who had lived there for 20+ years. She’s heard of Leon, but really knew of him by his artist pseudonym, Prints Charming… He shoots photos, then mounts them and does a little art around them… also photographing things for calendars… He’s been an artist since ever I knew him, and wouldn’t know him any other way. Florice even called her husband at home, because I mentioned that Leon had a ‘school’ of fine arts, which he called Barnard Institute… this sparked her memory, because she had an actual sweatshirt from his school (I only got a T-shirt!!)… and was calling her husband to see if it actually stated which city it was in (she was thinking the school was in a nearby city)… no luck… he couldn’t find the Sweatshirt (Florice was ‘remembering’ they ‘may’ have loaned to the kids)… but!!! He remembered Leon… and actually described him by some of his quirky characteristics. Cool!! I’m feeling close, and I just got into the city!!
I went into a couple of taverns and lunch places… and got some of the same responses…. ended up in a Leather Shop (I’m a fanatic for leather goods)… the ladies in there were quite helpful, and thought they remembered Leon but hadn’t seen or heard from him in over a year. They remember seeing ads in the paper he’d run for his Prints Charming stuff, and directed me to the town newspaper…. and it REALLY gets good here…. I went into the paper office, and all the folks there were very helpful. After only about ten minutes, I had all the office staff (five people) dragging up old paper-run books in search of one of his ads (looking for the phone number). We found it, and dialed it, but it just had a quick busy signal… must not have been in service. They ALL knew who he was, but no-one knew how to get in touch with him. They were making phone calls to nearby town papers, and connecting with all kinds of good leads, but…. ultimately… nothing!!
So… we were brainstorming as to HOW to find Leon, and one of the managers commented how he could remember that Leon would drive up in his little red car… and I interrupted him!! You see, I remembered (and shared the story with them) that he got that car from Oliver Stone!! THE Oliver Stone was making a movie about the DOORS and Jim Morrison, and Leon was a very close friend of Jim’s, as well as the Press Agent for the Doors… So…. Oliver was using Leon as a Technical Advisor… but Leon has really NEVER had any transportation to speak of… he’s an artist!! So… He bought Leon the little red Geo Metro… Leon still had it!! We laughed about that, and they were finally starting to believe some of the oddities in Leon’s wacky little life. Well… I resolved to running my own ad in
the paper… “Leon Barnard, call Bill Elliott, your nephew (650) 903-9784″… and left.
One last time, I went by the information booth to tell Florice about the adventures, as well as let her know the outcomes…. she was about to tell me to go the paper and place and ad… so we were on the same ‘wave’ at least!! So…. I uncovered the CADI, drove away from the downtown, and out onto the main drag. By now, it was 3:45p, and I really needed to think about pointing the old beast homeward. I got on the highway and was just outside the town limits, and getting up to highway speed… A group of cars was coming toward me (as they would on any other highway), and I quickly wondered to myself if any of them would be Leon’s little red… and then… I noticed that one of the cars WAS a little red car…. and it only had ONE driver… could it be…. NO…. could it REALLY be??? Well… you know damn straight that as we passed each other (now approaching 50mph), I was cranking my head to see… and dog-gone if it didn’t look JUST like Leon!! Wow…. I found the quickest place to bring the big-blue-beast around and went SPEEDING after him!! By now, though… numerous cars, and a few semi’s had gotten between us (remember, he was driving in a pack of other cars). I ran the two red lights that little town had… and finally caught up to ‘Leon’ about a mile outside of town (on the other side)… He was turning into a ritzy neighborhood, and I turned right in after him…. honked the horn (and man, that CADI’s horn is noisy!)… gesturing for him to pull over… I pulled alongside that dinky little red car with my HUGE Blue CADI (top was down) and ever so smartly stated ” Uncle Leon… It’s Bill Elliott!!”. What a total gas!! To actually find Leon by ‘accident’, only to later learn that he hasn’t been in the Solvang area since last November (1996). He has been back for two weeks, and was only house sitting nearby for friend vacationers… that ay (Wednesday) was his last day in the area!! He was actually on his was to the house to get his personal belongings because the owners were one there way home!!
Killer timing!! Regrettably… he didn’t know that his younger brother (Terry) had died the previous year… and now it was all making sense… Terry died in November, and Leon, not knowing this, began experiencing a lot of stress and strain in his life… so he left! He does that… just goes away… No one ever really knows where… he just goes. I just happened to catch him… We talked for about 1-1/2 hours… then exchanged numbers and mailing stuff… and I was off… totally thrilled, and very happy!!