You have probably never known that a mink could save your life ... or the lives of your entire family … but it’s quite true. At least, it was for me.
In December of 1960, we were vacationing in Madrid, and on our way from Ghana to Peru, my wife’s homeland. The weather in Madrid was chilly, crispy and brightly sunny. The early winter sky in central Spain is unique and many of the more famous classic painters had varying degrees on success as they attempted to duplicate the colors on their canvases.
The children – four year old Billy and two and a half year old Suzy – enjoyed the cold after the continual semi-desertic heat of northern Ghana and we had immediately bought them warm coats and pant suits. Sandra was actually wearing a tailored woolen skirt and jacket she had made for her in Madrid some ten years earlier when she had toured Europe with her father and step mother and had spent a winter in Spain.
We were about half way through a planned month’s vacation when one afternoon, we were strolling along the Gran Via and passed the windows of a fashionable fur store. There on center display was a magnificent full-skin mink stole. My wife stopped as if she had bumped into a light pole and could move no further.
“I must have that stole,” she said. There was a finality in her tone; a startling determination from which there would be no retreat; it was almost a demand with a pleading undertone.
“I must arrive at Limatambo Airport wearing that fur. After three years in Africa, I deserve it!” Again, there was no hint of compromise in her voice, yet I could detect a hint of desperation and almost child-like emotional insistence. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had stamped her feet there on the sidewalk of the street made famous in a song written by the great Mexican composer - Agustin Lara .
“Wait here for me while I go in and price it. It might be far too costly to consider,” I warned. I did want to please her and, yes, she had stood up bravely and without complaint for three years in the Northern Territories of Ghana. That was no mean feat and, yes, she did deserve to arrive in Lima wearing a lovely fur. But, no, I didn’t trust her to go inside the store for fear she would be attracted to something far most costly.
I had never been inside a fur store before and was in awe of everything I saw. There was the unmistakably appealing smell of leather as this shop also sold boots, belts, purses and other leather good. Draped on mannequins were sable, fox, leopard, karakul and full-length mink furs – the colors, sheens and textures were beautiful and I was fascinated with them all. Soon I was approached by a beautiful Spanish young lady. One of the most elegant woman I had ever seen and she obviously was a salesperson in this store. It took me a few moments to discover the cost of the stole in the window, as I didn’t want to terminate my conversation with this lady. She reached into the window display to drape the stole around her shoulders – it was a splendid fur – and she pointed out the advantage of having a full pelt rather than a half-pelt lined in silk.
In a moment, I rejoined my family on the sidewalk. My wife was desperately trying to learn the cost and my decision. I didn’t keep her in suspension. “The stole cost almost a thousand dollars,” I told her, trying to look as stern as I could. Her spiritsdropped, she seemed to sag and wilt in despair. This was an unexpectedly high sum. “But,” I smiled at her and she began to have hope again, “that is just about exactly what a week in Madrid is costing us. So, if we leave for Peru a week earlier than we planned, we can afford to buy it.”
Even the children seemed pleased to agree. They also wanted their mother to be happy and were ready to go to Peru. So Sandra dashed inside the elegant store with the elegant sales lady and quickly returned with her elegant stole around her shoulders.
We were lucky in being able to change our reservations on KLM. We sent a wire to Lima so her family would know of our early arrival. The DC-9 flight was a milk run from Amsterdam to Santiago, Chile and return. Before reaching Madrid, the flight would make a stop in Paris. From Madrid, there was a short hop to Lisbon, then a longer flight to the Azores where it refueled for the longer hop across the Atlantic to Caracas. There was an hour layover before additional stops in Maracaibo and Quitos before finally reaching Lima. You become acquainted with the cabin crew on such a long flight and we learned that this flight was their only route. They rested two days in Santiago before making the return to Amsterdam and rested two days there before starting again.
There was some jet engine trouble at the Azores airport. Since it was only a refueling stop, KLM had no right to discharge passengers – not even to go to a transit lounge – so we all stayed aboard. I stuck my head out of the door and saw a mechanic sitting on the top of a tall ladder, with the engine cowling off and on the ground. He was scratching his head as he tried to read a repair manual written in English and obviously had no knowledge of either the English language or jet engines. His only light was a flickering dim flashlight that soon went out. Then a flight attendant informed us that a real jet mechanic was flying out from Lisbon in a small plane and would soon correct the problem. Three hours later, we were once more airborne and on our way.
The following week when we were safely in Lima, the flight on which we were originally confirmed, went down somewhere over the Atlantic, without a trace. Everyone perished. We would have all died in that crash if it hadn’t been for that mink stole which saved our lives. From that time on, we never traveled anywhere without that fur.