TULSA, Okla. — Mike Tidwell was having his new home fixed up last fall when he got a call from his contractor.
“Do you know Dewey Bartlett?” the caller wanted to know.
“I said, yeah,” Tidwell recalled recently. “And he said, ’We found his wallet.”’
Tidwell’s first thought was that the contractor had found it somewhere outside his home. Not even close.
“They were tearing the ceiling out of the (second floor) bedroom closet and it fell out of the ceiling,” Tidwell said.
Now he had to see this discovery, so he raced home at lunch and there it was — a genuine cowhide wallet, still soft.
Inside were three identical photographs of a young boy. His dark eyes are looking straight into the camera, and his dark, slick hair is pushed to the side, with a strand or two shooting skyward.
The caption underneath the photos — “School Days 1959-1960” — gives no indication of who the young man in the short-sleeved, button-down shirt could be.
But the wallet held still more: an ID card, a Coca-Cola Hi Fi club membership card, a hunting and fishing license, and a 1959-1960 Tulsa Catholic High Schools student athletic ticket, all with the name Dewey Bartlett attached.
Now Tidwell understood: This was not Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s wallet, this was young Dewey Bartlett’s wallet.
Bartlett was busy running for mayor when the wallet was found, so Tidwell waited until after the election to tell him. The two got together last week at the mayor’s office, where Bartlett saw the wallet for the first time in 50 years.
“God, look at that,” he said. “I’ll be damned.”
Then came the flood of memories.
Bartlett said he did not recall losing the wallet, but he knew exactly where it came from.
“My father, I’m sure,” he said, referring to the late Dewey Bartlett Sr., an Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator. “Whenever he’d leave town on a trip he’d always come back and give me a wallet. I had about 10 wallets.”
The sight of this one jarred his memory.
“I remembered the wallet when I looked at it and opened it and saw this (part) chewed up,” Bartlett said, pointing to the nefarious work of the family’s 2-year-old collie, Brownie.
“I have no idea how she got her mitts (around it) but she did,” he said. “She chewed the end off. I came home and that was that.”
The fact that the wallet turned up in Tidwell’s new home did not come as a complete shock to Bartlett because the house at 23rd Street and Lewis Avenue once belonged to his childhood friend Ricky Mahan.
“Ricky and I were best friends,” Bartlett said. “I’d spend the night over there all the time. We were real tight, thick as thieves, chums.”
He had less luck explaining how the wallet ended up in the attic. “No telling what we were doing,” he said.
Bartlett looked closely at the Combination Resident Hunting-Fishing License before stating that it belonged to his father and not him.
“See, that’s his signature, and it says 40 years old, 185 pounds,” Bartlett said. “That is his hunting license.”
As a kid, the younger Bartlett wasn’t much of a fisherman but did like to go bird hunting.
“This is about the time he started taking me hunting,” he said. “I would have been in about sixth or seventh grade.”
Bartlett, who turns 63 next month, used the 1959-60 student athletic ticket to help figure out more precisely when he lost the wallet.
“Seventh grade at Cascia Hall, 13 years old,” he said.
He had no idea why he was carrying three photos of himself back then, and he didn’t even try to explain his hairdo.
“My wife, she’s always been getting on me about looking like my hair’s sticking up, looking like Alfalfa (of the “Little Rascals” movies),” Bartlett said. “Well, this is going to reinforce that.”
Asked what he plans to do with the wallet, Bartlett shot back: “Well, I won’t lose it again.”
Then he got serious:
“What I’ll probably do with it, in my office at Keener (Oil & Gas), I have a desk that I put stuff on, like mementos, things that are very important to me. That’s where this is going.”