After spending time hanging around the West to cleanse away his
military aura, my wartime friend Edwin K. Gothberg went to San
Francisco where he set up an art studio in his home and began to
refine his style.
By Gene O’Neill

After spending time hanging around the West to cleanse away his military aura, my wartime friend Edwin K. Gothberg went to San Francisco where he set up an art studio in his home and began to refine his style.

One day in early fall, he phoned to suggest a two-day trip up the North Coast toward Guerneville.

“I need to breathe some salt air,” he said.

I felt an odd twinge but agreed to go.

Leaving Hollister at 6 a.m., I was at his address by 8 a.m. We loaded his gear and headed across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin City and Highway 1.

At the sight of a roadside tavern, Ed hollered, “Stop the car.” Inside he exclaimed, “Double rye and soda and a six-pack.” The last words were from the men’s room door.

We drove slowly for an hour along Tomales Bay stopping at an inn with two bars, one for beverages, the other for oysters. While Ed slaked his thirst, I bought a carton of oysters and put it in the ice box.

Down the line, we came to an old board and batten grocery store with a bell tower above the door. Here we got a French bread, an Italian salami and Swiss cheese.

At mid-afternoon, I pulled off near a dark, sandy beach bedecked with myriads of small shells. Poking my knife at water’s edge, I found a source of cockles.

With patience, I collected 20 of them which I put in a coffee can with seawater and wedged it in the trunk.

We had whittled away so much time we decided against Guerneville and set up camp behind a stand of Eucalyptus. I boiled the cockles on the Coleman stove while he fixed two bourbon and sodas.

The little clams made excellent hors d’oeuvres. I sat on a stump while he stood before me.

“Something’s bothering you,” I said. “What is it?’

Holding up his glass, “This for one thing,” he said.

“It almost nailed you in Manila. Capt. Tyler thought it had but you clenched your teeth and overcame.”

“I must do it again. What I consume on this jaunt will be the last. I’m going into rehab.”

He rattled his ice. “Life is strange. Get this. When my dad’s mother died she left her ranch in Wyoming and her money to him. He wants me to take it over and make it pay. Land and money, make it pay.”

“How much of each are you talking about?”

“Fifty-thousand acres of mountainous grazing land north of Casper. Good water. No house. Stark wilderness.

“I’m a hell of a cowboy with no cows. Over $100,000 go with it to be used wisely. I have a lady who will marry me. If she can brave the elements, we’ll take it on.”

It all happened. His mind defeated the booze. His fiance kept her faith.

They built a two-story fortress on the mountainside to stun the weather.

They had a deck facing the valley below where the rural highway passed and herds of antelope graze beyond it and eagles cast their shadows all around.

They put hay in the existing barn and four saddle horses in the corral. Fifty cattle were released on the range. It was a start.

While in Casper one day, Ed visited the editor of the local paper to ask if Casper College had an art department.

When told it did not, he told Max Baldwin, the editor, about himself and that he had credentials to teach the subject.

Baldwin was interested. Staring at Ed, he phoned the principal Dr. Maddox, to tell him what he had. When he hung up, he said, “Dr. Maddox wants an interview.”

Ed Gothberg went out to the college for the interview, which went well.

He would start the next semester with three classes a week and see how well it went.

His wife, Twyla, was delighted. His painting would not be neglected. He’d have some income. She told him her brother, Nate Bergh, was coming to visit. “He’s still at loose ends.”

“Tell ya what,” Ed said. ” He can put his trailer home on the flat by the gate. I’ll pay cowboy wages til we know how my job goes.”

As things turned out, his job went well.

Three classes weekly with 14 students and people in town wanted a night class for adults, which was granted with the understanding that those students pay the teacher.

Things ran smoothly for several months. Dr. Maddox was pleased, so as Max Baldwin’s paper. Nate Bergh handled most of the chores. Twyla was happy.

Gothberg was nostalgic about the Old West. He and Nate wore Levis, Stetson hats and packed iron on the ranch.

One day a committee of students lobbied Ed for an “Art Saturday” at the college.

Clearing the idea with the boss, he acquiesced. Then he went further and brought horses and baled hay for the occasion. A bale and a horse were put in the foyer of the main hall. Seeing this, Dr. Maddox fired him. Student pressure got him reinstated.

A bright, sunny day is often a prelude to darkness.

Months later, it was that Jim Linney, a mutual friend, called with shocking news.

“Gothberg is dead!” he said.

“His sister, Millie,” told me. “No details. Just the fact.” He sobbed and hung up.

My friend, Dr. Kirch, was from Casper, Wyo. I went to his office. He phoned his sister who could only add that he had been shot; said she would watch for developments.

Mark Paxton, a former editor of the Free Lance, talked to Max Baldwin in Casper who said the cops put a lid on it.

The artist’s wife, Twyla, is in the hospital; Nathan Bergh is in jail. E.K. Gothberg is in the morgue with two bullet holes in his chest. The town and I are in mourning.

The old soldier has been gone for 16 years. Yet, when I view the seascape and my portrait over my desk, I feel his presence.

Silly, isn’t it?

Gene O’Neill is a longtime Hollister resident and a regular contributor to the Free Lance.

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