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Stories From Cat's

By Michael BromkaNow 91, Speck Albright passed his pliers to successors just a few years back.For more than a decade, he stood at a workbench in the back of Cat’s Meow Thrift Shop at 124 S. Canyon St.Via tinker’s ingenuity Speck transformed dumpster fodder into vintage treasures for myriad grateful shoppers.Lynne Pitcaithley chronicled early years of Speck and wife Charlotte in her September 2006 issue of the “Critter Chatter” newsletter:—Charlotte was born in Carlsbad.Her maiden name was Forehand and they were a well-known pioneer ranching family.By the time she was four years old she could ride a horse.Barrel racing was one of her favorite sports.She learned various chores needed to run the ranch.—Speck was born in Plainview TX, but moved on when he was five.As cook in Civilian Conservation Corps, Speck’s father worked and traveled with family from camp to camp around the west.After CCC, father worked for Empire Zinc in Hanover NM, then eventually for Potash Company of America (PCA) after 1943 in Carlsbad.By 1957, Speck worked on Mermod St. at A1 Body Shop three doors down from Buy-Rite Shoes (then owned by Jack and Wanda Tubbs) where Charlotte worked.Both were skilled and valued in their work —and both were divorced parents with kids to raise.Between their two shops was Black’s Pharmacy, where often they met and conversed.After a year, friendship grew to love.They took time acquainting and blending their families.Speck had son Murrel and daughter Janet, now deceased, plus Marvin who now is a veterinarian at La Cueva Pet Care Center on Pierce St.Charlotte had her daughter (also) Janet.On July 2, 1976 they married.“The auto body work earned Speck his nickname,” says Charlotte.“Legally he’s Marvin, like hisson the vet.But his auto body work boots always had plenty a speck of paint.This plus Speck’s taciturn demeanor inspired the nickname.”

In time paint solvents threatened his health with COPD.So Speck sold A1 Body Shop and bought Buy-Rite Shoes fromJack and Wanda who moved to Farmington.”In late spring 1991, Francine Hoffman phoned Charlotte.The topic was new Cat’s Meow Thrift Shop with all-volunteer labor and management.Their goal then as now is to process and sell donated used goods.All proceeds support Noah’s Ark Animal Shelter.Their original location was on N. Canal St., across from current Kaleidoscoops.Within a week, Charlotte came on as full time volunteer.Marti and Andy Anderson managed Cat’s Meow until Lynne Pitcaithley retiredfrom teaching in 2000.During Speck’s early retirement after selling Buy-Rite Shoes, he volunteered stocking supplies at Marvin’s vet shop, then on S. Canal across from La Tienda.After hours, Lynne handled finances, book work, banking, newsletter andcorrespondence —dispatching up to a dozen thank you notes nightly.During open hours, Lynne worked up front with cashiers and customers.Co-manager Charlotte wrangled merchandise, pricing, and volunteers on all the vital sorting and schlepping.By theearly 2000s, Muriel Gossage had introduced the staff to the garment and linens pricing gun.This gizmo deftly injects a slender plastic stem attaching a sturdy cardboard price tag.Prior to that says Charlotte, “We’d been using masking tape, which looked cheesy.And dishonest folks would switch or tear off taped prices.”Charlotte dealt with shoplifters.“You hope folks won’t steal from an all-volunteer outfit in support of local rescued animals.Butyou see a woman come in the shop with a huge empty purse.At closing time here she comes from the dressing room with her bag bulging.I told Lynne —I’m gonna do it.—I need to check your bag./No you don’t./Oh yes I do! —Up and over went the bag.Out spilled $100 of balled up clothes and

merchandise.She’d hung her stuffed bag back off one shoulder while holding forward a couple cheap items plus a $5 bill.“These days we use video cameras.We send word back to intercept a shoplifter beforethat bag fills up.When I’m here, I ask the thief back in the office to say —There’s cameras overhead keeping watch.We see you’re stealing.We won’t allow that.”With rare difficult volunteers, Lynne and Charlotte also would split duties.Lynne’s diplomacy and charm could often work wonders.But when misbehavior strayed beyond the pale, Charlotte did the firing —“We need you to seek out a new situation, someplace else.”Early in retirement, Speck often shared morning coffee with his brother Leroy, Lionel Jordan, Alex McGonigal, Gordon Stoy, Clyde Brook, and other cronies at Chef Pete’s Deluxe Cafe.Later on they met at George and Mary Limbert’s Court Cafe.As a young waitress there, Jessica Shannon first met Speck, a man of few words.“They weren’t big spenders, so I knew each would tip a couple quarters —50¢,” says Jessica.“But another guy at the register once made a rude joke, saying —Here’s what you’re worth —two cents.It was hurtful!Instead of a laugh from that coffee club, the men expressed outrage, especially Speck.That’s how I noticed the quiet man had a golden heart.”Jessica is now part of elder Speck’s home care team.By 9 a.m. after coffee, Speck would mosey over to Cat’s Meow, by then on its current block of S. Canal St.Early on, he intercepted reparable items on their way to the dumpster.Charlotte watched Speck work magic.“Wiring was a speciality.A new cord made an old lamp new again.Many non-working appliances at least could offer up their cords or working parts for other items.”Speck could Frankenstein together parts from irreparable clocks to engender a revivified timepiece.He organized jars and wee bins of

screws, nuts, bolts, and parts.Kathy Shannon (mother of Jessica, and current Cat’s Meow manager)took note.“Anything, anything —he could get it working!Lamps, clocks, radios, televisions, VCRs, DVD players, coffee makers, crockpots!”Speck’s reputation as Mr. Fixit had one amusing consequence, related by Charlotte.“Lady comes in our back door with a nice lamp that won’t work.—Mr. Speck, can you see what’s wrong with my lamp?Speck tinkers and gets it working for her, no charge.Wouldn’t you know she came back with more lamps one at a time, and none from our shop?Speck brought ‘em backto life.”Speck himself might quibble that his greater contribution in weight, volume, and revenue came by verifying items arriving intact.Plug in and turn on.It works?Price to move and set on display.To that end, Charlotte arranged (and out of her own pocket paid) for the oddest TV basic cable subscription in Carlsbad —which never was watched.Still, in the shop Speck could hook up a used TV fully to show it was cable-ready.A skeptical customer might witness Speck lug the TV from its display back to his bench, then do all the hookups for verification and sale!In latter years, by his late 80s, Speck’s hip made heavier work undoable.For a while he kept up with sit-down work —bookkeeping after Lynne’s retirement.But eventually medical and mobility troubles nudged Speck to retire.“Back at his bench, Speck played country western music all day,” says Charlotte.“Some volunteers timed their efforts and fled forward in the shop to blissful quiet.Now at home, Speck watches TV classic westerns like Gunsmoke.”Former waitress Jessica now takes Charlotte grocery shopping, and Speck to doctors’ appointments.She, Kathy, TLC helper Catrina, nurse

Amy, and of course Charlotte make up “my Angels!” —Speck’s words.For a beloved man who voices nought but goodness and gratitude, they’re part of his heaven on earth

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