THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 1
It was not what you might expect. I had attended the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island and completed four years, graduating in 1964 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Sculpture..... but even this highly prized degree does not make you a sculptor. A Fine Arts Degree is rather like finishing up the eighth grade in an elementary school, when hopefully, you have learned a bit of English grammar. You can read and write, but you are a long way from becoming a writer, let alone finding a publisher for your own works! This takes years of dedication, and more education in your chosen field, good timing and good luck. It is this same process for the fine art of sculpture. First you have to learn the rudiments of your chosen field and then along with the gifts of good timing and good luck....you must teach yourself to speak sculpture, master that language and then, hang in there and hope like anything, that you will be able to survive. Sculpture is decidedly not on Harvard's list of preferred financial activities!
In my case, before becoming a true artist, Death would have to walk beside me, hand in hand for more than a year before all of the education acquired at The Rhode Island School of Design would be free to kick in and start the process of speaking this new language. I had good timing, good luck and a good education, thanks to my beloved Grandmother, Elise Gillet Boyce, who paid the RISD tuition. In addition, I had exactly the right set parents which is of an incalculable value and in the end perhaps, the greatest gift of all.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 2
The year was 1966. We were living just outside of Springfield, in the sleepy little hamlet of Wilbraham, Massachusetts, where my husband Bowie Duncan, held his first teaching position. He taught English at the Wilbraham Academy, an excellent, private preparatory school for boys. On November 2,1966, James McKay Duncan arrived on the scene: 7lbs.8oz., strong and healthy! On March 19,1968 and well into our second year on campus, our second child arrived safely at a healthy 7lbs. 2oz. Her brother McKay was delighted with the arrival of his little sister and promptly christened her "Gitty," a name with which she would be permanently tagged. Gitty's birthday was happy and thankfully uneventful. In those days, young mothers spent at least five days in the hospital after each birth, with plenty of time for the mothers to recuperate and.... plenty of time to pick up an infection from the hospital environment as well!
It was during those postpartum days in the Springfield Hospital that our tiny treasure picked up a little sniffle. This little sniffle however turned out to be a very stubborn head cold, which would follow her home to Wilbraham. These sniffles did not go away however. Instead this nasty head cold would cling to her, day after day, week after week. This severity of her cold caused the hospital’s pediatrician to hold off on her early childhood vaccinations. "As soon as this cold clears up,” her doctor assured us, "we will catch her up on her regimen of vaccinations." Excepting for the sniffles, Gitty seemed to be very healthy and her doctor did not think a short delay in the administration of these vaccines would be something for us to worry about. Gitty was a happy, healthy, rosy-cheeked child and... excepting for this persistent sniffle, her appetite and weight gain were good. Her checkups were fine too, and our little angel thrived despite this head cold, which continued to linger ..... I mean it just hung in there!
After six weeks, of being told that there was nothing to worry about, I switched doctors. Dr. H.H. Schumann of Springfield, Massachusetts was now on the case. He too preferred to hold off on her vaccinations until the last traces of the cold had left her body. The cold, although not an apparent problem to Gitty, in and of itself, worried me … not because Gitty seemed to be sick, to the contrary, she was thriving. It was just that the cold hung in there and wouldn't let go, week after week, two weeks, three weeks, six weeks and eight weeks with no let up. Because of this head cold, we could not administer her vaccinations.
In May of 1968, my husband's parents, VIVI and Cameron Duncan, invited us to visit them in San Antonio, Texas. I asked Dr. Schumann for his opinion and he assured us that such a trip would be fine for Gitty. He felt that the Texas sunshine would most likely kill off the cold virus and that we could catch up on her vaccination program when she returned. Traveling by car was recommended as the congestion from the head cold could conceivably cause a severe and painful ear condition while in flight. And so, the trip to Texas was planned and we were off... without a care in the world … touring southward... purring over the asphalt ribbons of Route 66. This was our first major outing since Gitty's birthday.
Dr. Schumann was right of course, and as soon as we hit the Texas sunshine, Gitty's cold vanished altogether. The weather was perfect. It was a joyous occasion and many of the Texas relatives stopped by to welcome "Pretty-Gitty" into the world. All of San Antonio seemed to welcome us. It was a lovely holiday together. We spent most of our time in Port Aransas, in the Duncan's summer home, close to the seaside on the Gulf of Mexico. McKay caught his first fish with his grandfather "Big Cam," a three inch special, all caught on camera of course! We met many family friends at the luncheons and Bar-B-Qs. The swimming, fishing and walks on the beach all made for a beautiful and very welcome vacation.
ViVi and Cameron were both from old Texas families. They lived in a world of ranchers, cowboys, cattle and cotton, oil and gas. The land portrayed in the movie, "Giant” with Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor came to life right before my eyes. Yes it was real. They were true Texans, in every sense of the word, because they had lived through the tough times of building and developing ranch lands in the "early" days of Texas. Ranch properties are large in Texas and spread out across the state. Because it takes so many acres to support one cow, ranches are by necessity very large. Everything in Texas is big, big and open with tremendous skies, sweeping the heavens in a glory of ever changing colors.
The days passed quickly. The holiday over, it was time to head home. After many good byes, hugs and kisses, we were off once again. We would take a new route home for the sake of adventure. This time we headed north, winding our way toward the Blue Ridge Mountains and toward the tiny town of Edmonston, Maryland. We would not be returning to Springfield or the happy days at the Wilbraham Academy. My husband would now be studying for a Masters Degree in American Studies, which he felt he would need, if he were to continue his career in education. While at the Academy for the past two years, Bowie discovered that he loved teaching and that the young men he taught, loved him. Teaching for my husband was becoming a career choice. Career choices however, have many requirements and one them is to keep up with the demands of the profession....in other words: more schooling! A four-year, Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College was no longer enough these days. Consequently, Bowie decided to go for a Masters Degree and a PhD Degree in the American Studies Division at the University of Maryland.
On the third day of our return trip, the Blue Ridge Mountains appeared in the distance. Rising upwards, all around us, and longing for a poet's voice to do them justice, the landscapes were magnificent, all hand painted by Mother Nature herself. Across the horizon, broad rivers sparkled, splitting the valley's floors. This was the very same view that had given rise to the beloved folk tune "Oh Shenandoah." It was easy for us to imagine perhaps a ten-year stop-over and never ever again moving on. The Shenandoah Valley is like no other. It looks like, smells like, sounds like and emotionally in every way, and modifies the word "Home." If it were not for the fact that Bowie was beginning to work on his degree at the University in the Fall...well...I suppose that both of us would have been quite happy to set up shop, somewhere, deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Gazing over the summer meadows and lush forests, we were surely close to heaven...close enough to speak with God in person.
We stopped along the way at a charming country inn and had a fine breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast and hot coffee. Off once again, the children settled down for a nap. Time slipped by and soon we were high up in the hills ... about a day's drive from our new home in Edmonston, Maryland. It was shortly after breakfast that I first noticed that our baby girl was unusually quiet. She had been sleeping deeply for some time. Rosy-cheeked and very lovely, I leaned over to kiss her on the forehead. A mother's kiss is ever so sensitive to temperature changes and this gentle kiss had told me that all was not as it should be. I awakened Gitty to breast feed her and checked her temperature, and sure enough, she had spiked a low-grade fever of ninety-nine degrees. A certain uneasiness began to creep over me. I gave her a time-honored Saint Joseph’s, orange Baby Aspirin and although I did not know it at the time, we were beginning a dreadful journey, which was to last for more than a year.
Two hours later, a fever check revealed that Gitty's fever had not responded to the baby aspirin. "Something in the way of a response should have happened by now," I thought. "Hmmm..... Why? Why had she not responded to the aspirin? Maybe I should give her another one." An uneasiness which all mothers know at some time or other when they are raising a child … began metastasizing deep within me. "Something is up. I'm not sure what it is," I said to Bowie, "but something is definitely up. Let's not spend the night in the mountains. I think we should drive straight through to Maryland tonight, even if we have to drive all night. Something is just not quite right with this aspirin business...not right at all....I can just feel it...I know it." I gave her another baby aspirin and we drove on. Another hour passed. Still there was no response. Her temperature was holding steady at ninety-nine degrees. The up and down roads which entertained the Valley's guests and were so celebrated by them, now challenged us in a very different way. The silent and unfamiliar roads were twisting and turning into the darkness of the West Virginia night.
We drove through that night, pulling into little Edmonston, at about eight o’clock in the morning and had breakfast at the local I-HOP, (International House of Pancakes) which was within walking distance of our new home. While Bowie cared for McKay and Gitty, I cornered a waitress and asked her, if she had the name of a pediatrician. I explained that we were new in town and did not yet have a family doctor to go to. “Here-ya-go-honey” she said, as she wrote down the name of Dr. Aaron-Smith. "You’re gonna-love him. Give him a hug for me and tell him Arabella sent you.”
After digging around for a dime in my purse, I was able to reach Dr. Aaron-Smith’s office and to make an appointment for Gitty in the early afternoon. We finished breakfast at the I-Hop and headed for home. The movers had already shipped our belongings to Edmonston, a low rent district close by the University of Maryland. Our pots, pans and beds and dishes anxiously awaited our arrival. Vacation was over and now we were looking forward to settling into our new home, setting up shop and preparing for the Fall Semester. Although the neighborhood was pretty run down, our little three-room house had been freshly painted, and was clean and tidy. Setting up the crib was the first priority and then it was off with Gitty to the doctor’s office in nearby Bladensburg.
Quietly and gently, Dr. Aaron-Smith, carefully examined Gitty from head to toe. “Ah, this little one is a cutie,” Dr. Aaron-Smith declared. “You can get her dressed now Mrs. Duncan. I think your daughter has a mild respiratory infection and because I have not seen your little one before and do not know her history, I am going to give her an injection of a non-allergic, antibiotic called Lincomycin, and we will just watch her closely and see how she does. Come see me tomorrow, at four in the afternoon, here in my office, and we will keep a close eye on her. She will be just fine. And by the way Mrs. Duncan, welcome to our neighborhood. The people here are very friendly. I do hope you will be as happy as are my wife and family. Call me if I can be of further help to you or if you have any further concerns about your daughter. I will be here if you need me Dear, but I am sure she will be just fine. See you tomorrow.” Feeling ever so much better with the diagnosis, I bundled Gitty up and trundled her off to our new home.
The day was spent unpacking moving cartons…setting up beds and finding the needed pots and pans, lamps and dishes. McKay was diving in and out of the packing bubbles and Gitty was quiet and sleeping comfortably. However … Temperature checks, throughout the afternoon, showed me that her temperature was not responding to this new medication either. By ten o’clock in the evening that nasty fear feeling returned. Gitty’s temperature zeroed in at a steady ninety- nine degrees. Not high, but worrisome. I knew that it was not high, but I could not understand why her temperature would not respond to either aspirin or to the Lincomycin. I checked up on her throughout the night. She slept soundly. By six AM, when I kissed her good morning, her temperature was holding steady. At this time, I noticed that her pupils were dilated. Gitty was very quiet, and lay very, very still in her crib. Instinct told me that I had to get her into a Hospital and to do it now. The little voice in my head insisted: “Sterett, do it now… and don’t wait” We had been in Edmonston less than twenty-four hours and we knew no one! With no telephone or telephone books …. Where in the hell was the hospital?
It was back to the I-HOP with Gitty in tow. I-HOP was my only contact with civilization. Pushing through the entrance door and in a steady and determined voice, loud enough for all to hear, I said: “Someone? Anyone? ....Hello! ..... Hello …Please help me. My baby is very sick. Where is the nearest hospital? Please someone.... Anyone? ... Please help us.” The I-HOP chef stepped forward and pointed in a South Easterly direction. “Take her to Saint Georges... It’s only a few miles away. Turn right out of the parking lot and follow the signs. You will see it on the right hand side of the road. You can’t miss it. It’s a big red brick complex. Good Luck Mam.” I thanked him and headed for the emergency room in Prince George’s County Hospital. When I arrived, it was 7:45 AM. Looking up from her desk work, I was greeted by the attending nurse on duty. “Good Morning Mam. May I have your name please?” I gave her my name. “Has a doctor seen your child before?” Fumbling through my pocketbook, I found Dr. Aaron-Smith's card... “Yes Mam,” I replied. “Yesterday morning, in his office in Bladensburg. His name is Dr. Aaron-Smith.” Here…here is his card with his name and number.” I handed the card to the nurse. “ Will you please call him for me,” I asked. “My baby needs to see him right away.” “Now Mrs. Duncan, if your baby has already been seen by Dr. Aaron-Smith, then you will have to wait until his office opens at nine o’clock. It is still rather early you know... We will be glad to call him for you then. Her eyes dropped downward as she returned to her tasks at hand. The warning signs, which only mothers seem to know, would not let me accept her words. And yes, I was rude to the nurse and yes … I insisted that the doctor be called. “Please call him on an emergency basis. You can call him on an emergency basis can’t you?” “ I am sorry. You will just have to wait Mrs. Duncan. I am sorry... So if you will please take a seat in the waiting room, I am sure Dr. Smith will be in his office shortly. It is almost eight o’clock now and Doctor is usually in his office by nine.
Peering up at me from behind her steel rimmed glasses, the nurse said, “Your baby is already on Lincomycin you said? ...Yes? She will be all right. So just calm yourself down Mrs. Duncan. Doctor will be in soon.” “Excuse me please,” I said…At this point I thought I was speaking directly to nurse Ratchet. “Nurse… please…you will call Dr. Aaron-Smith now or I will get another doctor. At this point the nurse gave in and in a rather nasty tone, called the doctor at his home. “Good Morning Doctor, I am so sorry to call you so early this morning, but there is an overly anxious mother here who insisted that I call you. I told her that you would be in your office by nine but…yes…Yes.” There was a long pause… and then “Yes…Yes Doctor….Yes, I understand. Mrs. Duncan? Dr. Aaron-Smith will speak with you now.” The attending nurse extended the receiver to me. Holding Gitty closely, I took hold of the phone. “Good Morning Dr. Aaron-Smith. I am here in the Emergency Room. I do not like what I am seeing in my child. Please, I want you to come in and see her now. I know something is wrong. Something is wrong. I am sure of it. Please, Please come see her.” “I will see her as soon as I can Dear. She is already on Lincomycin and she will be just fine. Now don’t worry Mrs. Duncan. I suggest,” Dr. Aaron-Smith spoke firmly and with great deliberation, “that we have her admitted into the hospital this morning, and I promise you, I will put her at the top of my list. She will be my very first patient at four o’clock this afternoon.” I thanked Dr. Aaron-Smith and returned the receiver to the nurse. Then I heard her laugh and say, “Yes…I understand….Don’t worry Doctor. We will take care of it. Mrs. Duncan, will you please come over here with your child to the admitting desk. Doctor wants you child admitted now, and he will see her at four o’clock this afternoon. I went through the process of admitting and shortly thereafter, Gitty was tucked away into an immaculate, sun-yellow nursery, still sleeping soundly. The Admitting process and the hospital noises had not disturbed her sleep in anyway.
I thanked the nurses and while Gitty lay sleeping, I slipped out of her room, into the hallway, and down the stairs. I decided to scoot home to pick up some personal things and to give my husband an update…but by the time I had reached the parking lot, the once quiet questions in my head, were now loud and noisy. “Why? Why? Why the stubborn fever? Why the stiffness in her body. Why did she not cry? Why did she sleep so much? Why were the pupils dilated?” These questions flashed about my brain like a pinball and were now yelling back at me; demanding to be heard and demanding answers.
Sitting in my truck, I found myself recounting a vivid conversation in the summer of 1954 with a dear family friend: Dr. Robert Riggins, who was at that time, attending medical school at the Columbia School of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City. When I was thirteen, medical school was my goal in life. I wanted to become a doctor! All conversations regarding doctors, hospitals, operations, blood, guts and television programs, which were medically related, were absolutely fascinating to me. That wonderful summer, I spent many hours with Bobby Riggins. We listened to the classical music station, WQXR, sang Yale’s Whiffenpoof songs and went to the movies to see The Bridges of Tokerie with William Holden. In general, we solved all the problems of the world. I loved the company of grown-ups because they were interested in the same things I was, unlike most kids my own age. I remembered, one of our conversations was about hospital care. Bobby’s words of warning that summer, now replayed loud and clear.
“If ever you get into real trouble Sweetheart, get yourself to a teaching hospital. It will most likely save your life. In a private hospital, they will make you wait for your doctor or you might have to wait for them to locate a doctor and call him in. In a teaching hospital, it may not seem as clean and fancy as a private hospital, but you will be swarmed over by a whole slew of doctors and one of them is bound to come up with the correct diagnosis and solution. You will have a far better chance for survival in a public situation than in a private one.”
Now, while standing on the hot black tars of the parking lot, this summer time chat, which happened so long ago, would be the key to saving our daughter’s life. On the spot, I decided that this was just such a time to put his words into action. “I just can’t wait until four o’clock for Dr. Aaron-Smith to show up,” I told myself. The next thing I remember, I was standing on Kenilworth Avenue, flagging down a yellow cab and asking the driver if he had ever heard of a teaching hospital for children. “Yezum der-es da Chilluns Hospital way down in DC. I kin gits you there eff’n you like. Its a goodly hike Mam, but its di-bess-en-Amurica.” “Yes Sir,” I replied. “I need to get there as soon as possible. Please stay right here. I have to go and get my baby. She is over there in the county hospital. Please stay here. Please don’t leave me.” Clutching my pocketbook and one spare diaper I ran back to the hospital and up the stairs. Walking slowly past the nurse’s station; nodding and smiling. “Hello” to those on the floor. Quietly and unobserved, I slipped into the nursery where Gitty lay sleeping. I lifted her gently from her bed and pressed her up against my shoulder and walked down the long semi lighted hospital hall. With Gitty still sleeping, we walked slowly, very slowly, to the end of the hall and then…quickly down the stair well, marked Fire Exit and outside to the fresh air, the parking lot and the waiting yellow cab.
That beautiful yellow cab was waiting there for us. God Bless him. The driver was an older colored man with a soft, southern drawl who helped the baby and me into his cab. Dizis-gonna-be a rough trip Mam. Alls-of-Washintons-on-fire-don’t-cha-no. Da-Coloreds is rioting down yonder now, don’t-cha-no, but Chillun’s Hospital is d’bes in the worl. En –effen- you-wans-ta-git there, I-be take’n-ya sho-nuff.!” “Yes, Please. God bless you mister! It will save her life.”
The race riots that started in Watts, California had spread across the nation and now Washington was ablaze. We drove right through the riots…Fire engines were everywhere. Fires were everywhere. Police were everywhere. Sirens screamed and sounds of pop-pop- pop seemed to be everywhere too. God bless this gentle soul. He helped to save Gitty’s life. We pulled into the ER entrance and within minutes, just as Bobby Riggins had predicted, a whole slew of doctors were working on her. At one point, I counted 17 white coats in the room. There were so many questions, from so many sources and all of them being asked of me all at once. “Please give us her history Mrs. Duncan.” Questions were shot at me from all sides. Then I heard among the many voices in the room, the words, “We need to do a lumbar puncture.”
At this time, I knew for sure, without question, that we were in deep, deep, trouble! Permission to do a Lumbar Puncture…. on a four month old infant... Good Grief! I knew enough to know that this was a dicey procedure on such a tiny patient. “What should I do?” “Call Dr. Schumann, Sterett. Do it now.” demanded the voice in my head. Fortunately, I was able to reach Dr. Schumann, that morning. “Yes,” he said, “Sign the release forms Sterett. You are in exactly the right place for this and yes, you are in trouble, but the Children’s Hospital is the very best place for trouble. Stay close and call me Sterett, any time. I am here for you. Mrs. Schumann and I send our love. I am so sorry that I can’t be with you now, but I can tell you this… You are in the very best place for little Gitty right now. Stay close.” And so began what was to be an unending medical nightmare.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 3
O-my-God I was scared! Dr. Schumann's words helped to hold back the tears....at least for a little while. The white coats which crowded around the examination table, obscured my baby from view, but the white coats did not hide her screams as the serum from the spine was drawn away from her little body. Time was standing still...I do not remember breathing. Had I covered all of the possibilities of those things which I could do to help her? What did I forget...What did I forget...What did I forget? Was there anything else I could do? I kept cross-examining myself, over and over and over again.
Several doctors approached me. "Are you the Baby's mother... Yes? Then please come with us Mrs. Duncan.....We need to ask you some questions now." The next thing I remember... I was sitting in a small office... then the interrogations began.... "When did you first notice that something was wrong Mrs. Duncan?" "Exactly where were you when you first noticed her temperature change? "Can you give us a more exact location?" "Where had you been in the twenty-four hours preceding the first time you had noticed these changes?" "Do you own any pet turtles?" "Has she had anything to eat, other than breast milk and the baby aspirin?" "Has anyone in your family eaten powdered eggs....or reconstituted eggs of any kind?" "Who has handled the baby besides yourself?" "What were the conditions of the places in which you stayed over-night?" "Were the bathrooms clean?" "Are there any sewage problems in your home?" "Any sewage problems in the Grandparent's home in Texas?" "Do you think that you can name the places where you stopped along the way?" Under this pressure, I admit that I did not do very well. It was difficult to recall even the most recent events, let alone tracing the events in chronological order....Every detail was needed...Even ones which seemed to be insignificant. Geeeze! What if I missed something! O-God, what if I missed something? My clothes were soaked with perspiration and I shivered in the air-conditioned rooms of the Emergency Room...It was impossible to think clearly.
Small vials containing spinal fluids and blood were whisked out of the room and then taken by technician, Al Godfrey, to the Laboratory for examination.. Later that day, I met Al Godfrey again. He would be kind enough to recount all the happenings down in the lab where the research was being done on Gitty's blood work. We ended up being: "cup-of-coffee-friends." I looked forward to our time together each day, for his reports about lab reports. The need to understand what was happening to Gitty, allowed me to keep up the fight for her life. I wanted to learn as much as I could and if possible, not screw anything up. I purchased a layman's Medical Encyclopedia at the Grocery store in Edmonston, and over the coming months would read all 15 volumes. Understanding brings hope and hope keeps you going.
You really can't tell about the passage of time in a hospital because it does not relate to the outside world. You just hang there, suspended, thinking and re-thinking past events, and hoping like anything, that you got it all right..... and then you wait...and wait … and wait for some news ... not sure whether or not you want to hear it. A different doctor spoke with me at every meeting. I could not keep their input organized in any sort of meaningful way. Thinking straight was all but impossible as each doctor brought to me a different perspective. My mind was somewhere in the middle-distance of the Twilight Zone when a white coat stepped into the waiting room area and called out my name...."Mrs. Duncan? Over here please. Thank you...Please … please sit down Mrs. Duncan" We sat in the far corner of the waiting room, away from the other patients.
This is what we have so far Mrs. Duncan.... I am afraid that your little one is a very sick child. Fortunately, Gilly, is that her name? " "No," I replied, "It is Gitty." "Sorry, I mean Gitty. We know that your daughter Gitty, has some form of Spinal Meningitis, because of the symptoms she is exhibiting. She is so quiet and sleepy. Her pupils are dilated and her body is rigid. She has a low-grade, persistent fever of ninety-nine degrees. These symptoms when coupled with a high white count in her CSF (cerebral spinal fluid,) tells us that we are dealing with some form of Spinal Meningitis." But we do not know which specific bug is causing the condition called Meningitis." I had heard this tag before and recognized it immediately as deadly stuff! "Fortunately," the doctor continued, "the Lincomycin which she received the day before, was highly effective and has either wiped out or suppressed any trace of whatever it was that is making your child so sick. The bad news is, that now, we cannot readily identify a specific cause. We do know however, that we are dealing with a bacterial infection, because the Lincomycin was so effective against it. Had it been a Viral Meningitis, the antibiotics would have been ineffective. Right now her white cell count is sky high in her blood work, which further indicates a severe bacterial infection remains in her system, so we are treating your daughter prophylactively, with a broad based antibiotic called Ampicillin. We are just going to go on our instincts here and our experience Mrs. Duncan." Patiently the doctor explained that a sack surrounds the brain. This sack, made of living tissue is filled with a watery substance in which the brain floats. Floating in this fluid acts as a protectant and shock absorber. In your daughter's case, the sack itself, which is called the Meninges, has become infected. Like all infected tissue, it has become inflamed and swollen. This is all well and good if the infection is on a leg or perhaps on an arm because when there is swelling, the tissues just bulge outward, away from the body, but when the Meninges becomes infected and inflamed and starts to swell, well, we have a major problem, because the affected tissues cannot swell outward away from the brain, it is prevented from doing so by being encased within the skull. Instead of swelling outward.....the only direction for the tissue to expand is inward. These swollen tissues can build up tremendous pressure on the brain. It can close off the blood supply to the brain, resulting in paralysis and death. We think we know, symptomatically speaking of course, what we are dealing with here. We want to start your child on intravenous antibiotics around the clock Mrs. Duncan... We only have two effective drugs that we can use against Bacterial Meningitis. You see, Mother Nature has provided each one of us with an excellent filtration system called the "blood brain barrier." Its function is to filter out impurities before they reach the brain. This protective system is so efficient that it filters out most drugs as well.
We are choosing to use Ampicillin for Gitty because Ampicillin is an highly effective agent against these bacterial infections Mrs. Duncan. It is also able to pass right through the blood brain barrier, which allows the drug to do its work. We are going to fight this infection with everything we've got. Ampicillin is our best shot. We will go after it aggressively and hope to keep the swelling down, while the drug kills off the infection. Mrs. Duncan....We don't have much time. We need to get started now." A pen was pressed gently into my hand. "You will need to sign off on these release forms.....right here....at the bottom of page one...fine...and now sign again over here... and once more on the bottom of page five...Thank you.. We need to get started. It is the right thing to do and we are looking forward to a favorable outcome. We should know by the end of the week just exactly which bug we are dealing with...by that time, the lab will have back-cultured the samples which were taken from your daughter this morning. Al Godfrey, your lab technician, will keep you informed. This research will take some time....but we can...and will...decisively identify the culprit which is causing this sickness. I will speak with you tomorrow Mrs. Duncan" With a shaking hand and Dr. Schumann's words in mind, I signed the papers giving the doctors permission to treat our child and to do whatever was necessary to save her life. Making these decisions is an awesome responsibility. The doctor disappeared behind closed doors. Hot tears burned my cheeks as I found my way to the pay phone banks to call my husband.
Sometime later that night, I remember being with Gitty, who was now ensconced in the enteric isolation ward.... This is a unit of care reserved for highly infectious diseases....Everyone on this floor was dressed in white flannel gowns, gloved and masked....including myself. Within four or five days, we were to see a rapid improvement in her condition, which indicated that the antibiotic was performing as we had hoped it would. We were on the track for a full and complete recovery. Gitty seemed to be back to her old self. Her appetite returned; the fever normal; and the doctors and nurses were happy with her progress.
By the end of the week we had been given a specific bacterial identification from the lab.. Al Godfrey faithfully kept me up to date. He was a tall handsome man about 40 years old, I guess. He was a soft spoken man who had a quiet and gentle way about him. "This bug we are dealing with," said Al, "is a bacterium called Salmonella D." It usually causes god-awful cases of diarrhea and rarely does it get out of the gastro-intestinal tract, and into the blood stream, past the blood brain barrier and in to the meninges, as it has with your daughter. Salmonella D Meningitis is very rare. Contact with powdered eggs, turtles and human waste are possible sources for this infection"
"In one sense Sterett, this is good news. The enemy has been identified, and we have a good chance of beating it with antibiotics. On the other hand, Salmonella D is a particularly virulent sort of bug and hard as hell to knock out!" Al pulled out a pen from his lab coat and started drawing on a paper napkin, to demonstrate just why this bug was so dangerous. "Most pockets of infection are shallow… like this"... He drew two parallel lines with a slightly enlarged separation of the lines. It looked to me, as if someone had slipped a penny in between the two lines.... "but Salmonella breeds in very deep pockets which are shaped like a tear drop....like this.... Salmonella D is a typhoid related infection and this variety is the same disease, which infected Typhoid Mary Mallon in 1907. That's why the lab is so interested in your daughter's case. Have you ever heard of "Typhoid Mary?" I swallowed hard and nodded, Yes. "Mary Mallon was a carrier of Typhoid and did not get sick herself but while working as a cook in private homes, she managed to spread the infection to many people."
Where on earth did Gitty pick this thing up? Why had she contracted It? Was it because her immune system was low...or perhaps because she had not yet received her childhood vaccinations? Maybe we should have not gone to Texas. Maybe I had caused this illness....I wondered if I had been responsible for the contraction of this deadly disease. Al Godfrey assured me that most likely that I had not been the cause. Never the less, self-accusations would spin and flash like a pinball, batting back and forth in my head.
One evening, after a long day by Gitty's side, I arrived home to find a team of public health officials dressed in Haz-Mat outfits and masks, swarming over our house, trying to find the source of the infection. Everything was tested, including us...the toilet...tub, sink drains, dishes and garbage cans....even the door handles. The results were negative. This would indicate that somewhere on the road trip home, Gitty had come in contact with Salmonella. Perhaps a spoon had not been thoroughly washed? Perhaps she had gotten hold of a little bit of the scrambled eggs which we had eaten for breakfast at the road-side inn along the way....
I could not remember if the eggs had been fresh eggs or reconstituted from powder. Powdered eggs are a possible source of Salmonella poisoning.... Turtles of course were out of the question. Absolutely no turtles were to be found in our house or down on the ranch in Texas. But perhaps one of the children of the restaurant owners had a pet box turtle. We were never able to pinpoint the source of Gitty's infection.
We counted off the days in the hospital. Bowie and I traded off on the visiting hours, trying to cover all the bases at home and the hospital at once. I hated being split between the two children and worried that Mckay would feel abandoned and resentful. Would he understand? How could he possibly understand? Would Gitty? She needs us too.
The massive doses of intravenous Ampicillin apparently did the trick. And O'Hallelujah! On day 21, Gitty's test for Salmonella proved negative and we could take her home and get started on our new life together in Edmonston, Maryland. It was wonderful to be home again and start life anew.
Within twenty-four hours, our little Gitty was, once again, dreadfully sick. The low-grade fever, dilated pupils and rigid body returned. I knew that it was the same thing, all over again and called in to children’s Hospital. "Bring her in immediately Mrs. Duncan....We need to get to work. Bring her in now... right now...no time to loose! A team will be ready for her when you arrive....and Mrs. Duncan...Leave as soon as possible."
It was back to Children's Hospital and back up to the third floor's enteric isolation unit and back onto Ampicillin..... This time, for another stint of twenty-one days. During this period of time, while Gitty slept, I spent time with the lab technician, Al Godfrey. "You will be glad to hear that your child's case is extra special to the research department in this hospital," he said. "Several research doctors are working exclusively on your daughter's sickness." It was during one of these chats that I learned from Al, that Salmonella was just one of the causes of meningitis and that Salmonella Meningitis, in infants between three and six months of age, causes ninety percent of its victims to die.... and that of the ten percent that manage to survive... ninety percent of that ten percent, are 'vegetables" throughout their lives. One chance in a hundred is what we would have for a normal child. The reality of the enormity of the fight before us was just coming into view.
Parent's time in the enteric isolation wards was strictly limited. In order to have more time with her, I took up a paint brush during my stay there and painted the wards with cheerful cartoon characters for the children. This allowed me to stay a little longer and spend more time with her. By extending my hours on the ward, I was able to continue to breast feed her and to oversee her care first hand. Once again, on day 21, we received good news. Gitty's system was clear and we could take her home again.
Our joy was short lived, and once again, less than twenty-four hours would go by before we were in trouble again. This time, her left eye seemed to be crossed, out of position and out of focus. Gitty's left leg and arm now hung limply by her side. She was not able to grasp with her left hand or to kick her chubby little leg about. She could not sit up. The adjective "floppy" was a good description at this point. The fever was returning, and her pupils, dilated. Tears splashed down both our cheeks...knowing full well, the consequences of this infection by now, we rushed our tiny treasure back to Children's Hospital for a third time.
We were immediately taken into a small green room on the third floor at the end of the hall. A doctor explained that: "We have very few options left. The breeding patterns of this particularly virulent bug, are still happening in a few, very small, but very deep pockets within the meninges tissues." (Al Godfrey's napkin drawings of teardrop shapes, flashed through my mind.) "Although the Ampicillin has been very effective in getting past the blood brain barrier, it had been unable to clean out every single pocket of infection...If it misses even one pocket...well...It is just a matter of time before the bug will replicate and we have to begin all over again. We have given her the best shot we have. We have tried twice now, without success. The swelling of the meninges has returned and has already begun to cause some damage....The damage can be seen in the wandering eye and there is some loss of movement of her left side. We do not know if this loss is permanent or if it will repair itself. We are going to try a last ditch effort here. We want to put her on another drug called Chloramphenicol. Chloramphenicol, Mrs. Duncan is our most effective agent in our arsenal for getting past the blood brain barrier and at killing off Salmonella D."
"So why didn't we use this agent sooner," I asked. "Because, Mrs. Duncan, There are some nasty side effects which sometimes accompany this drug....Chloramphenicol has been known to occasionally cause a condition called Aplastic Anemia. This means that the drug can possibly wipe out the body's ability to produce red blood cells within the bone marrow. Should a bone marrow wipe-out occur, death would follow in roughly twenty-one days, which is why we have been reluctant to use it.
"We do have one other possibility: one other route we might take. A special meeting has been called for this afternoon, when we will discuss the feasibility of this option....We are reluctant to use this option too, and would only do so as a last resort. It involves inserting a needle into the brain at different locations and into those regions of the brain that we know to be the most likely place to hold pockets of infection..... and if we are lucky....to drain off these pockets of infection. ... The problem with this... that if, we do get lucky and hit the pockets we are looking for, well then...the sterile needle we used when entering the infection will no longer be sterile when we remove it because it will be contaminated with the Salmonella bacteria. This would then mean, that we have a new possibility that when the needle is withdrawn, the contaminated needle will then "seed" the entire brain with the Salmonella. This is one of our options, but not a treatment we want to use. We have a nationwide telephone call going out for her, in order to collect all of the recorded case histories of Salmonella D Meningitis in the United States. As you know, Mrs. Duncan....It is very rare.... There are very few cases.....Mrs. Duncan....She needs to start the Chloramphenicol as soon as possible....You do understand the risks involved don't you." Any Questions.... No? "I will meet with you here in one hour with the results of our telephone research and you will have to sign another release form allowing us to proceed. We are running out of time. I am so very sorry." The door closed.
Tears followed. A decision had to be made.....What the hell to do! No one was on the floor. I couldn't find anyone to advise us. I managed to get a phone call through to my childhood friend Bob Riggins, who now headed up a Cardiology unit in Seattle Washington. He echoed Dr. Schumann's words. He said the he would be in Washington D.C. in two weeks’ time and promised to stop by and go over Gitty's case with us. Bowie had to go back and relieve the person who was baby-sitting our son. We hugged good-bye and I promised to call with any news or decisions. Left alone, It was now seven thirty in the morning. I saw a doctor outside of another patient's room. He was reading the patient charts which hung on their door. I walked up to him and asked him if he could read my daughter's charts....that I had to make a big decision and I really needed some help. His name was Dr. Sydney Ross, whose specialty just happened to be "communicable diseases." Without hesitation, he walked into the enteric isolation ward, took up Gitty's charts and began to review her case. He advised me in a low and steady voice to, “ Begin the Chloramphenicol immediately, at this point, we really have no other option..... but we will hold off on the third possibility of treatment: the roulette game of searching for pockets of infection. Don't worry...I will go down to this meeting this afternoon and sit in on it. I will follow her case for you every day that she is here"
And this he did....He came to see Gitty every morning at seven-thirty AM...seven days a week for the next three months. He did this on a voluntary basis and never missed a day or finding time in his busy schedule to get in touch with us and see how we were doing.
The release forms were signed: "cut downs," were recommended and performed on both legs. I-V needles were sewn up inside her legs. This operation would reduce the possibility of the baby accidentally kicking out one of the needles which would now have to be left in place for a long time....perhaps for two months.... or more. Already looking like a pincushion....Gitty was in a fight for her life.
I was not allowed to stay with Gitty, when the "cut downs" were performed. They tied down her arms and legs and strapped her head to the table. As I left the operating room, I could hear her cries through the cloudy panes of glass.....I knew that they were hurting her. She was crying for her Mommy and I was walking away. At this point, a very low point, and I hate to even remember that my thinking had been so scrambled...O' Yes...It was true....At that time....deep down inside myself, I made a firm decision, that if our baby had to face a lifetime of pain and misery, that I would somehow find a way to kill her. I did not yet know how or even at what point I would take this action...Awash in tears, I just knew that I would not let her continue in such pain forever. Then a nurse, an angel, appeared. Her name was Florence; a large colored woman of tremendous strength. She wrapped me up in her arms and said that she knew what the diagnoses was as soon as the doctors had taken us into the little green room down the hall. Rocking me gently back and forth she said: "I knows how you are feeling my Sweetheart, but you must never, never, never give up. God will get you through this....Just wait and see....She will be all right my darling. She will be all right." Those blackest thoughts dissolved, disappeared and never again returned. I was ashamed of myself for having had such thoughts, but the truth is....I did. Thank goodness I never had to make this choice or take such an action.
Gitty remained on Chloramphenicol for a course of twenty-one days round the clock. Her care was on a serious regimen …. Day after day with military precision. One morning we received a call to come down to the hospital for a conference, regarding the treatments for our child. It sounded ominous. We met once again in the dreaded little green room on the third floor at the end of the hall. "Good Morning, Mrs. Duncan....Mr. Duncan...Please, do sit down. I am so very sorry to tell you … that sadly … your child has experience a serious reaction to the Chloramphenicol and she does in fact, now have, Aplastic Anemia. We explained to you that this was one of the possible reactions to the drug. We are so very sorry.... so very sorry …We have done everything we can. I am so very sorry." We were shaken, exhausted and speechless.
Then....there was a knocking at the door. A nurse interrupted the meeting and asked to speak to the doctor. She said it was urgent. Stepping into the room, she handed him another clipboard. There had been a mix-up in the lab and we had been given the wrong report. Gitty did not have Aplastic Anemia after all!.....We were torn apart at this point with tears of happiness. The sadness of it was, that now, the error corrected, the doctors would have to tell another family the bad news for their child. Our hearts would break for them.
The Chloramphenicol regimen had been successful. By now, the results of the national phone call were in. The recommendation was to follow up with a repeated regimen of Ampicillin for another two months.....and hope that it would kill off any remaining pockets of infection this time.
I continued on with the wall murals, spending as much time with Gitty as possible; settling into daily hospital life. By the time I got home in the late afternoon, it was a mad dash to get to the grocery store. All stores closed at five o'clock. The late shopping hours we enjoy today, had not yet come onto the scene. Cooking the meals and spending make up time with McKay, reading bedtime stories and prayers before bed, rounded out the end of a long, long day. Bowie's schedule was just as busy as was mine during this period. We started off at 5:30 every morning. After doing the laundry, housework and getting things ready for the day, Bowie would leave for his work at school and I would get the baby sitter for McKay and then drive to Washington and meet with Dr. Ross at 8:30. After his updates, I would breast feed my child at: 9:30, 12:30 and 3:30 and then: home by four o'clock.
In between the feedings, I continued to paint the wall murals...Painting murals was great therapy and very relaxing. Painting eased the stress. Then it was home again and the regimen would begin all over again...This would go on seven days a week. For the first time in my life....Every minute of every day was scheduled. It was a forced regimen. I stayed awake as long as I could, to get in, as much as possible into every minute, of every day....trying to hold things together….. The weeks trudged by....One, two, three, four, five weeks.... six weeks, seven weeks. One more week passed and Dr. Ross announced, "You can take her home. I think we have beaten it this time! Take her home. We will have to watch her closely Sterett. I want to see her three times a week in my office. We brought Gitty home once more..time .... this time ... to stay.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 4
The siege of being hospitalized and on the critical list for three and a half months was over. Had it not been for the advice of Robert Riggins, when I was thirteen years old, well....I am sure that I would never have had the strength to walk out on Dr. Aaron-Smith and his white coat; to defy this kindly doctor's orders and fly on my own. Had I waited until four o'clock in the afternoon as Dr. Arron-Smith requested, the chances are, that our little one would no longer be with us.
So here we are....home once again...Gitty had beaten the odds...She was alive. We were ever so grateful to all the Doctors and staff at Children's hospital. What in incredible team. There is no way to thank someone enough in such circumstances but perhaps the recounting of this tale will help someone else someday. Our little family was together and beginning life anew and not at all sure just what that would be. We walked on eggs watching "Pretty-Gitty" like a hawk. Checking and rechecking for any returning symptoms. Great care was given to keeping and extremely clean house, always wondering if I had been the cause of Gitty's illness.
What next? Now begins "The Great Year of the Scrub" Everything needed to be washed and bleach-washed and scrubbed before entering her room and clothing was removed before leaving the room This forced regimen of bleaching and scrubbing became a way of life for the next seven months. There was no choice here. The work had to be done without let up. Every minute of every day was scheduled…. Seven days a week. I stayed awake as long as possible to make sure that there would be no mistakes in Gitty’s care. No chances could be taken.
Both children thrived in the Maryland sunshine but we were afraid to let our guard down. As the months slipped by, little by little the fear of another attack subsided and life did in fact return to normal During this time, I was determined to keep Gitty as close to me as possible. I spoke to her every day just as if she could hear me and see me...just like a normal child...But was she? We couldn't tell. She was lovely to look at and she almost always had a smile on her face, but her left side was still very much weakened by the disease. We could see no improvement. Her left eye still wandered aimlessly. It was impossible to assess the damage done to her physically or mentally. No one knew how much of our child would be left when all was said and done. We were so glad to have her home again, that we didn't care, nor did we notice her disabilities or slow developmental progress....or perhaps....when we did...we just ignored it. I took her with me everywhere and talked to her constantly. She could not sit up in a chair, so I strapped her to my back in a child's seat or harnessed her up in her high chair so that she would not fall forward.
Gitty was a very beautiful child with a cheerful disposition. She got lots of hugs and lots of cuddling. Her brother seemed to recognize her limitations and was invariably kind and gentle with her. He loved and cared for his little sister. Perhaps because we spoke to her all the time, he did too. McKay would draw pictures and present them to her. He would bring to her, his fuzzy animals and hold them up close so that she could feel their fur against her cheeks...Sometimes I would hear him sharing his favorite bedtime stories.
Somewhere along the way we moved away from Edmonston to a neighboring village in Brentwood, Maryland. This somewhat larger house made of brick, had a fine patch of green for a front lawn. It was a very happy time for all of us. Bowie was making great progress with his Masters Degree and was very happy to be back in a collegiate setting. I loved being a mother and was very involved with the raising of the children and keeping house. I could not make sculpture during this period but I could paint murals. It was easy to keep a box of non-toxic water paints available, so I painted the children's room with murals which were magical in nature. I painted jungle scenes with every animal I could think of. Elephants, Zebra, Lions, Tigers and Bears wandered through a landscape of giant flowers, brilliantly colored and mixed with huge, broad leafed palms which showed a bright sun, shining beside an eclipsed moon. McKay would point out the animals to Gitty and try to teach her their names. It was a sight to see. In the late spring, we took our first trip to the Washington Zoo. The excitement was high when the children saw the animals on their wall at home, come to life.
As with the raising of all children, childhood illnesses do come along, and one fine day, along came a nasty Strep-throat, which grabbed hold of McKay. Then...It got Gitty. Along with the Strep-Throat, she developed whopping case of Erysipelas. (Erysipelas is a systemic allergic reaction to the toxin produced by the Streptococcus bacteria.) The result being, that the skin itself becomes infected and a raging fever ensues. Her little body just boiled over, erupting with large yellow blisters, five and six inches in circumference that covered her entire body. ....and I do mean all of it...inside and out! The yellow blisters were interrupted with black patches of necrotic tissue. It appeared as though she had been in a fire.
Another long hard fight in the medical department was just beginning, but this time we had our Dr. Ross to steer us through. And so he did. Our little Gitty, made it through once again. At the same time, McKay was ill with multiple colds, sore throats and ear infections. He ended up with a tonsillectomy, two adenoid operations and ear tubes in both ears. Thank goodness for Dr. Ross. Back on track once again, life was busy, happy and in and out of the doctor's office. By this time, we had come to know Dr. Ross's Family and we have remained friends over the years.
Gitty was now fourteen months old. One evening, at the dinner table, the children were finishing up a desert of Raspberry Jell-O. Gitty was strapped up in her high chair to keep her from falling forward. You must remember here that Up to this point in time, she had never uttered a word. No "Mama," No "Papa." Just bubbling, gurgling sounds could be heard. On this special night...Out of the blue, Gitty lifted up her head for the first time since her illness had begun more than a year ago...and then....low and behold, Gitty spoke a complete sentence. "I-want-sum-more!" These words were quickly followed by: "I-wanna-git-down." It was breath taking. How could this be? Carefully, I unstrapped the harness which held her in the high chair and placed her on the floor.....Next Gitty pronounced: "I-want-some-unner-pants." And that was that....We had before us a doggone miracle!" At sixteen months of age, Gitty stood up and walked. There was no crawling. All of a sudden one day, she just stood up and walked. There was no stopping her now. She wanted to get back into life in a big way and do everything that her big brother could do and this...she did!
The battle had been won in life's game of chance. We grabbed hold and held fast to that once chance in a hundred. Dr. Robert Riggins, Dr. Sydney Ross, Dr. H.H. Schumann, a dear taxi cab driver, Lab technician Al Godfrey and beautiful nurse Florence on the third floor.. The doctors, nurses and staff members at Children's Hospital, Mummy and Daddy, a dear and supportive husband, and modern medicine, all came together to save the life of this happy little spirit. Both children have grown up to be healthy, happy, productive citizens. Gitty has never once exhibited any traces of her battle against the dread Salmonella D. Gitty and her brother have remained close friends and both are now artists in their own rite, although they know better. I have warned them that being an artist is not on Harvard's list of preferred financial activities. Never the less ........ If it is what you do....It's what you do!
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 5
At sixteen months of age, with the danger of life and death threats now a thing of the past, I found myself to be completely exhausted. At this time I remember going to sleep.......I had an awful time trying to stay awake and could only do so, just long enough to get the basics done. Every time the children napped and slept ….. So did I. Catching up on all of those lost hours of the past year was not possible in one or two nights. The ensuing sleep was sweet, deep, dark and dreamless. Sleep was welcome....O' so very welcome! At that time, I could not know what all of this deep sleep meant, but I was about to find out.
Life in the tiny Village of Brentwood, was of a fairly short duration. One beautiful Sunday, we decided to take a drive out into the countryside. We started at the University of Maryland's Campus, and soon found ourselves heading northward on New Hampshire Avenue. We drove until New Hampshire intersected with Georgia Avenue...and there we were, in beautiful down town "Sunshine."
In 1969, Sunshine consisted of a somewhat funky corner gas station which sold Coke-a-Cola, Hostess Cupcakes, newspapers, gas and motor oil. Sunshine itself, is in heaven....You will recognize it immediately, If you have never been to Maryland ...Well best beloved, it is to me, one of the most beautiful places on earth with softly rolling hills that slope downward into deep stream lined valleys. At the bottom of every hillside, a spring fed river or stream wanders cold and sparkling through the meadows. Honeysuckle laces the wide board fences, which border the fields, and these fields are often inhabited by chickens, pigs, sheep, cattle, ponies and horses. There are wild deer, pheasant and fox and all sorts of living creatures roaming about in this emerald paradise...... When the Honeysuckle is in bloom, the airs are as intoxicating to humans as is catnip to cats! We loved Maryland and began to search about for a place to live in the country. Bowie would have another two or three years to go before finishing his PhD (for a doctorate in American Studies) and we were determined to do it in Sunshine.
P.S. Just to make sure that you can find Sunshine one day for yourselves, draw co-ordinates between Baltimore, Washington and Fredrick Maryland and they will intersect in Sunshine.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 6
We scoured the countryside to find a place to live and in short order, came upon Pretty Penny Farm right in the middle of Sunshine, Maryland. The rent was $75.00 dollars a month. For that, we had a five-bedroom farmhouse in the middle of 110 acres of absolute heaven. Our driveway was at least a quarter of a mile long. It consisted of nothing more than a set of tire tracks through the woods, about a mile south of the Sunshine Gas Station on the left, off of New Hampshire Avenue. Between the tire tracks, late April grasses were springing up through the red clay dirt, and both sides of the drive were lined with the bright white blossoms of Wild Dogwood trees. At wood's end, the landscape opened up to broad fertile fields stretching across the countryside. Drive on....through the fields and there, situated at the end of the drive, is a single gabled, Victorian farmhouse. On the left were sod fields, green and beautifully tended and on the right, a splendid herd of Black Angus cattle. In back of the house was a small stable, a garage, a combination workshop, and behind all that…stretched another field of perhaps forty or fifty acres, all star-spangled with Daisies and Queen Anne's Lace. On the far side of the meadow was a meandering stream...complete with busy bees, fireflies and tadpoles. Our nearest neighbor was a good half mile away. Life burst forth in all directions hitting each one of us front and center with a permanent smile affixed to each face. A general sense of wellbeing over took us with the sweet airs of Spring. The cold of winter was over, truly over, and a new beginning marched forth into the month of May.
We spent the first night on the floor with blankets and pillows. Moving day, which was supposed to be on Sunday, had been moved up to Monday. This meant that Bowie, who was preparing for examinations would be holed up in a library for most of the day and that the unpacking and setting up the house would be left largely to me and the children. No problem here! We could hardly wait to unpack our new adventure...And so, we set to work at about ten o'clock in the morning. Three hours later, the empty moving van, bumbled on its way, out to New Hampshire Avenue, leaving us behind in a cloud of red dust.
Unpacking for the children was like a second Christmas. Each box held a surprise. We opened the mattresses first. This was a brilliant piece of strategy on my part. The children jumped from one mattress to the next. They jumped and jumped right into their lunchtime. Peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches were the magic words for the day, turning McKay and Gitty out like lights…. And totally zonked!
Something was not quite right though...It was just too quiet. Now, if I could just find the tape deck and the speakers, we could have a bit of Mozart. After rummaging about a bit, I found them. It may be hard for you to understand now, but in those days, girls did not handle mechanical things. Those jobs were reserved for boys. As children, often we had been told that only boys could mend and fix mechanical things and that women were meant to cook and sew. No one questioned these teachings really. It was just accepted. It was one of life's prescriptions. That's how things were. For example, my twin sister Easy and I were never allowed to touch the toy train set which ran around the Christmas Tree at our Grandmother's house. Only boys could do that. Our cousin, Little Billy, spent all day fussing around with those trains, just to spite us, I am sure. It was frustrating because we were the same age as Little Billy, but it was clear to us who had the power. We were not allowed to touch the "Victrola" either.....or the radio....Only boys could do that. And when televisions were introduced into the world....well, only boys could be smart enough to set them up and use them.... that's just how things were. And yet, here was I, in May of 1969, A RISD graduate, unpacking boxes without Mozart! I found myself thinking that I had to wait for my husband to get home before there could be music. Then it hit me...I can do this myself! I turned the speakers around and sure enough there were words printed right there in front of me....Right Speaker...Right Wire: Left speaker, Left wire. "Was that all there was to it? You mean THAT, was what I had been intimidated by for all those years? Humph!! Boy's secrets are just plain dumb," I said to myself. "These things were made for people.... and by people.... and not only for men and gods after all..... "and I"... I reasoned with myself, that "I am, by golly, a people! I am even dumber than I thought I was, for believing that stuff." Such was my self-castigation and enlightment for the day... Moments later, Mozart's flute lived once again the kitchen of our farmhouse in Sunshine. Why this had not occurred to me before, I don't know. I guess, because it is hard to throw off the traces, break old habits and slip the cultural bonds of tradition.
It took several weeks to really get settled down and moved in. It was not just the unpacking and arranging of things about the house...but becoming comfortable with the placement of all those things, now rearranged....finding the post office, the grocery store, the hardware store, and of course the shortest route back to Dr. Ross's office in Bethesda.
It always amazed me, that with the most extreme of busy schedules and endless patients to see, and meetings to attend, that Syd Ross always appeared to be laid back and relaxed....and had all the time in the world to spend with you and only you....and still, he kept a happy wife and found time to take his daughter Wendy, personally up to her college interviews, and take son Michael out for photography days in the country. He kept a close personal touch with his children: Wendy, Jill, John and Michael. His wife Bernice, beautiful and serene was truly remarkable, because she shared her husband with so many. However did she do it! There was an extraordinary bond between them. Syd Ross died in September 2001....I miss him. I know that there are many people like myself who are grateful for the life of this gentle man.
I slept happily through most of May, June and July in Sunshine and then… Things began to happen. I had finally caught up on sleep and was back to Go …. One hundred percent! With everyone healthy and happy, I found that I had time in the evenings to start to work on sculpture. But making sculpture would be different now. I no longer had to wait for inspiration to hit me. Now, there was sculpture-on-tap, twenty-four hours a day. I am quite sure that this resulted from the forced regimen of the past year.
The-Great-Year-of-the-Scrub, as I like to call it, coerced me into becoming superbly organized for the first time in my life; organized in a way that I had never known before; down to each and every minute of every day...day after day....month after month. The beauty of this newly found gift was that the making of sculpture now happened so effortlessly. This forced regimen of course, had nothing whatever to do with art. It had only to do with Discipline and Discipline is Freedom!!!
When you first learn to drive a car, one must learn the rules of the road. One has to consciously think...of seat belts...of one's feet and hands and vision..... Of one's placement with in the vehicle and the placement of the car on the road....Relative speed and relative space between cars, etc....and then...... at some point, everything comes together. You are no longer aware of all the learning and practice. In fact, one has only to have an idea in one's mind: that of the destination alone! Get in the car, key the ignition and go! And so it was for me....All of the training in art school, and all the lessons from life came together because of the forced discipline, blessed upon me by "The-Great-Year-of-the-Scrub." It was exactly what was needed to free up all the sculpture locked away inside of me.
"The-Great-Year-of-the-Scrub" made all things possible. I doubt that I could have become a sculptor, had it not been for Salmonella D. All of my education would not have been used in any meaningful way. Without the Freedom of Discipline, quite simply, these works of art would never have been produced. Of this, I am quite certain. There are many parts and pieces, which must come together to make a sculptor but for me, the most important ingredient was discipline. For me, my parents and grandparents, relatives and friends helped to build a base on which to stand. There was lots of hometown support, teacher support, and the support of the schools and colleges. When all is said and done, there was great timing. Great timing is of equal value. I have never been directly involved in a war. I have never missed a meal either. No.... Nor has there been any great suffering worth a mention here, but without Women's liberation in the sixties...well just forget it! In addition to all this.. there was good health...and good luck with the gene pool. The gene pool is of course, just the luck of the draw.
A favorable climate in which seeds, when planted, can take hold and grow, cannot be ignored either. But even with the right parents and just the right climate and just the right everything....and even when the key is placed in your hand...at some point the key must be used. Talent alone is not enough. There is a certain something that actually makes one, not only able to produce, but actually makes one get out there and do the work. I do not know what part of the gene performs that task or just exactly what it is called.... but for me it was called Salmonella D! And without it...talent...no matter how great...is not a true talent. True talent must contain this element. If it is missing, one can pass it along to another generation, but the talent itself can never be fully realized.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 7
With the forced discipline years between 1968 and 1970 behind me, sculpture began in earnest in the summer of 1970. Now sculpture was always on tap, encompassing music, art, ballet and babies. Where life's lessons now blended ponies past, painters, sculptors, dancers, teachers and musicians, choreographers, composers and too.... with the most marvelous directors of fine art films such as "Amadeus," "Turning Point" and "To Kill A Mockingbird." My sculpture would come from this acquired library of sounds and images, which scrambled themselves into my head, and then found their way to my hands. I was determined to try to capture movement in my work and somehow, make it sing.
I do not think that we are aware, of the building of a library for our very own personal use, but that is exactly what we are doing, whether we think about it or not. Everyone has such a library... a library of thoughts, ideas and experience. Sometimes, the volumes are just thrown at you in the form of life, and imprinted on your character, and sometimes, if you are lucky, you have a chance to select your own books. A fascination with movement and body articulations has pursued me throughout my career. It has chased me and I have tried to catch it.
Just as a photographer tries to catch his subject and hold it still, the sculptor takes something that is standing still and tries to make it move. It is this special certain something, which kisses each sculpture to life, so that ultimately, the work can live on its’ own ….. quite independently of its creator. The experiences of life become the classroom for this endeavor, a classroom, which is open twenty-four, seven. Yes, "Movement is the tongue of life." Could I capture life's movements in bronze? I didn't know. What I did know was this: that life's movements captured in bronze would become the challenge and that I would try to fuse these illusive qualities of implied movements, right into the imagined soul of each sculpture.
Water based clays, all have their special needs and require constant attention. Wood and stone want their own rooms and welding with "kidd-letts" around the house was absolutely out of the question. So Wax and Plasticine became my weapons of choice in Sunshine, because they are safe and easy to use around the children.. You can put these materials away for any length of time and then pick them up again, whenever you choose, and continue on at any time, between the measles, mumps, and chicken pox.
After the "long sleep," I was seldom without a ball of wax in my pocket. This kept the sculptures fresh and immediate. Whenever there was a spare moment between the house and the children, I could just pull out the old ball of wax and churn out another piece. And "churning them out" was a pretty good description. The most remarkable thing was that apparently no effort was needed to make these little wax sketches. Whatever was in my mind, now flowed outward through my hands. No "times of complete silence to foster concentration," were needed to create them, nor was a "private room away from the family activities" required. Sculpture just seemed to happen...and it happened right smack in the middle of breakfast, while watching the children play or in the middle of a telephone conversation with a friend...The stuff just happened. I could watch my hands, almost like watching someone else's hands do all the work, or so it seemed. In just a few weeks, I had a number of finished figures, which I stored in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator, between the frozen meats and vegetables. Getting these little wax gems, cast into bronze would be the next step.
My husband had a few days off and volunteered to care for the little ones. Early, in the coolest part of the day, (because I didn't want the waxes to melt) I drove to Noroton, Connecticut to work with Ron Cavalier, who owned and operated the Renaissance Fine Art Foundry. This was the beginning of a working relationship that was to last for many years to come. "Cast as much original work as you can and as soon as you can," Ron advised. "The costs are rising rapidly. Once you have your originals in bronze, you can use them immediately, or perhaps years later, but the important part is that you will have them. You can make editions from them or use them for enlargements and create new editions, in any size, based on this work and you can take these little fellows and make them grow up to life or even heroic-sized works for future commissions." (Life-sized? Wow! Now that… was a totally new idea to me! ) "Never forget that these little maquettes are your most valuable work," said Ron, "so take good care of them, and if you can...Hold on to them. These pieces are just wonderful and they will help you to secure new work, and new clients. You see, the customer is not always able to envision what a larger work will look like, otherwise he would be the artist, so it is up to you, to use these little bronze sketches to demonstrate to your client, just how the finished work will look. Now, come out back to the parking lot with me. I want to show you how to do this."
"Over here....See? .... You must hold this little figure... up.... against the sky. Now... photograph it so that there will be no sense of scale..... Like so." Ron held up one of the small bronze sketches against the summer-blue-skies of Noroton. "Try to keep your hands and fingers out of the way." With one arm around me, he steadied my hand. We both stared at the little bronze sculpture, imagining beautiful photographs in the hands of nameless, future customers. "I like this one Sterett. It's got a life of its own. When you go back to Sunshine, why don't you make her life-sized and I will cast her for you. She will make a lovely Garden piece and this one will help you to get those future commissions. This is the one, which will help you to get started as a professional in the art world. Believe me, you will learn more from making this piece life-sized, than you did in all four years of college." Ron was right too. He gave me lots of advice about the "do's" and "don'ts" in the foundry. (Flattery of course will get you anywhere you want to go.) This was the first time I began to think about building a sculpture in a different scale....which is sort of like moving from scribbling a one line melody, to writing a full length symphony. I was blissfully unaware of this fact and had absolutely no idea what I would be in for, should I ever make such an attempt.
Ron Cavalier and I were to cast many works together. He was the beginning of my postgraduate education. He was correct in his assessment of the value of building a life-sized figure and he was right once again about the casting costs which, have gone through the roof!
Home again, the urge to take up Ron's challenge to build a life-sized figure was irresistible. I found that the professional enlarging services were so costly, that I decided to do this part of my project on my own. Total control could be exercised over the little wax figures which, represented exactly what I had in my mind, but translating them into big sculptures was something else entirely. The physical problems and technical chalenges were enormous. More than once, the clay figures sat down on me or tumbled over onto the floor. The solving of these engineering problems was indeed the self-education to which Ron Cavalier had alluded. Many artists can make up exquisite little sketches and in fact, much of the artist's creativity comes from these little sketches. However, at some point an Architect, for example, must be able to move from the Architect's model and actually build the house. This is the same sort of challenge for sculptors.
I found a very lovely artist's model at the University of Maryland named Blee ( Barbara-Lee) Furbush, who was completing her own degree in the arts. Barbara and I set out to "build a house together." She helped me transition from three small bronze sketches to my first, completed life-sized works of art.
See File #23 " Elise-Gillet-Boyce-of-Bacon-Hall "
File #24 " Cadwallader-Washburn-Kelsey-of-Lake-Avenue-Greenwich”
File #41 " Barbara-Lee-Furbush-in-Sunshine "
After three months of smacking the clay around with a butcher's knife, (my weapon of choice) a figure appeared which was based on one of my little bronze sketches. ( File #23 ) Then I called my friend Johny Sollennee. Johny was a master mold maker from the fourth generation of Italian master sculptors and mold makers. He drove all the way down from Bridgeport Connecticut to help me build a rubber mold for my first life-sized figure. It took several days to accomplish our mission. We built a rubber mold right over the finished clay figure which, when you pull it off of the sculpture, looks rather like the inside of a Halloween mask, excepting that it is extremely detailed. So much so, that even my fingerprints on the clay were recorded in the rubber. It is an amazing process. The mold once completed, was lugged out to my pick-up truck and readied for a trip back to the Renaissance Foundry in Connecticut where we would be casting my first big figure into bronze. (File # 23) Over the years, Johny Sollennee made most of my sculpture molds. We were a pretty good team! Today, one of my sculptures, of course, bears Johny's name!
I was off on an adventure that would become a lifetime addiction! So this is how I became a sculptor. Today, there are 300 original sculptures. Each one bears the name of someone who is important in my life. To each and every one of them, God bless you and thank you. There are other things that make you a sculptor of course, because your entire life becomes your art. I have selected a few more vignettes in order to give you a bit of insight into the making of this particular sculptor. This process is different for every artist, but this is how it was for me.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 8
Learning to Love life in Maryland
It is funny... I mean the things you remember about childhood. My earliest memories are of those between three and seven years of age when my twin sister Easy and I were inseparable. I thought we were one person. That's how it is with twins. We lived with our Mum and our Grandmother on a farm in Glencoe, Maryland. Glencoe is north of Baltimore, north of Towson, north of Timonium where the state fair was held, and north of Cockeysville, off the old York Road. Our telephone number was "Cockeysville: 1-2-4-W " and our Daddy was overseas because World War II was underway. The farm was about 350 acres of rolling fields, which were separated from one another by crystal clear streams and unexpected springs, which would appear and disappear on any given day...The streams were clay lined and if one was in the mood, you could pull the gray clay up with your hands and fashion a pot or plate. In the early forties....today was today....and up to date....and modern....I did not realize that we were living a remarkably old-fashioned life style compared to today's standards. Looking back on those halcyon days... I discovered the foundation for my future career as a Sculptor of Dance.
The farm, "Bacon-Hall," was a child's dream world, and a place of endless fascinations. In those early years, the farm was our entire world, although there would be special occasions when we would go to dancing class or drive to Baltimore to see Santa Clause in the Christmas Parade..... But mostly we lived exclusively on the farm itself.
There was a hog barn there, which sheltered any number of pigs in deep mud ( a true pigpen of the classics) It was also a place to store bales of sweet clover hay and golden wheat straw. The farmer, Mr. Sheetz, let us stand on the overhang above the feeding troughs and help him slop the hogs....The feed for the hogs, encased in one hundred pound bags, were made of gingham, calico and muslin prints. These feedbags were deftly transformed into dresses and bloomers on an old singer Sewing machine by our Mommy who was a wizard in the fashion department!
Close to the main house, was a smokehouse. A small, gray, wooden shed...rather crooked and set apart from the other buildings on the farm because that was where the hams were cured. We never went near the smokehouse. It was a scary place and always locked up...and now I know that it was locked up with good reason. There was a large chicken house, warm and friendly, with many hens and a few roosters to stir things up. And this they did on a regular basis because when the farmer's wife candled the eggs, we could pick out the eggs, which had baby chicks inside. We did not know exactly where baby chickens came from at that time in our lives, but it really didn’t matter very much, because we were short and every day was magic and magic needs no explanation. Life just is.... All we twins could think of was finding those eggs in their nests and bringing home as many as we could stuff into our baskets.
There was another barn, far across the fields. Each barn had its own distinctive smell and there would be no question as to which barn you were in either. A huge barn, dazzling white in the morning sunlight and accented with red oxide paint over a tin roof, loomed up through the morning mists far across the pasture. This barn... "The Big Barn" was the one in which the "girls" lived.... and there lived ten or twelve "girls" which supplied us and those living on the farm with milk, cream and butter. At milking time the kittens, and O" there were always lots of kittens on the place, would line up against the oak walls of the horse's stalls which were opposite the cow stalls. A stanchion held each cow around her neck to keep her in one place so that the farmer could milk her. Mr. Sheetz would grab hold of a teat, squeeze and spray the kittens with fresh milk, whose waiting mouths were open wide. The milk, thick and creamy would ark a path to the lineup of hungry little ones.
Easy and I would try to help with the milking. Mr. Sheetz would let us sit on his lap while he balanced on a three-legged stool. This task looked so easy, but our tiny hands were just not big enough or strong enough to get the job done. With my cheek up against the cow's warm belly, I would try so hard to make the milk stream from the udder to the kittens...but it never happened...No matter how hard we tugged and pulled on that patient old cow.
The milk was collected in silvery milk cans. Each one had a cap, which would slide snugly over the can’s long neck. It was carried down to the farmer’s house, where the milk was poured into an odd looking machine, which when cranked, would separate the cream from the milk. Milk was then poured into sparkling glass bottles and taken to the main house, which is where we lived. The extra milk was stored down in the meadow in a small stone, Spring House. It was always cool and wet in there. I remember standing on tiptoes and pushing open the green wooden door. One would have to step over a trough of spring water which was about a foot or so deep, onto a cement square in the middle of the room. Icy cold spring water flowed through the trough. The silver milk cans were placed into these troughs so that these icy waters would swirl around the bottom half of the steel cans, cooling and preserving the milk. This simple system got the job done. Milk, once it reached our house was kept in the icebox. Once chilled, some of the thick Guernsey cream was put into a churn. Churning butter was one of the farm tasks, which we children could do ourselves and imagine that we were real farmers, contributing to the running of the farm...at least this was true, in a four old's mind. Churning butter was great fun. We would take turns cranking the cream and soon marvelous yellow lumps of butter would begin to float up through the cream. These floaters of sun yellow butter were scooped from the churn and scraped off of the churn's wooden paddles. These soft clumps of butter were pressed together on a cutting board over the sink, where the excess milk would drain off the board and be saved for the hogs... and then...Voila! Butter by the bowlful!
The butter was salted and gently paddled into one pound bars which were wrapped in wax paper and stored in the icebox. Everything was cooked in butter on the farm. We never heard of the word cholesterol or diet… There was no need to. There was so much activity in each day’s work, that whatever you ate, you would work off your body in jig time! And with all that butter … butter on eggs, butter on beets, butter on Lima beans, corn, and potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips and breads and cookies and cakes .. lots of cakes and homemade fudge .. My grandmother lived to be 99 years old!
Oh how we loved our grandmother... She showed us how to shuck corn and shell peas on the back porch in the late afternoon just before dinner. We baked bread and rolls and iced lemon teacakes together. We learned to use our hands.
There were wonderful days in the summertime, when all day long only corn was cooked and hacked of its ears and put up in Mason Jars. There were Beet days and Tomato days and days for Peas and days for Lima Beans … Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes, Turnips, Summer Squash and Winter Squash …O’ The earth gives us so much.
Chopping off chicken heads was also a favorite activity. I remember the farmer’s wife would catch the intended victim and clutch both of the hen’s legs in one hand. She then laid the chicken’s head down on a chopping block … and then hack- whack … and it was off with its head. Released from her grasp, the chicken would run around in crazy ways with its wings spread out and dark red blood spattering all over the place. Then it would flop over and be dead. The chicken’s eyes blinked a few times in its head and then … it too was dead. “Does that hurt?” I asked the farmer’s wife ….”Nope” she said … “Not a bit.” With that, we gathered up the dead chickens and started skipping to the main house …. We left the heads on the grounds for the crows to eat … at least that is what the farmer’s wife told us. Happily we tagged along …. looking forward to the next activity which was to dip the bodies of the chickens into scalding water. This process loosened the feathers, which could then be easily removed from the carcass. I loved pulling off the chicken’s feathers even though this process was a very stinky one. The smell of wet chicken feathers is a smell easily identified and one, which is not easily forgotten!
So this was farm life … You could see a direct result of all the work that went into the farm. The fields were plowed with teams of horses. “Topps” and “Gray Lady” were huge gray Percheron horses and Old “Joe Cook” was a Morgan breed, a small but agile little bay horse who, was able to hold his own when he worked the fields. Riding on the backs of these gentle giants was a special treat at the end of the day. Mr. Sheetz would hoist us high into the air so we could grab onto the hames. Easy and I rode double. Sometimes I rode in the front and sometimes in the back. We clung tightly to the harness. It was a long way down to the grass below.
There were occasional interruptions to farm life. Once a month a salesman would come-a-Calling to the farm. We could spot his old black car, far across the fields, as he bumbled along Gillet Road and through the old cement pillars, which bore the name of Bacon Hall. Slowly he would make his way up the quarter mile drive, lined on both sides with tall green pines. Racing toward the old car and yelling “Hi Mr. McNess”, we twins could hardly wait to see what kind of goodies he was bringing with him. Dressed in a baggy, dark flannel suit, this friendly fellow, short, round and bald, apparently had time enough to spend with us twins, as well as to catch everyone in the kitchen, up on the latest “news from the front.” Easy and I would pour over his free samples which he carried in a large black suitcase. It contained all sorts of flavorings, such as pure vanilla and lemon extracts, puddings, herbs and spices, all of which were manufactured by a company named “The McNess Company”…. so quite naturally we children called him: “Mr. McNess.”
Sometimes the Fuller-Brush-Man showed up. The grownups were always very interested in his stuff. They would slide their hands back and forth over each brush handle and scrubber, holding each one up to scrutinize its size and shape, and then imagine, how it would be of great benefit to the performance of their kitchen chores. After careful examination, a change purse appeared from my Grandmother’s pocket book. A purchase was made amid much chatter and the wire spring would smack shut the screen door in the kitchen. The Fuller Brush Man was gone.
There was a lot to do on the Farm. Everyone had something to do. I do so miss my Grandmother. I was with her when we cut off puppy dog tails and cropped their ears at the Vets and with her when we pulled ticks off of the dogs and rubbed their bodies in yellow sulfur and lard … That was the best remedy of the day. I don’t know if it did any good but the dogs seemed grateful for the attention. She taught me to braid the pony's manes and tails and how to ride them, how to love them and care for them and clean them and polish their tack. I never remember an unkind word or a word of disapproval.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 9
Once a month, the Old York Road would take us to the village of Cockeysville, Maryland and the Farmers Grange where you could by hog slop and chicken feed or ... visit the drug store with the wooden Indian outside of the front door. Mummy liked to visit Miss Maude’s store. Miss Maude ran a lady’s’ dress shop which had at the most, perhaps thirty dresses, which hung forlornly on wire hangars against the wall, on shining steel pipes. The store was painted mint green. On the other side of the store were two glass-enclosed cases, which displayed several pair of ladies gloves, faux pearls, silk stockings and petticoats. There was nothing in the middle of the store. Mummy would love to chat with Miss Maude and catch up on the latest chatter about town.
Cockeysville was also the home of our dressmaker: Mrs. Minick. Dear Mrs. Minick! Immediately after passing through the Cockeysville Tunnel, make a “U” turn to the left and serpentine your way up and around another sharp turn to the right, past the cemetery on the left and you will find Mrs. Minick’s magic house on the right hand side of the road. A precious little white cottage with a picket fence and tidy gardens lined with roses, foxgloves and Baby’s Breath...An apple tree and a pear tree bloomed in the back yard with a clothesline stretched between the two. Petticoats, dresses and long under wear were pinned to the clothesline with wooden clothespins. Inside, her home, there were hand hooked rugs designed with cabbage rose patterns on the polished wood floors and a dark Victorian table covered in hand crocheted lace. A large glass bowl filled with needles, threads, scissors and what-not was placed beside an overstuffed chair whose arms were dressed up with white antimacassars. Long lace curtains breezed away from the open windows carrying the scent of pear and apple blossoms to our noses, while my sister and I would be fitted for dresses to be worn in the weddings of our relatives. Twins with big brown eyes and golden blond curls were a very popular choice to have as your flower girls if you were getting married. I remember at least three weddings in which my sister Easy and I would carry the train of the bride down the Aisle of a church or in a beautiful summer garden. Weddings were very special occasions and our mother made us practice at home with bed sheets belted to her waist. The three of us would march up and down the living room at Bacon Hall Farm, making very sure not to pull the train off of the bride! Our full-length dresses were stitched in pale blue organdy, with tiny box pleats covering the bodice. A pastel portrait was made of us by Kitty Wheeling which now hangs over the fireplace at Kelsey Farm in Greenwich CT....We were adorable and lovely …. Everyone told us so. (However, times and our shapes do change. I can really recognize that now that I am in my seventies. and... "OMG what happened?" ...when I view myself from the neck down, after gravity and the Dairy Queen have taken their toll.) Broad sashes tugged our tummies into a big beautiful bow in the back. A second set of dresses was ordered in Lavender organdy with dainty baby lace to trim the collars. Matching barrettes were also made by our mother. She hand painted tiny bunches of wild flowers, so that they would match our dresses. Mrs. Minick also made our dresses for dancing class. Dancing class dresses were made in red, black, or royal blue velvet with Peter Pan collars trimmed in a creamy white lace. Sunday school dresses were made of cotton and in many colors. All of them were hand smocked and had matching bloomers! Clothes were incredibly important to our mother and fashion was a very serious subject indeed. She was herself was a wizard with the sewing machine and she made all of her own clothes. Our mother was always beautifully dressed throughout her lifetime … and so was my Grandmother, all because Mrs. Minick made it so. I tell you this because I am quite sure, that her little house is still there today and that you can go and see it for yourself.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 10
My twin sister “Easy” and I were six years old when we left Troy, New York and moved to Greenwich, Connecticut into a small rented apartment over a garage and stable on the South end of Otter Rock Drive. We lived in the Belle Haven section of Greenwich, Connecticut in a Victorian carriage house that was situated behind a splendid Victorian home. On the backside of the property, green lawns stretched themselves over acres of flower filled gardens which bordered our playing fields. Tennis courts and a swimming pool were nearby and always, there were lots of children to play with. Activities were endless, even in the winter. Mummy would drive us to Playland in Rye, New York where we rented ice skates for twenty five cents a pair and whizzed around the rink to god-awful organ music … but that didn’t matter because just being there was the greatest holiday ever. This particular activity was usually undertaken with Elsie Fisher and her seven children because she owned an old wooden Pontiac station wagon. All of us could stuff ourselves into it. No seat belts or safety seats in those days … “No-sir-re”… That would have been sissy stuff and would have interrupted our most excellent adventures.
Belle Haven was absolutely gorgeous and still is today; a botanical wonder and close to the beach on Long Island Sound. The seasons waxed and waned according to the whims of Mother Nature. There was almost no traffic in Belle Haven and it was a truly safe for children to wander about this quiet peninsula unaccompanied. Here, neighbors knew each other and life was enjoyed. The War seemed so very far away … It would be many years before I would come to understand the Wars and the tremendous sacrifices made on our behalf by our fathers and mothers and the many hundreds of thousands of young men and women who fought and died for an idea called “America.”
Home was heated with bituminous coal in a cast iron stove in the kitchen, which served both to cook our food: heat the house and dry our clothes. Ice often covered the inside of our windows and the water in our toilet. For our first year of school, we attended a one-room schoolhouse, also in Belle Haven, which was run by a gentle lady named Isabelle Teal. It was there in her sunny yellow school at the north end of Otter Rock Drive, where the arts first found us.
We skated to school. Our roller skates were fastened to our sturdy Oxfords by our Mum with a steel turnkey and off we would go, with Mummy jogging along beside us. The entire school: grades one through six: had only a hand full of students. My sister, myself and Alma Rutgers comprised all of the first grade. Cliffy Osorio was in Third grade, Sara Stewart was in fifth grade and another set of twins, Kay and Dee Onthank made up the sixth grade. Reading, writing and arithmetic began and happily so did art and music. We sang songs in French beside the grand piano and danced to Sur le Ponte D’Avignon in Mrs. Teal’s living room. In December of 1948, we participated in a Christmas play where Easy and I were transformed into shabby shepherds. Alma Rutgers with her beautiful platinum blond tresses, was cast as the Virgin Mary …With bath towels belted to our heads and our bodies wrapped in red plaid flannel bathrobes, I was so sure that no one could possibly recognize us … and was absolutely amazed, and delighted when Daddy addressed me by my nick name “Star-light”. He presented to each one of us, a tiny bouquet of red carnations at the end of this premiere performance.
I fell in love with the Ballet on May 18, 1948, when Alma Rutgers asked us to her home for her birthday party at “Red Oaks” located at #59 Pecksland Road. It was a most elaborate party, quite unheard of in those tight times after the war. Easy and I were dressed in green plaid dresses with off white collars, purchased from the Franklin Simon Store in Greenwich. Short white socks were worn with black patent leather, Mary Jane shoes, which were accompanied by the obligatory white cotton gloves. After a proper handshake, and “How-do- you do Mrs. Rutgers”, which was followed with a curtsy, we were off to the Punch and Judy show, a magic show, pony rides, ice cream, a St. Moritz birthday cake and lots of multi-colored balloons. The day was overcast and cold. Spring struggled to grab hold of the day. Music from within the main house drew me away from festivities. Through the old oak door of The Rutgers’ home and into a dimly lighted, flag stoned hallway … Strains of Chopin beckoned …. then turning to the right … down two stairs … …………. I stepped into an enormous living room …. so beautifully appointed and well turned, with linens and velvets dressing the French windows which grew up and out of the polished wood floors. And there …. in that gorgeous living room, with sofas and chairs covered in hand stitched floral brocades … I was to discover the long, polished oak shelves, which held an exquisite collection of tiny ballet dancers. Stunned by the beauty of these little porcelains, I stood transfixed. Time was suspended. Alma’s mother (Katharine Phillips Rutgers) came into the house to collect me and it was then that she took the time to explain, the stories told by each dancing figurine. Mrs. Rutgers had been a Ballerina herself and had collected these precious little figures as she danced her way around the world. “Dancing around the world” Wow … What a wonderful idea that was to a seven year old! Then, hand in hand, we hiked upstairs to the third floor attic: to her very own ballet studio. There, in the late afternoon light, I saw a long pitched-roof room, with lights blazing down the center. On the left … was the practice bar for her ballet workouts. She handed me a pair of pink satin toe shoes and then demonstrated how to use the bar. Perhaps it was the pink satin. I don’t know, but I was smitten with this art form right then and there. The delicious costumes from the many ballets in which she had danced, were bunched up from one end of the attic to the other. The costume closet was filled with satins and laces, tutus and ball dresses. Dance settled into my brain that afternoon and in fact, took up a sort of permanent residence. The other corner of my brain was of course, occupied by ponies.
Ballet was to visit me once again for one semester in second grade. Mummy and Daddy managed to scrape up enough for both of us, to attend Bonnie Bolte’s Dance Class, one afternoon a week. For forty glorious minutes, we were transformed into baby ballerinas in the Julian Curtiss School’s cafeteria. Someone played the up-right piano in the far corner and we tried desperately to imitate our dance teacher, stretching this way and that way while pointing our tiny toes. Mozart set the tone for this class. Mummy made tutus for us, of pale blue nylon netting. She also made them for our neighbor’s children so that we could traipse about the house, living in the moment, as real, live, ballerinas. There was something wonderful about the piano … about the music of Chopin and Mozart …… about our bodies and the dance and something about the excitement of a night time recital, on stage, in the gymnasium, wearing lip stick and staying up late at night. I was branded with Ballet big time ……..and I wanted more.
This was not to be however, until many years later when Felicity Foote and the Greenwich Ballet Work Shop would become a part of our curriculum. By Spring of 1950 we were attending The Julian Curtiss School on East Elm Street full time. Our family had moved away from Belle Haven to the back woods of Greenwich; out beyond the Merritt Parkway and out beyond where most people wanted to live in those days. Mummy and Daddy had always wanted to live on a farm and they managed to find one in the back country of Greenwich. We were now living at the North end of Lake Avenue, far away from downtown Greenwich… …as far away, as is, the village of Banksville which straddles the state line between New York and Connecticut Our parents purchased a piece of the Joseph Wilshire estate which was being sold off at the time. They were able to buy, a tenant farm house and a small L shaped stable with 14 Acres for $13,000.00. Imagine that! The farm was run down … falling apart really. It was good-bye to the halcyon days in beautiful Belle Haven, ballet and our beloved, one room school. 1016 North Lake Avenue was now our new address.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 11
But why Ballet? Why Dance? Why not Aardvarks? “Well. You see, it’s like this. I can make a very credible Aardvark… Indeed a very fine Aardvark! But then, you see, I would then have to find someone else, who is crazy about that Aardvark as am I … and has the money to pay for it. Market research shows, and I am quite certain of this…. that the Aardvark Market is quite limited. However, almost everyone has a mother. Mothers with babies, kids, ballet, and female nudes…. Now that is the real fine art market for sculpture! It always has been. There is no doubt about it. It has always been that way … it seems, forever.
From the start, I was captivated by the rhythms and movements of life and quite naturally, the challenge and goal of my sculpture would be, to gift each bronze with an independent life, implied movements and imagined souls. Why I was so hooked to this art form? I don’t know. The best explanation is because it was fun! Anything that moved was fascinating to me. Sports figures, Dancers, Animals, Flowers, and Trees even the Stars. You name it. But most especially, when I was short, I was in love with Ponies. I loved the way they moved. I loved what they looked like.
I loved how they smelled, what they ate, their fears, their emotions and how they communicated with each other. I became quite proficient in their language and could speak “Pony” quite well. I loved everything about them… Their winter coats … their summer coats and how it felt to the touch them. Daily my hands would cover every inch of their splendid bodies, tracing the shapes and forms to make sure everything was as it should be. Then we would chew oats and lick salt blocks together. In short, we bonded. So much so, that when Daddy took Easy and me to visit the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, and I spied the magnificent Centaur on the ceiling. Well…. that image immediately changed my life as a 8 year old, and too, my childhood dreams. Dreams in which I imagined myself as the mother of several little Centaurs, following close behind. Is this possible? Of course it is. Absolutely! I knew nothing about sex, let alone the word itself, but that did not matter, because in a child’s imagination…all things are possible! Observation, careful observation is the key. Pony love and Pony care: The brushing and cleaning, riding and feeding would eventually become the best of teachers.
Ponies like Aardvarks however, have a very limited market … The interest is there but it is limited not only in the numbers of sculptures one can sell, but also by the price caps imposed on the bronze sculpture by the Sport’s Art Market… Deservedly or not, it is a reality that artists must deal with. (However, and make note of this: N.B. There are no price caps in fine art! )
It is possible however, to earn a living when sculpting horses but only if one can get into, one of the three specific circuits of the horse world. These are the Societies for Registered Arabians; Thoroughbreds on the flat track and the Western Cutting Horses. All three of these special categories, syndicate their stallions and sometimes their mares, for breeding. One of the perks of syndication is for each investor to receive a small bronze copy of the horse in which they have invested. In this way, a sculptor can sell twenty, thirty or perhaps fifty castings all at once and hope to make a little bit of profit.
Individual portraits are fine but they cost so much to produce in time and dollars that at the end of the commission, there is nothing left over and then, worst of all for the artist, nobody wants a portrait of someone else’s horse! They only want a portrait of their own horse! Working this way, the artist cannot sell more than one or possibly two bronze castings. This is also true for historical figures and war memorials, although there are some who have been able to sell small editions of their larger works. In order to get on board with one of these groups, the artists must be free to travel on the Horse Show Circuit, Racing and Rodeo circuits, in order to meet and schmooze with the owners of these horses. With two children in tow, the subject of horses, or historical figures was out of the question. The other subjects from which, one could hope to produce a living were those of the classics: Mothers; Babies; Kids; Ballet and Female Nudes. I chose dance.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 13
National Horse Show
November 1947 was the first year that Pony Classes for children would be included in the National Horse Show in New York. Anne-Dicky (Dickerson) Parish, a cousin of my mother’s, lived up in North Salem, New York and was as horse-crazy as was my Mum. Anne-Dicky owned a small chestnut red pony named Robin Red Breast and between the two Mums, they were determined to go to the National Show and too, that Robin Red Breast should be shown in the Small Pony Hunter Division. I suddenly found myself competing in the Nationals in New York City! What a hoot for a six year old. All my dreams scrambled up with magic, were now a reality. Formally dressed in English riding attire, I was delighted with the opportunity. There was so much to do to get ready for this big event.
Proper attire was very important. Somehow Mummy managed to outfit me very correctly, in high black, leather boots with patent leather tops, short-shank spurs, and the required boot straps which were to rest on the third button of my English styled, buff colored breeches! My clothes were pieced together from family and friends and some were purchased from second hand shops. A yellow wool vest was worn under a black Melton, fitted riding jacket. The costume was completed with a white linen stock, which swaddled my neck and was held in place with a plain gold colored safety pin. All children wore black velvet hunt caps secured to our head with wide elastic bands under our chins. There was a black grow grain ribbon on the back of the hunt cap which was placed upside down and sewn in place. This designated emblem stated one’s position in the hunt field, should one ever go out on a fox hunt!
The higher up members of the hunt, wore “ Pink “ riding coats. “ Pink” riding coats were called Pink, because they had been created especially for fox hunting attire, by a tailor in London whose last name just happened to be Pink…Hence the title of the Pink coats ever since! The hunt caps bore the same emblem but it was applied right side up. Lots of details like this were very important in formal riding dress. Two pairs of gloves were needed. Leather gloves made of pig skin, and only pig skin, were worn, under sunny conditions, because they made for a good grip on the leather reins, and kept them from slipping through your fingers. However, if it should happen to rain, well then, under the skirt of the saddle, would be tucked away, a pair of white string gloves which were to be used by the rider should he or she happen to encounter inclement weather. The pig skin gloves would be removed and stuffed into your pocket in your riding jacket and then the white string gloves were to be used because they were the best for holding on to wet and slippery, leather reins. The gloves were secured under the billets, below the billet guards of the saddle, which secured the girth to the saddle and thus on to the horse! They were folded up in such a way that exactly three fingers of the white string gloves would protrude out in front of the skirt of the saddle, so that the rider could grasp them easily should they be needed. All of these ridiculously petty “appointments” developed over time, becoming a foxhunt and horse show tradition and all of these things were needed to complete one’s attire for any formal occasion. Originally each item had a specific use. For example, in an emergency, the riding stock could be used as a bandage or perhaps a sling or tourniquet should the rider fall and break an arm or collarbone. Hungry? A sandwich case was attached to the seat of the saddle and contained a metal sandwich box and glass flask for something to drink. All bridle parts were sewn in. i.e. no buckles were allowed. (I Never did understand the reasoning behind this requirement) A leather breastplate for the pony must also be included, with a martingale. We had to carry a classic English hunting whip and be able to use it, by cracking the whip over your head while on board your pony! I practiced at home while standing up on a chair in the middle of the living room and I practiced a lot before I practiced this activity on my patient pony. Poor, poor pony if you missed! Wow! All of this attention to every detail and all in the correct sizes for a six year old! However did they manage it!
My Mum was my riding teacher. Together, we practiced jumping over stonewalls and green grass banks, while galloping over the prescribed zigzag courses, all in preparation for the jumping classes in New York. We practiced in noisy situations in an indoor riding arena too, with lots of bright lights, hoping to accustom Robin Red Breast to the strange sights and sounds of the city. I do not know how we fitted school and horse shows together but we did. I am quite sure though, that hooky had to be a part of it. Children’s Classes were to be held on Saturday and Sunday, November 8th and 9th.
With all of this hustle and bustle, we left home with many suitcases and headed for the Belvedere Hotel on Friday night. We got up at five a.m. and rushed over to Madison Square Garden to feed and water the pony. Down burlap covered ramps we bounded, to the Garden’s basement where Robin was stabled. She was cleaned and polished. Her mane and tail were braided for the occasion by Anne-Dickey’s stableman, Jordan. Then we were ready for the big day to begin. In between the pony classes, I had enough free time to visit with the Royal Canadian, Mounted Policemen and their horses that were also showing in the Garden. It was the first time I would see the splendid white Lipizzaner horses from The Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria. Colonel Alois Podjahsky, head of the Riding school, was kind enough to hoist me up onto his splendid white stallion and give me a ride around the Garden basement. That special time was one of the dreams that you keep for a lifetime.
A small orchestra was nestled above the western end of the horse show ring. Both the Canadian Mounty’s horses and the Lipizzaner stallions danced through their performances to live music. They were magnificent. Riding to music was a new concept for me. I immediately recognized that this is how life should always be. It should be with music! Hence forth and forever more, I declared to myself, and began to sing songs to my pony, confident that he would enjoy the music as much as I did. I was determined to teach my pony all of the tricks, which I had seen in the city, just as soon as I returned home.
Easy and I would continue to compete in the National Horse Show over the years until we went to college. The complex preparations for Horse Shows, and the competitions themselves, were some of the learning experiences, which become your own library from which to draw inspiration, later in life. The world of horses and ponies, teach love, responsibility, courage, understanding and the value and rewards of hard work.
By December of 1948, it was clear that Easy and I had out grown out little ponies. Our dear Grandmother managed to find two more ponies. “Fox-Trot” for me and “Mr. Chips” for Easy. Mummy started to teach neighborhood children how to ride, in order to help pay for the feed and hay for our ponies. They brought their friends and their ponies and all of a sudden there were lots of ponies and lots children on the Kelsey Farm. In addition to starting the riding school our Mum also started a day camp for us in the summer time. She also funded the Pegasus Project, which involves pony riding therapy for severely disabled children. The children’s camp, the riding school and Pegasus, are still active today and are being run by my twin sister Easy. Many ponies have lived in our lives, helping us to grow up and become responsible, productive citizens.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 14
Growing up in the Kelsey household was full of trials and tribulations, which is to say, that it was not easy! I remember our first trip to Florida. It was February in 1949. School was closed for the Winter Break. Easy and I were eight years old and really looking forward to seeing, real live alligators...giant tortoises and shrunken heads at "Ripley's believe it or Not."
This trip was an adventure right from the start. Almost as soon as we left the farm in Connecticut, “Car Games” began. The counting of horses and cows and dogs and cats was the challenge. At the same time, we started a second game of License Plates. First one to get all 48 states gets a free ice cream cone. No one ever got that ice cream cone, but that did not dampen our enthusiasm. Then, our father initiated one more game, a brand new one ..... which went something like this. Every time we crossed a state line, we were instructed to hold our breath. The consequences of not doing so would be ….. That whoever did not hold their breath would turn purple!
The trip progressed down Connecticut’s Merritt Parkway and across New York’s, George Washington Bridge and then onward through the smoke stacks of New Jersey. (Gas was $0.15 a gallon. The New Jersey Turnpike had not yet been built.) It was a bumpy ride cross country following Old Route One … South to Delaware, through Maryland, Washington D.C. … Virginia, and North Carolina. Now, new words were introduced into our vocabulary… Wonderful new words, full of magic and mystery. Words like: Burma Shave: Pralines: Guava Jelly: Spanish moss, Stuckey’s and Souvenirs. We drove past emerald fields of winter wheat and dried brown fields where the soft white cotton had been harvested earlier in the year. Marvelous roadside signs appeared on both sides of the road, warning tourists, that Pedro’s Hacienda was coming up soon! One sign actually had a real car attached to it, about thirty feet up in the air and another sign announced that all of Pedro’s Rooms were “heir” conditioned! (That’s H E I R and not A I R ! ) Daddy had a hard time explaining that one. Suddenly….. ‘O….. There it is! It's Pedro’s!” All shining so brightly….and alive with the colors of Mexico with striped serapes ... striped in red, yellow, green and orange all coupled with an unimaginably huge, straw sombrero. Wow! It was all so exciting! .... But we did not stop. We Roared past Pedro’s at 50 miles an hour… And then….. There was one more sign that said: “ Ooooops ... You missed it! Keep yelling kids! They will give in!”
By this time, of course, we had crossed over the state line between North and South Carolina. There was much chatter and speculation about Pedro and his lifestyle. In the meantime, the miles slipped quietly by. Suddenly, Easy piped up from the back seat and proudly announced: “I did not hold my breath back there and I did not turn purple!” Not to be out done, I too announced that I did not hold my breath either and that I too was not purple. (Twins do this sort of thing you know.) A long silence followed this pronouncement. Then I remember our father saying to our mother: “Elise … Take a look in the rear view mirror…… Do you notice ….. anything … unusual?” Mummy leaned forward in her seat and peered deeply into the mirror. “Oh! … I see what you mean.” “It’s funny,” said Daddy, “I don’t think I have ever seen a purple child before. They really are quite rare you know ….. and to think! Now we have two of them!" " I am not purple,” Easy protested.“ Neither am I”, said I…. “I am looking at myself right now and I am definitely not purple!” “Well” said our father ... very thoughtfully, “I believe I read somewhere, that purple children have purple eyes, and that they are quite incapable of seeing that their owners are purple!” Now that was a very confusing statement! What ever could it mean?
With that, Easy and I shrunk ourselves deeply into the back seat of the Jeep in utter despair. Tears began to trickle down our cheeks... and a loud weeping and uncontrollable whaling soon followed. We were in a word: Inconsolable! So there you have it! There was really nothing else to do … but to turn the Jeep around and head North ….. Re-tracing the past twenty miles … Crossing over the state line going North … so that we could cross it again … going South … and in doing so …. return to our virgin state of being un-purple! (It was at this particular point in time that we first began to realize the incredible power we children held over our parents! This power once discovered, was held onto for as long as possible. And yet …. No matter how many trials and tribulations we created for Mummy and Daddy, they turned out to be great parents anyway.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 15
The Greenwich Academy… for one year
We were bussed down town to the Julian Curtiss School for third; fourth; and fifth grades by John Purdy, our next-door neighbor who drove a Laidlaw Bus for the town of Greenwich. John Purdy and his wife had thirteen children so there was never a shortage of playmates in the back-country! As I remember, all of the Purdy children had a special talent for singing especially Rosemary, Peggy and Ruth. Their brother, PFC Louis James Purdy gave his life for our country in Vietnam, in 1967 and I want to remember him here. In the sixth grade, we changed schools once again, this time, to attend The North Street School for grades, six, seven, and eight. By this time, the town of Greenwich was growing fast. I was eleven years old, when the town was deemed big enough for it to be included on the road maps, given away for free, at the local Esso Gas Station! This event was of course, a great cause for celebration! “Map Parties” were held all over town … Any excuse would do for a party in Greenwich Connecticut!
By the time Easy and I graduated from the North Street School in eighth grade, we were well prepared for life. Public school education for us was wonderful. I think we could have survived quite well, because the foundation provided to us was broad based, basic and sound. Every student, and I do mean every student, in our classes, was proficient in English, Math, and basic American History and Science by the time they graduated, even though, there were many in our class from very low incomes and several who, when they joined our class, spoke no English at all. We were also given a good education in music and art and sports. We loved our teachers who had given to us the building blocks on which to stand and build our own futures.
There are many events that shape one’s career. Ninth grade was one of them. Because our parents did not approve of co-education in the upper grades, the decision was made to send us to a private school in the fall of 1956, for the ninth grade. We were sent to the Greenwich Academy, a private day school for girls, carefully fashioned after traditional preparatory schools in England. Although The Brunswick School for boys was only a few blocks away, we rarely crossed paths. The administrations of both schools saw to that, excepting perhaps for a holiday dance, and then, only if you were lucky enough to be invited.
Our Uniforms were … and there is no other word to use here, excepting the word, ”Ugly!” Tan men’s, button down shirts, worn with swamp green, men’s ties which looked just lovely under shapeless, heavy green wool suits, finished off, of course, with brown leather buttons. Tan cotton knee socks, which were always falling down around our ankles, were worn with lace-up leather oxford shoes. To complete the picture … no jewelry or make up of any kind whatsoever was allowed. By God we were an attractive bunch!
The Academy was an excellent school however, and was intent on preparing its’ students for the Ivy League Colleges ... and this they did! The courses were rigorous and so were our schedules. We were up by six, every morning to feed and water the ponies before leaving for school. Our first class was at 8:30 am. The last class ended at 4:10 and then it was home to exercise the horses, do stable work, followed by dinner and home work until ten or eleven each night. The classes were small and our teachers, outstanding. In addition to Geometry, and Greek Mythology, we studied English, French, Latin and Current Events, Music, Art, Field Hockey, Modern Dance and Mensendieck!
The class called Mensendieck was a real kicker and obligatory for all students: No exceptions. All of our clothing was removed, excepting for our underpants. We marched around a gray rugged room, barefooted. Mirrors lined all four walls so that we could see ourselves, while our teacher Mrs. Jerik, corrected our posture. Silhouetted photographs were taken once a year and presented to our parents, so they might see the improvements from year to year. O’ the embarrassment of it all! When not teaching this class, Mrs. Jerik roamed around the school with her pointer, tapping us on whatever part was closest, reminding us, to stand up straight.
Chorus Conductor/composer, Louie White traveled once a week from New York City. He transformed our school into one huge chorus, which culminated in a magnificent Christmas performance, held in the Old Stone, Second Congregational Church on the corner of Maple Avenue and the Post Road. I was one happy camper at the Academy, especially because of the Music, Art, and Modern Dance classes that were taught by our beloved Mrs. Pethic and Madeline O’Neil. It was an auspicious beginning at the Greenwich Academy. Not for long, however …. our Ninth Grade year ended up being a tough one, and I mean… a really tough one ... you never know when life will throw you a curve ball.
Everything went along quite well for both of us until early in the month of February 1957, when my sister was invited to go horseback riding with her classmates at the Round Hill Stables. Easy was a very competent rider, so the Head of the Riding School, Teddy Wahl, asked her if she would like to tryout one of the new ponies in his stable. The class “moved off ” on a cross country ride, over field and stream, galloping through the Round Hill Woods when suddenly the lead horse pulled up short and the horses behind my sister, bunched up on my sister’s pony, forcing her pony into the back end of the lead horse, which did not in the least, like being shoved in this manner. Easy tried to turn her pony to the side to avoid the crush of the ponies behind her but the lead horse, shod with steel shoes, kicked out behind him, cracking into my sister’s leg just below the knee, resulting in multiple compound fractures. The leg was held in place solely by the stirrup and the fabric of the heavy English breeches which Easy was wearing that day. I don’t know how she stayed conscious, but she did and somehow managed to ride for forty minutes back to the stable on her pony. She was lifted off of the pony and taken immediately to the Greenwich Hospital’s Emergency Room.
The injuries were severe. The knitting together of the many fractured pieces was a slow and painful process. Gangrene had set in, and more than once I overheard discussions regarding the possibility of amputation. The outcome was in jeopardy for three or four months as I remember ….. It was touch and go. She came very close to losing her leg that spring. Easy missed most of the second half of her 9th grade year at the Academy, most of which was spent in hospital or therapy sessions. Thankfully, by the end of the school year, the fears of amputation had lessened. She would need to be watched closely for any returning signs of Gangrene and would need many months of physical therapy in order to hopefully recover with full function.
Mummy and Daddy could see that they would be needed to manage her medical care for the next year.... and so it was then decided, that this could be best accomplished, if I was placed in a boarding school. That way, they could give Easy their full attention. The upshot was that I was sent to my mother’s Alma Matter, the Garrison Forest School in Garrison, Maryland.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 16
The Garrison Forest School and Dr. Schlogen!
Although The Garrison Forest School was already in session, Headmistresses, Jean Marshall and Nancy Offutt were kind enough to grant a late acceptance and a scholarship to me in September of 1957. New uniforms were ordered, and Mummy and Daddy delivered me in person. Mummy cried. I settled in with my new roommates, Timmie Scott and Becky Morgan. Remarkably, the friendships developed in boarding school, stay with you for a lifetime. Our fiftieth Reunion happened in 2010. Our class gathered together once more on campus and there, we picked up our friendships again, just as though no time had passed at all.
Looking back, my year at Garrison was exciting and wonderful because our teachers were crackerjacks: each and every one of them! We were introduced to binary numbers and computers with our math wizard, Miss. Barbara Porter. I didn’t understand any of that stuff, but Boy-o-Boy, Mary-Deas Boykin sure did! She sparkled in that class. Remember, this was way back in 1957. Bravo and Hooray for Garrison for keeping us up-to-date on the digital world to come. I Studied Latin, French, English, Vocabulary, Math, Music, Art, Dance, Field Hockey and Horseback Riding. Best of all, any unused tickets to the Baltimore Symphony and The Lyric Theater were given to anyone who wanted to go ... and I wanted to go!
I heard my first performance of Puccini’s “ Madam Butterfly, ” and was steeped in the notes of Bach and Mozart with the Baltimore Symphony. I learned to cherish Shakespeare because of Miss Donaho, and was introduced to Art History and Sculpture with Margaret Rice. Mrs. Van taught us Latin providing a foundation for English and composition and Penny Delafield taught us French. I could not understand a word of French, but by golly I could pronounce it properly! Every day at Garrison offered new challenges. It opened unexpected doors, giving us a glimpse, into the possibilities for our futures.
After a long and busy day, and after dinner, students would repair to the library or study hall to complete their homework assignments. If you finished early, you were allowed to go next door to the adjoining art studio, to work on whatever project you wished. Plasticine, an oil based clay that never gets hard and can be used again and again, was provided to anyone who wanted to work with the stuff. I started off making a horse of course: my most favorite subject.
One day, our art teacher, Margaret Rice said, “Sterett, You are always drawing horses, horses, horses, horses! How about something different this time Dear? I have an armature for a figure. Would you like to give it a try?” “Yes, Please,” I replied! At this very moment, my career in sculpture began, although I did not know it at the time. Right away I connected with the clay and started to build a male figure, about 16 inches high. This male figure however, upset the headmistresses who suggested that it might be more appropriate, if I made a female figure, since I was in an all girls’ school. Miss Marshall said, “Please Dear, make a female figure instead,” in a tone that indicated that I had absolutely no choice whatsoever. However, since I was a fairly co-operative little rascal and anxious to please in those days, I said “Sure. Ok. Why not?”
I started to work again, transforming the male figure into a female figure using the very same armature. Sculpture for me was immediately addictive. So every spare moment, you would find me in the Wendy Smith Art Room, working away, on my now, “female figure.” The problem arose with this new work of fine art, when I started to work on it in the evenings after study hall. The problem was this. All the closets were locked up for the night by the school’s janitors so that here was no place to put away your tools. It was not, of course, a problem for me however, because plasticine is always soft and malleable. My solution was to very carefully stick the knife in the top of the head of the female figure. Very …. Very carefully of course, so as not to disturb the design of her hairdo. This seemed a simple and satisfactory solution, until Dr. Schlogen, the School’s psychiatrist, happened to walk into the art room and spied the sculpture. Right away, he alerted the head mistresses that I was clearly, a disturbed individual and was thinking of, or perhaps planning to kill myself, or worse ... someone else! Everything was kept hush, hush. No one ever asked me why the knife was stuck in the top of the head of my sculpture. (To me, it was a very reasonable place for the knife to be. I mean, if one wanted to be horrible, just think of all the places one could stick a knife! Anyway, no one ever mentioned it to me.) The next thing I knew, I was in Dr. Schlogen’s office, taking Rorschach’s inkblot tests. After the test was administered, Schlogen declared: “I think we can conclude that you are highly imaginative.” No other comments were made. Shortly thereafter, I was asked to finish up the final two weeks of school and not to return. This was very confusing ... I had worked hard ...had good grades and had assumed that I would be attending Garrison for the next two years. Besides that …I had been so happy there!
In the meantime, Miss Rice asked me if I had ever thought of going to Art School. I replied “No. Not really, I am going to be a Doctor” “Well, she said, “If ever you do, remember the name of “The Rhode Island School of Design. It is the finest school in the nation for fine art.” This was the first time anyone had ever suggested to me that I should think about art school. In tenth grade, I did not really think much about anything except ponies and horses. With the heavy workload, I was much too busy to think ..... The word “college” had not yet entered my vocabulary or my mind!
And so came the end of the year.... I am home again, being outfitted with another new, blue, school uniform. ....and I am now a Day Scholar at the Rosemary Hall School in Greenwich, Connecticut.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 17
The Rosemary Hall School
While attending Rosemary Hall, my intent was to head for medical school and all that I imagined that it would be, partly due to a keen interest in Veterinary Medicine with Dr. Wallace Vail who cared for our ponies and the happy hours I had spent with Dr. Robert Riggins the summer of 1957. What happened at Garrison, was put out of my mind as I was too busy to think much about why I had been asked to leave the school. Mummy and Daddy mentioned something about “not being able to afford it.” That seemed to be a satisfactory answer at the time. It was not until I was in my thirties that my Grandmother told me why I had been asked to leave Garrison. I think that Dr. Schlogen must have scared the you- know-what out of my poor parents! Was there any more to this tale? I don’t know of course, because the subject was never again mentioned … by anyone.
So now, September 1958, I am back home once again, and not quite sure of why I was sent to Rosemary Hall. But this is how it was explained to me. It had been recommended to my parents ( I never knew by whom) that twins should never go to the same school and that comparisons would inevitably be drawn between the two and this was to be avoided at all costs. It was thought that in separate schools, there would not be any temptation to compare one twin with the other.
By the end of her tenth grade, my sister’s leg had finally mended and successful therapy had her back in the saddle and once again she could attend The Greenwich Academy with her classmates. Amazingly, Instead of repeating the ninth grade, she carried a double load of all her ninth and tenth grade courses at once, so that she could remain with, and graduate with, her class in June of 1960. This must have been an incredibly difficult thing for her to do, but she did it and hung in there to the bitter end. She graduated with her class and went on to attend The Briar Cliff College in Briarcliff Manor, New York and then on to Columbia University where she graduated with a Teaching Degree.
Rosemary Hall turned out to be a wonderful experience too. The workload was awesome but somehow Music Appreciation with Joan Lundy and Art with Julius Delbos were slipped into our schedules anyway. At the end of every school year, the entire student body had the extraordinary privilege of performing in Shakespeare’s Plays in the School’s outdoor amphitheater. These were massive productions. Even now, I can still see my friend Jane Fillastre, strumming her lute by the stream, tripping and falling into the water onto her belly. She never missed a note and kept right on playing and singing while stuck in the muck! In my junior year, because I was a day student, I also had time to take a year of Ballet classes with teacher/choreographer, Felicity Foote at the Greenwich Ballet Work Shop. There, we were trained in the strict, classical traditions of The Russian Ballet. The lessons learned there would become the foundation for my dance sculptures in the coming years.
The last year of high school was tough going. The reality of getting into a college hung over our heads. My summer with Bobby Riggins, still had a powerful influence on me and medical school is where I was headed. I had heard that Columbia School of Physicians and Surgeons in New York had an accelerated program that would let one go directly to medical school from High School and in effect, you would graduate from both The University and Medical School at the same time. I decided that this program was made for me. Of course this route would be tough, but I thought that it could be done. I was determined to try. I called the school in October of my senior year and made an appointment for an interview in New York City. I was feeling very grown up taking a train to the city alone and then a taxi to the interview uptown. I was told, almost as soon as I walked in the door, that “You are quite attractive Miss Kelsey and will most likely get married and have children, and such candidates are a waste of our time and resources. Go home Miss Kelsey and be a nurse. Here is a brochure for the Hartford School of Surgical Nursing. They will take you down there ....Next!” And that was the end of the interview!
This interview caused my thinking to change course. Maybe music and maybe art? What to do? Now at the same time, both my twin sister and I had been invited to participate in the “ Gladstone” (New Jersey) try outs for U.S. Olympic, Equestrian Jumping Team. We were good riders but not nearly that good. Neither one of us were really qualified but it was nice to have been asked. The Horse option, of course, just added to the confusion of what to do.
I applied to the Peabody School of Music, in Baltimore, The Rhode Island School of Design and the Hartford School of Surgical Nursing and was accepted by all three. O’ What to do? Confronted by both parents, I was told to make up my mind, on the spot and stick to my decision for at least two years. What to do? What to do? Well, I did not know what to do. But there was something that I did know and want, and that was, that I liked and wanted boys! Of that, I was certain.
I thought they were terrific and I was absolutely sure, that where ever I was sent, I would flatly refuse to go to another all girls’ school. So that decision immediately crossed out nursing school! The student bodies in nursing schools at that time were comprised of all females. I panicked over music school because I am dyslexic and could not read a note of music and was sure I would fail. That left Art School ….RISD ... I stammered. “ I will go to RISD.”
Thank goodness for Miss Rice’s words about art school and the Rhode Island School of Design because it was RISD that quelled the crisis. If you are accepted at RISD, you are automatically accepted at Brown University and can take whatever courses you want to at Brown as long as you can fit it into your schedule. What was Art School all about? What was I going to do with my life? I didn’t have a clue, but at least there were boys in the neighborhood and Mummy and Daddy were greatly relieved not to have their daughters, globe-trotting about the earth with strange men and their horses!
In the fall of 1959, Hello RISD! I accepted RISD’s early decision offer and absolutely loved the college and college life. RISD accepts you “As you are.” You have only to be yourself. There is no criticism of the individual, only of the work produced. The student body was made up of many different kinds of people, of every race, creed, color and sexual orientation. I was very grateful for my public school education, which allowed both my sister and me to fit into whatever environment we might find ourselves. (In this regard, I think my parents were quite shocked with their success.)
In the first year at RISD you take lots of survey courses and at the end of the year, you select your major course of study. Daddy told me to sign up for Illustration, just in case I might have to support myself one day. (Now that was a thought that never crossed my mind!) It was made clear to us children that we were to grow up to be a good marriage partner for our husbands and that no matter what situation you might find yourself in, that you could and would be a strong supporting partner. ) In those days you did what your father told you to do! So dutifully, I signed up for illustration at the end of my freshman year. It was here that the angels intervened... In September 1961, I found myself placed in RISD's sculpture program due to a clerical error. So much for good planning! Anyway, Sculpture stuck like a Band-Aid, and my career as a sculptor was underway.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 18
In November 1960, Mummy and Daddy were enroute to Williams College for Alumni Weekend and stopped by to see how I was doing in my new life in Providence. I remember Mum was all dressed up in a purple wool suit, beautifully tailored and looking absolutely gorgeous. The purple suit was chosen especially for that weekend. Mummy was sporting the Williams College colors when I was taking them on a brief tour of the campus. Daddy paused and said “Golly Sweetheart, there sure are an awful lot of men around here in the middle of the week. Where are they coming from? Wow! Almost three months at RISD before Daddy found out that RISD was co-ed! By this time I was thoroughly ensconced in my new surroundings, and from that moment on, I had Mummy and Daddy’s support.
As freshmen, all of us carried eight courses each semester: Art History, Creative Writing, Two Dimensional Design, Three Dimensional Design, Lettering, Life Drawing, Anatomy and Nature Drawing. For the first time in my life I had no one to answer to …only to myself alone. I could set my own schedule and fit into it, as many visits to Brown University as I could. I took Comparative Religion up there and sang in a church choir on campus, early each morning. Choir members were paid $1.00 to sing which put some spending money in our pockets. Choir singing also offered one, a chance to meet Boys. Life was great!
The Freshman Foundation courses at RISD introduce you to the many different fields in the arts. In addition to the survey courses, dance, theater, and music courses were offered, and yes, all of Brown University as well! Just as important, you met students from all over the country with differing ideas and opinions on education, art and politics. Excellent discussions on every possible subject happened daily in the dorms, in the classrooms, in coffee shops and on street corners. The RISD education sought to teach students, how to teach themselves and how to get themselves out of a rut should they happened to find themselves in one! We were exposed to all forms of Art, both contemporary and classical. Then we were encouraged to define our own ideas of what Art should be. Class discussions and criticisms of ones’ work were unceasing and intense. That sort of thing toughened us up for the real world to come and it forced us to defend our work and believe in ourselves.
At this point, I must say that one cannot underestimate the contributions of our faithful RISD models. Ulla was a gentle soul, with Renoir Hair, whose fair skin was strewn with a multitude of happy freckles. And then there was Trula, who lived in an old, dark gray coup, which was parked just outside of the school and packed to the gills with her “what-not.” Trula would bring all of her “what-not” to class and either knitted or crocheted her way through the hours. Trula, was shaped like a pyramid. She would peer through her half-inch thick spectacles, while chatting with the students, and sharing her knowledge of just how to make use of these “What-nots.” Jackie, big and dark and beautiful, looked like a living Gaston La Chaise and of course there was Johnnie. Johnnie was an antique, who owned one position only. You would always see Johnnie standing firmly on both feet, supporting himself with a wooden staff. Each and every muscle could be seen through his taught, transparent skin. You could learn a lot from Johnnie. Beautiful Jenny Bornstein modeled for many years at RISD and is well known among the RISD Alumni. Sometimes, Jenny would take over the class for Mr. Macumber who was elderly, portly and sometimes too tired to teach. Jenny would walk barefooted, with only a bit of soft silk wrapped around her, from one student to the next, handing down her “crits” whenever she thought they were needed. When I knew Jenny, she was well into her seventies. Oh yes … How could I forget Carl Markowitz? He was most extraordinary! No one would ever forget Carl Markowitz. Carl took his work very seriously and invested himself heavily into the study of the Contra-Posta positioning of the figure. It was rumored that Carl had published two books on the subject of the artist’s model. The first book was titled: “Modeling is a Lost Art“ The second book was titled: “Modeling is Not a Lost Art.” I never saw these photographic essays, although I did see many photographs of Carl himself at work! Whether true or not, Carl was a great model! Lastly, there was Charlie and his wife, who worked together as a team, teaching us how to work with related figures on the page. When they were not modeling, they ran a nudist camp, somewhere up in the northern part of the state.
John Mazur’s Anatomy class was intense. We learned the figure ... inside and out. Full figure drawings of real skeletons from every view were assigned and drawings of the muscle structures of every part of the anatomy.
The final examination was frightening. We were not advised in advanced as to what the exam would be, but of course we assumed, that it would be on anatomy. In fact it was. However ….the model arrived and sat down in a rather twisted position on her chair. The assignment: To draw the entire figure from the opposite point of view from where you were seated! First, we had to draw the figure with a skeleton inside. Then we had to draw the figure with all the musculature included. All of this was done based on one’s knowledge and imagination of the figure from the opposite point of view. This sort of discipline is why you received such a good education at RISD.
The next three years were devoted to sculpture, the figure, and forms in space, mold making, and bronze casting. Yes! We were going to cast our very own sculptures into bronze! However 1962, RISD had no casting facilities. Before we could do this, we would have to build our own furnace, in order to melt the bronze. The new foundry was relegated to a filthy little stone room in the bottom of Benson Hall. It took several weeks to build under the expert care of sculptor and foundry master, Thomas Morin. At last we were ready to cast the first bronzes ever to be made at RISD. We were so proud of ourselves and so very excited about demonstrating the casting process to several very well dressed, members of RISD’s, Board of Directors who had gathered to see the first pouring. The fires were lighted, the furnace roared. The crucibles were heated and ingots of bronze were carefully dropped into place with long handled tongs. Wow what a day! We were making history! The new process was underway. Fires licked the sides of the crucible and you could see the bronze ingots begin to puddle. And then…Well….then it happened. All hell broke loose. The heat set off the sprinkling systems. The old pipes burst, spewing black soot and rusted water in all directions. When the water hit the molten bronze, it exploded into steam. There stood our beautiful board of directors, covered in black soot and slime. It was back to the drawing boards and several more weeks before we had the furnaces back in operation. In the late spring of 1962, we were at last, able to cast our very own sculptures in bronze! What an extraordinary challenge and accomplishment. I was hooked on bronze from that moment on. Graduation took place in June of 1964.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 19
The Bombing of Pan Am’s Flight #103
Lockerbie is a little town in the Dumfries and Galloway region of Southwestern Scotland. On December 21, 1988 Pan American’s Flight #103 was blow up by Islamic extremists, killing all on board and eleven more on the ground. A total of 270 fatalities. My neighbor, Bob Pagnucco of South Salem, New York was among the victims of this tragedy. This incident touched me deeply. I was outraged at the loss of life. It brought home for the first time, a true understanding and recognition of the debt we owe our military. At the same time, my heart went out to the families of those who lost family members in their own home village of Lockerbie. I wanted them to know, that we cared as much for their losses, as we did for our own. This terrible event inspired me to build a small angel in bronze for their memorial garden. I named the little Angel “Joy,” because I wanted to celebrate the lives of those lost, not their deaths. “Joy” was shipped quietly to Lockerbie as a gift from our country to their country. Very quietly, with no fanfare, just hoping, one on one, to bring a bit of comfort to the town.
Fast forward to: One day in the spring of 2008, a man named Kent Sterett from York, Pennsylvania, Googled himself, to discover that there are 110…one R’d Steretts in the United States! Kent is a volunteer with the Sterett Association: a citizen support group for Navy personnel onboard the U.S.S. Sterett: a DDG-104 Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer. Kent was in search of as many descendants of the Sterett family as possible, in order to
invite them to attend the commissioning of the newest U.S.S. Sterett. She would be the fourth ship named in honor of American Hero, Andrew Sterett who served during the Quasi-War and Barbary Wars.
It was during his search for one R’d Steretts, that Kent happened upon my website and discovered the sculpture titled: “Joy,” the Lockerbie Angel. He then contacted me and commissioned a copy to be permanently installed on board the U.S.S. Sterett for her commissioning in Baltimore Harbor on August 9, 2008. The Steretts are direct descendants of my family on my mother’s side, who come from Baltimore, Maryland, so I was delighted and honored to receive the commission, which was sponsored by the Navy League of the United States. I also wrote a short poem for the occasion titled: “Love Letter from Home.” The poem, engraved on a small brass plaque, was also installed on board the U.S.S. Sterett.
Love Letter from Home:
Dearest One, I’m counting on you. Keep the Light of Liberty bright. i so appreciate what you are doing for me. I miss you Sweetheart, You make the Sun shine. I am with you now,... Every step of the way, Keeping you close, In my thoughts ..... In my prayers. Cherished above all, You are precious to me. Come home safely.... Come home soon.... All my love,
The weather was perfect and thousands of people showed up for the commissioning ceremonies. When attending such an event, you become intensely aware of our own countrymen, serving on board the Sterett, dedicating their lives to protecting you and your country. This knowledge, up close and personal, is awe-inspiring and emotional.
Someone said to me that day, that “Joy “ was the only Guardian Angel in the military. I do not know if this is true or not, but it started a new kind of thinking, somewhere in the back of my mind that day. I remember saying to myself. “ Mmmmm… I guess she has more work to do!” I wasn’t sure of course, just what that work would be. It was merely, a seed of an idea for a Someday, or Sometime, One day, or Maybe?
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 20
Senator Bob Dole Inspires The Freedom Angel
In 2008, I heard Bob Dole announce on television that our troops are being short changed! That made me mad… and then…. it made me curious! Why are our Vets being shortchanged? There are foundations all over the country, which exist to serve our Vets. So what’s the problem? I decided to find out. I called several of the big foundations and sure enough… Every one of them stated that their biggest problem was that they did not have enough money! The little voice inside my head started telling me that: “This is your own damn fault and that you are doing something wrong and I am gonna find out what it is.”
Why don’t they have enough money? You would think that we would have had enough practice by now, getting this problem solved. I mean after: World War I: World War II: The Korean War: Viet Nam: Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, you would think by now, that there would be one huge, national organization to take care of all our Vets needs, but it seems there is not. Something must be wrong. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I was determined to find out why there is a shortage of dollars and a shortage of appropriate care. Every day I see ads on TV asking for support …Presumably they are spending millions of dollars in order to raise millions of dollars. Clearly it is not working very well, or at least not as well as it should be, because the ads are still running and they never have enough money. The problem is growing and the ads continue.
From my point of view, the military is the most important organization in America. Our safety and strength lies in their hands. It is our military that makes the life we know and enjoy, possible. The care of our Vets should be our most cherished undertaking, and a national priority. It seems that it is not. Why? Why is it not? We have magnificent, hardworking charitable organizations out there doing wonderful work and still they do not have enough support? Why? What could it be? There must be a reason. Whatever could it be?
Research began. One of the first things I discovered is that most of the people who donate to our Veteran's organizations are at least, tangentially related to the military. So what's wrong with the rest of the country? Clearly they are not being reached! WHY?
I started thinking that there must be a less expensive, more efficient way of raising dollars. This project needs to be moved to a front burner. There must be a way of getting each and every one of us, to know, that we the people, are a vital and important part of the American team and that it is our personal responsibility and individual support which is essential to keeping our country strong and free. Every one, and I do mean the whole country, should be chipping in.
It was then that I noticed that there is no unifying emblem or insignia for America’s Heroes and that the insignias for the various branches of the military which do exist, are widely recognized but are not very marketable. By this I mean, now, think about this for yourself…How many Red Crosses do you have in your home? How many Wounded Warrior emblems? Do you give a Wounded Warrior emblem for a gift or wedding present? I don’t think so. Do you collect USO stickers, Eagles, Anchors or American Flags? These things are marketable to some degree but they are not highly marketable or widely collected.
“What we need to do is create a way which is convenient and affordable for the rest of the country to chip in.”
Now… I am thinking out loud: “USO stickers, Eagles, Anchors, Flags! Perhaps you have one on a key chain or a sticker on your car, but there is a limit to Eagles, Anchors and Flags. However… There are no limits on Angels. WOW! There are no limits on Angels! Angels are perhaps the most collectible critter ever collected! People all over the world have personal relationships with Angels in one form or another. Angels can go anywhere and be slapped on anything from a motorcycle to a bar of soap! WOWZER!” Then I began to think of all the places an Angel could go. I mean, Angels are dumb that they can go anywhere.
“Toys, sheets and towels, jewelry, dishes and coffee mugs, cereal boxes and cans of soup. License Plates, the back side of M&Ms, postage stamps or perhaps a Freedom Angel costume for Halloween. (Just think of it...Little Freedom Angels running all over the place!) Virtually anything that is for sale: Detergents, brooms and clothing- tags, check books, even buckets of paint or motor oil. Any surface that can hold a printed logo… The product lines are virtually unlimited! WOWZER twice! Angels can go anywhere!”
If we follow this line of thinking, we can actually "EARN" our donations by increasing the sales of those products which bare the Freedom Angel's name or image. Yeah... That’s it…that is the solution…Good old fashioned capitalism instead of charity can get the job done.
So how did I get from this brilliant flash of enlightenment to the Freedom Angel? Well… In 1988 I had quietly created, a little bronze angel named “Joy” for the Memorial Garden in Lockerbie, Scotland, after Islamic terrorists blew up Pan American’s Flight # 103 over this tiny town. My neighbor, Bob Pagnucco was killed in that incident. “Joy” was created to celebrate life and to let the people of Lockerbie know that we cared for their losses as much as we did for our own.
Years passed by and then, because of the miracle of the internet revolution, this same little angel was commissioned by the Sterett Association and sponsored by the Navy League of the United States to serve on board the U.S.S. Sterett (a DDG-104 Arleigh Burke-class Destroyer) as a guardian Angel for all those who sail the seas. “Joy” was permanently installed on board for the Sterett’s Commissioning in Baltimore, on August 9, 2008.
“What would happen if I enlarged this little angel and called her The Freedom Angel? Could she become a unifying national emblem for America’s Heroes? Could an Angel, bring our country together to get the job done?” The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me. “Angels are adorable, collectible, and highly marketable. Maybe an Angel could become our national insignia for all our Veterans. Well maybe. I mean, could An Angel for Our Soldiers pull off, what has yet to be done on behalf of America’s Vets?”
I could see her in my mind’s eye: The Freedom Angel: a new national monument: a new global power brand; thirty feet high which would be dedicated to America and to the Men and Women who protect her. It sounded like a really good idea to me but I had no clue as to how I was going to make it happen. Clearly, I could not do it alone, as I am strictly a clay-pusher and not a businessman. My first naive thought was to give the new Freedom Angel Monument as a gift to the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C., so that they could rebuild the entire hospital complex without raising taxes.
At that very moment, I thought that this was a swell idea…It was not. Undaunted, and untutored, I looked up Walter Reed’s telephone number on my computer. My initial call was politely but firmly rejected. I went back to the website and scrolled down a bit further, until I came to the category of “Chaplain.” “I mean those guys are paid to listen to you. Maybe this route will work. Right?” I reasoned. “Right!” Bingo! I was lucky enough to connect up with Col. Charles Howell, who was kind enough to listen to my ideas. “I would like to meet with the head of Walter Reed please. Can you arrange this for me?” “Sure I can. Come on down to Washington. Colonel Steven Jones will be waiting for you. Major General Erick Schoomaker is out of the country just now, but Colonel Steven Jones holds the second position down here. I will make the arrangements with him for you.” And he did!
I packed up my pick-up truck and headed for D.C. and drove right up to the front of the main building where sure enough, a large parking place was reserved just for me and my truck. Suddenly I was feeling very small and rather sheepish. The main building at Walter Reed was big and incredibly, impressive. This military geography was a big change from my country home in Roxbury, Connecticut.
I was ushered into Colonel Jones’ office by secretary, Samantha Benson. Colonel Jones, tall and extremely good looking, stood up from behind his desk, extended his hand and said, “Welcome. This is exactly what we have been hoping and praying for. Sit down and tell me all about it.” He listened intently and then said, “Yes, this is exactly what we need but I am afraid that there are some regulations which will block this plan. You see, there is a division between the civilian world and that of the military. The only thing the military can do is to spend the money that has been allocated to them by congress through the raising of taxes. We are very good at that. However, we cannot raise money for the new Hospital nor can we sell anything to raise the money. We cannot market or endorse anything either. That is the law. So even though this is a great idea, I am not sure that we can use it. But first, let’s see if there is a route around these regulations. If possible, I want to use this idea.”
Colonel Jones called in three JAG (Judge Advocate General) Lawyers to the conference. This group was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Katherine Park, Deputy Commander of JAG. Their first pronouncement regarding the angel was this. “You will be pleased to know that she is not a conflict between church and state. She is simply a pop-culture item, nothing more. The second is that we want her, and too, that this would be illegal because of regulations.” The four of them went round and round but decided that there was no back door for this fundraising project that I had cooked up.
“Let’s send her down to meet with Chief of Staff; Steven Redman at the Pentagon. Maybe he has a way for us to take on this project.” So it was off to the Pentagon to meet with Steven Redman. He too wanted to make use of the Angel and similarly, he too called in three JAG lawyers. The three lawyers also confirmed that the Freedom Angel is not a conflict between church and state and is merely a pop-culture item. This re-confirmed information was good to hear and would give to me the bit of courage I would need to continue on with this quest. “We will let you know our decision in about a month. This is something we would like to do but we are not sure how or if, we can implement it. It is possible, that you will have to start a non-profit organization yourself, in order to accomplish your goals.” A month later I was notified by Steven Redman that “ The project was simply not possible because of Army regulations but not to give up and to start up a 501(C ) ( 3 ) non-profit organization on your own. Your country needs this one!”
“OK,” said I to me…... “What’s a 501(c) (3)? I mean, how hard can that be?” I was about to find out.
Home again, I went to visit my neighbors, David and Jacque Lincicome to tell them about my idea and my recent adventures in Washington. David is a lawyer who knows a whole lot about everything. My first question to him was: “What’s a 501(c)( 3) ?” “Good grief Sterett” said David. “Do you have any idea at all of what you are getting into?” Well, no! Of course I didn’t! I mean for example, did you know that non-profits are corporations? Well I didn’t. “Clueless” over here actually thought I could make something like this work!
“Actually, we think this is a good idea and we are ready to help you, but first, we have to do some homework…. …What is our mission? We must clearly state our mission and develop a website which tells all about us, our mission and our goals. We need to do some solid research and find out exactly which needs are not being met and how best to service those unmet needs and insure that the appropriate care actually reaches the individuals who need our help. We need a business plan to execute our mission and we need a Board of Directors and a Board of Advisors. The most important thing we need to do is to make sure that accountability is our corner stone. If we do this Sterett…. we are going to do it right!”
And so began, the beginning of the Freedom Angel Foundation, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit, hoping to better serve our country. This is how we began. The Freedom Angel started with a small group of friends and neighbors. Wonderful people, who volunteered to come aboard, to guide and direct our efforts.
Hooray! It’s Official! On July 16, 2010, the Freedom Angel Foundation was granted a 501(c)(3) Status! The game is afoot and the adventure begins! www.FreedomAngelFoundation.org
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 21
Forming the 501 (C ) (3)
Build a new national monument, dedicated to Freedom and America’s Heroes and then use the Angel’s figure as a logo, which can go on almost anything and raise the needed dollars to take care of our returning vets; that was the basic idea. But how do you expedite it? Where would the money come from? I tried to give the Angel to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. so that they could re-build their hospital without raising taxes but that was illegal because of the separation of civilian world and that of the military. I tried to gift the Angel to other non-profits, which was not well received to say the least. They saw me as a threat, as someone who would be taking money away from them! No one wanted to piggy back the idea, so that too was a bust. By default, I was backed into a corner. Either I had to give up the idea altogether or…. form a non-profit of my own. Well Best Beloved, this is what happened. (I decided to write about this process, just in case someone out there wants to start their own non-profit one day.)
I did not really understand what a Board of Directors or a Board of Advisors were or what the member’s responsibilities would be. I only knew that in order to get a Federal 501(C) (3) I had to have these people on board in order form a Foundation. “No problem,” I thought to myself, and just started calling up my friends and neighbors, explaining to them what I wanted the Freedom Angel Foundation to do. I said that it would not cost them any money and that I only needed to make use of their names, addresses and bragging rights. (In retrospect, the “no money bit “ may not have been the best way to start a Foundation. I mean ignorance really is bliss, isn’t it?) I was on a steep learning curve! I have since learned that non-profits lean, lurch and lumber along at their own pace. They move ahead very slowly, and many non-profits fail. (No one told me about the failing bit either.) So I rounded up some members for the Board of Directors and some for the Board of Advisors. Dr. David Lincicome, now our secretary/ CEO, shouldered the Federal filings for us. Without his knowledge and experience with these matters, there would never have been a Freedom Angel Foundation..... of this you can be absolutely sure. The filing papers were more than two inches thick! The fee for the filing was $800.00. This exercise took several months to accomplish. The filing process began on January 1, 2010. On July16, 2010 we became an official, Federal, 501(C) (3 ) Non-Profit! Phew! Later on, I will print out for you, all of our expenses so that you can see what we have gone through in order to make it possible for the Freedom Angel to fly. It is really quite interesting to follow our dollars, and begin to understand exactly what good deeds do cost!
Slowly, very slowly, I began to realize the enormity of this undertaking. I thought that this challenge would be an easy one. I knew that I could do my part making a sculpture of an Angel and I thought that if I did my part, which was that of a clay-pusher that the rest of my plan would naturally fall into place. Well not exactly!
I believed that I could enlarge the little Lockerbie Angel to thirty feet in height, creating a new national monument that celebrates America, recognizing the unselfish service of the men and women who protect her. I wanted to unify our country again, by understanding and acknowledging the Freedoms granted to us by God, The Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. Wherever our Angel is placed, it is my hope for her to become a center not only for celebrating Freedom but also a place of learning, so that future generations will continue to cherish our Founding Fathers and their most extraordinary gifts to our nation.
I have worked with the Polich Tallix Foundry for more than 40 years. They are the best in the business bar none, and I was absolutely confident that when working with this team under the leadership of Richard Polich, that we could get the job done. But how do you expedite it? Where would the money come from?
These were some of the questions asked by the directors at our first board meeting: “What is our mission? It must be clearly defined.” "How are we going to educate the entire country to support this project?" "How do we promote it and make our mission known?” “How do we market and advertise?" "Has anyone thought about the money?” “How much do we need?" "We need a sound business plan!” “We need to research thoroughly the insufficiencies suffered by other foundations." "We need to make sure that the dollars we raise actually reach those who need our help.” "We must be absolutely sure that transparency and accountability are our corner stone.”
“Maybe we can solve this problem simply and cheaply,” I said “After I get the seven foot Angel cast her in bronze, we could take her on a road trip around America in the back of my pick-up truck. By the time we get her home again, she should be as recognized as is the Red Cross insignia and then, she will be invaluable to the Foundation and to our Vets.” “That’s an interesting idea but I am not sure that it will work,” said our Chairman” “We also need a place to plant her. Any thoughts?”
I said that, “I figured that maybe The Freedom Angel should go to Washington, D.C. So I called up Parks and Recreations. The conversation went something like this.”
“YOU ARE GOING TO DO WHAAAT? No! Absolutely Not! No-No-No! You cannot just go off willy-nilly and create a new national monument. Does congress know about this? Anyway....First we would have to have a national competition in order to be politically correct! Additionally…. you might not be qualified! Space is so precious in Washington you know. And besides that, you cannot use the word monument!” “Well,” said I, “There is a pile of rocks out in the back yard, which is a monument to a dead cat. I think we can use the word monument. Besides that, there are huge shopping malls all over this country and one of them is going to want to have their parking lot filled every day of the year. I think a new national monument dedicated to America’s Heroes will do just that.” This made her very angry and that was the end of the conversation. “It is my thought that the Freedom Angel should belong to the people and should have a common placement where anyone can go a visit her any day of the year.” Well…. Innocence is bliss and God protects the innocent and the stupid. Never the less, I was ready to attack this challenge with both guns blazing.
Through Artspan.com, I was able build a basic website which you can visit yourself at: www.FreedomAngelFoundation.org This website defines out mission and tells you all about the Directors and Advisors on board. It also allows visitors to make donations on line. Artspan.com is an outstanding website for artists. It is inexpensive about $19.95 a month and they take no commission on sales. Close to 100% of all my sales are because Artspan.com does a great job. Setting up your own website pages are easy to do and the company markets its websites around the world. You can’t beat that!
Once the 501(C)(3) was established, we originated a mailer to our own lists of friends and neighbors, detailing the mission of the Foundation. Little by little, the dollars started to come in. Soon we had enough money to commission the Foundry to enlarge the little Lockerbie Angel to seven feet in height. Seven feet is the size when finished, that we will enlarge to its final height of thirty feet. In the event that I should die during construction, the seven-foot figure will be executed so precisely that the Polich Tallix team could finish the new thirty-foot monument without me. I did not think that this undertaking would be a problem for me, as I have done this sort of work before, but I had no idea of the time-line for this project, as there were so many unknowns.
In April 2010, the enlargement process was started in the Polich Tallix Foundry by Peter Ross, who specializes in sculpture enlargement. We worked together as a team to grow the Angel from a twelve-inch bronze to a seven-foot clay. Although enlargements are proportionately exact, they must be detailed and finished by the sculptor. Originally, I had planned to bring the Angel back to Roxbury and finish the clay here at home. I had quite forgotten that an additional eighteen inches would be added to the height of the figure due to the size of the supporting platform for the sculpture and the large rubber casters (wheels) that support the platform and allow you to move the whole structure about quite easily. “ O-good-grief! ” I suddenly realized that I had a door and ceiling problem and that it would not be possible to finish the clay original at home! “Where am I going to finish the seven foot clay,” said I to myself?
“Time for creative thinking to kick in…Think….Think….. Think! How about the Danbury Fair Mall? Mmmmmm…. Huge doors, high ceilings, music, air-conditioning, flush toilets, McDonald’s and Subways…I mean what more could an artist want? What a great idea Sterett! Wow! Now that really would be a perfect studio…. that is, if I can persuade the “powers-that-be” into letting me work right there in public, in the middle of their Mall. Mmmmmm. This might also be a great way to introduce our mission the nation. Maybe we could have a reception of some sort. Maybe an official debut?” It sounded good to me, inside my head. “I wonder if the board members will concur.”
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 22
Much to my amazement, the administration at the Danbury Fair Mall allows for non-profits to exhibit with them at no cost. We set up shop right in the middle of the Mall with a splendid kick off and opening reception made possible by Senior Manager: Mara Ruby and Assistant Manager: Melissa Eigen. We had great press coverage and lots of people showed up for the opening reception. My friend Maggi Heilweil sang her own special version of The Star Spangled Banner to begin the festivities and Donations began to come in.
I worked in my " Mall" studio on the clay Angel for the next three weeks. During that time, many people stopped by to say hello, wish us good luck and ask many questions about The Freedom Angel and her mission. On two different occasions, men in different branches of the military stopped by and said that they hated the emblem of the Wounded Warrior and did not want that image in their minds when they were out in the fields. They wanted an image of love, hope, family and freedom, and hoped that the little Freedom Angel would do the trick. This was interesting feedback which I passed along to our board members.
After I had taken the original clay figure as far as I could at the Danbury Mall, Mariano Brothers : Specialty Movers in Danbury Connecticut, picked up the Freedom Angel and delivered her to the Polich Tallix Foundry in Rock Tavern, New York. I spent the next two weeks there, finishing up the clay sculpture and helping to prepare her for the molding and bronze casting process. Watching molten bronze being poured into empty ceramic molds is dramatic and not unlike watching a ballet because the extraordinary coordination of the men at their work, is so beautifully choreographed!
Our Freedom Angel is now seven feet high in registered bronze and ready to go to work. But what exactly would that work be? We had our 501 (c) (3) status and the Angel was fully paid for. We had secured the global copyrights , trademarks and had seven JAG lawyers declare, that angels are merely pop-culture items and are not a conflict between church and state.
In the meantime, John M. Delvecchio, a member of our Board of Directors: himself a Vietnam Veteran and Author of the 13th Valley, a National Book Award finalist ... ( available on Audible)... plus ... Carry Me Home and For The Sake Of All Living Things ... asked me: " Just exactly how are you going to make use of the Freedom Angel in marketing Sterett? I mean what sort of markup are you planning to impose on a Freedom Angel product?" "Oh I don't know John...Maybe...a seventh of a cent. That sounds good to me... It is a nice alliteration. I was thinking that the markup on a product bearing the Freedom Angel logo, should be so low...that everybody (even if you are on welfare) would have a chance to be a part of the team that gets the job done." After all, I reasoned... " a seventh of a cent is not tax deductible and not a tax. It is a choice. A seventh of a cent is Capitalism ... and that whoever uses the Freedom Angel would increase their sales and knock the socks off of their competitors. Now That's Capitalism! It would increase the sales for manufacturers and make more money for them, while at the same time, more money would go to solve a problem which has bedeviled our country since its beginning."
That same evening, John called me and said : "Sterett.... Do you have any idea what a seventh of a cent is worth?" "No...Not really," I replied. "Where did the idea of a seventh of a cent come from anyway?" "Well.... It just sounded good to me and had a nice ring to it...and.. In 1953, there was a Broadway musical called The Pajama Game, in which a bouncy song titled "Seven And A Half Cents " was sung by striking union workers. It went something like this:
Seven and a half cents doesn't buy a hell of alot,
Seven and a half cents doesn't mean a thing!
But give it to me every hour,
Forty hours every week,
And that's enough for me to be...
Living like a king!
"Hey Sterett....Do you have any idea what a seventh of a cent could do?" "Nope" I replied. "It just sounded good to me."
"Well", said John del Vecchio, "Lets say we do as you suggested and put a simple line drawing of your Angel on the edge of a paper towel, and mark it up by a seventh of a cent.... If you garnered only 10% of the rolls of paper towels produced in the United States.... Guess what? It would have an annual return of about $23,750,000!"
OMG! Until this very moment....I did not understand exactly what one seventh of a cent actually meant in the way of financial returns.... John del Vecchio did! He researched the number of rolls of paper towels sold in the U.S.A. each year and arrived at this astounding figure... and note... that this figures was for only one product. Think what could be done with a group of angel products. This news was absolutely terrifying to me. I suddenly realize that I was superbly unqualified to manage this sort of program and determined that I would try to find someone else to take over the Freedom Angel I had to find someone who understands marketing, branding, public relations etc. Soooo .................. I contacted The Wounded Warrior Project because I figured that they knew all about marketing and would make the best use of her. ( Wow was my thinking wrong on this one) The people at the Wounded Warrior Project were rude (an understatement) and aggressively proprietary. They made it very clear to me, that I was interfering with the flow of their dollars and to go home and stay out of the big leagues!
What to do next? Write to Donald J. Trump of course. The Trump family already own three of my sculptures. Maybe this will work. It was in early August of 2016 when I wrote the Trumps a letter and offered to give them the Freedom Angel..... I mean if anyone could put her to work, I figured that the Trumps would know how to do it for sure. Sadly, I did not hear back from the Trumps and figured that this attempt was another "dead puppy."
Then one day in mid-September 2016, The Trump Organization called and said that they wanted the Freedom Angel and to please come to Trump Tower New York to meet with Aine O"Connor and Kara Hanley. At this meeting, I gifted to them the Freedom Angel sculpture, the global copyrights and trademarks etc. Further, that they could use the Freedom Angel to support our Vets in whatever manner they saw fit and were free to change my ideas and use their own...but to please not change her name because I consider her name to be her greatest asset. All of this was done on a handshake. Phew! I thought that at last I had achieved my part of this mission and returned happily home to Roxbury Connecticut, hoping never to have any more contacts with angels of any kind, while I was still above ground. I was looking forward to getting back to creating my specialty in sculpture: Ballet Dancers Captured in Bronze.. Shortly after my visit to Trump Tower, Mariano Brother of Danbury CT was contacted by the Trump Organization to pick up the Freedom Angel and transport her to New York.
It was now about mid-October. The National Elections were getting closer and closer. I tried to reach the Trump Organization because I had not heard from them since my visit to Trump Tower. I was requesting a receipt. The voice on the other end of of the telephone, deep and firm said that I could not have a receipt. I was unable to reach the people with whom I had been working. Telephone numbers had been changed and it was impossible to get in touch with anyone for help. Everything was in a tizzy with the elections being so close to happening. I think the people they had on telephone duty were most likely instructed to politely say NO to everyone who called. I repeatedly ask for a receipt and was told repeatedly that I could not have a receipt. I do not have a business back ground as I am just a clay pusher, but I knew enough to know that I needed a receipt. I think this unfortunate mix-up was due to bad timing...Too close to the elections! (In retrospect, I do not think the Trumps ever saw the Freedom Angel when she was in New York) Soooooo I asked them to pack up the Freedom angel and bring her back to home to Roxbury .
this was done. She is here at home now where she presently resides in the garden, waiting to go to work for our country.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 23
North Salem, Box Tree Restaurant and the Orienteer
The year: 1973: The Shepard’s Cottage on Keeler Lane was nestled in the Hills of North Salem New York. Distant views of Westchester County’s countryside were included with the rent. Our apartment was situated over a four bay, dirt floor garage that housed hay rakes, tractors, a manure spreader and all sorts of tools necessary to the running of the Keeler Farm. We had three small bedrooms, a tiny kitchen, a huge living room with a fireplace and a large unheated attic and use of a two-story high garage just thirty feet from our house.
The Shepard’s Cottage was part of a collection of barns that surrounded a huge white barn that had once been home to a large herd of dairy cattle. It now stood empty, waiting for a herd that will most likely never come home again. Both the “chicken-house” and the “sheep-barn” were also vacant. Westchester County is too close to New York City. The land is too precious and the taxes are crazy high. Not too high for the luxury of show horses of course, but much too high for the likes of common cattle. The horse barn next door was rented to a local resident who stabled several show horses and foxhunters. Our beloved little ponies, James and Candy were stabled at ground level in our garage while my sculpture continued upstairs. It was a perfect studio, well insulated, well lighted and heated with propane.
(It would become the birthplace of File #47 “Bente-Strong-of-Saw-Mill-Lane” and File #41 “Barbara-Lee-Furbush-of-Sunshine” and File #44 “The-Orienteer-of- Pound-Ridge”. )
In 1971, the first oil crisis was in full swing so there was just enough gas to get to the grocery store in Cross River once a week… plus a few extra miles. Every mile had to be carefully considered. Pickup trucks were notorious gas eaters in those days. It was a good half-mile walk from our house, down the hill to the intersections of Route #116, Keeler Lane and Baxter Road, so the children rode their ponies to and from the school bus each day. Life in North Salem was straight out of Norman Rockwell’s world…. So very busy, with lots of hard work and all buffered with clean fresh air and lots of sunlight.
Between 1971 and 1973, I completed 3 life-sized sculptures and lots of little bronze sketches. The commissions from Peter Strong and some sales at the Greenwich Library Art Show kept our heads above water.
One early afternoon in the fall of 1973, I passed by a new restaurant in Purdy’s, New York called “Box Tree.” The freshly painted, Old Purdy Homestead was being transformed! Classical music streamed through the open windows and flowers seemed to spill from everywhere. The smell of homemade bread sweetened the September airs. It was all so very beautiful. I could not pass by without checking it out. It appeared that no one was home. I did not see any cars in the parking lot. A sign outside read: “Help Wanted” and out of sheer curiosity, I decided to take a look inside. The Purdy Homestead was a typical New England farmhouse, boasting white plaster walls, exposed beams and a fireplace in every room. To my amazement and delight, absolutely gorgeous landscape paintings, housed in gold leafed frames dressed the walls. Glassware sparkling on polished antique tables were already in place for dinner and glass- globed candles companioned by seasonal bouquets of fresh flowers, lavished each presentation.
Suddenly, I was confronted by a tall blond, blue-eyed gentleman wearing a traditional chef’s outfit, white hat and all. “Vut-you-Vant? He asked? Are you lukeing-for-a-yob?” Caught off guard and feeling like I had no business whatsoever intruding into someone else’s home, I blurted out, “Yes!” He said, “Fine, your-hired. Ve-vant-you-be-here by 5:30. Study the menu. You are now our new hostess! My name is Lars. Lars Nystromer. Come let me show you-round. These Paintings were painted by my grandmother,” he said with obvious pride. “Some of her paintings are hanging in the Big Museum in Stockholm you know, and most of this furniture belonged to my family too. My grandfather, Johannes Sigfrid Edstrom was the President of ASEA (Sweden’s General Electric Company) and the 4th President of the International Olympic Committee from 1942-1952. He was beaming as he informed me of his parentage.
Then, Agustin V. Page appeared and introduced himself. With a broad smile he said, “Welcome to Box Tree.” He spoke with a well-educated British accent. Laughing loudly he announced: “I am Bulgarian and as you can see, I dress British and speak Yiddish!” And he was too. Beautifully turned in Harris Tweeds, sporting pigskin leather driving gloves, finished off with a bright pink silk scarf, which was tucked into his open-at-the-neck-monogrammed-shirt. I sensed a new adventure was beginning. He, together with his partner were opening up this brand new restaurant in two weeks! It was their intention that the Box Tree should be “outrageously posh!” Viewing the carefully manufactured ambience, I thought that they were off to a great start! “How about Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights from 5:30 to 11 pm.” said Augustine?
On that particular day, I was not looking for a job, but I got one anyway. I had recently finished the little Bente-Strong sculpture and had delivered her to Peter Strong’s home in Greenwich, Connecticut. Working at Box Tree three evenings a week would be nice and a comfortable way to meet some people in my own neighborhood. “Would it be possible for me to exhibit some of my Sculptures at Box Tree, I asked. “Sure… That would be just fine with us,” said Augustine. “Who knows, you might just sell one!” Box Tree offered a chance to dress up in a long skirt and get out of my blue jeans. Besides that, a really nice group of people worked at Box Tree and working with them would be fun. We worked as a team and became quite close to one another. There was a genuine family feeling at Box Tree.
I soon discovered that restaurants and fine wine are a good combination for selling sculpture while waiting on tables and yes, I actually sold several bronzes! (Waiting on tables? Yes, a Hostess is in reality a waitress incognito in case you don’t know it! )
One evening, Bjorn Kjelstrom from Pound Ridge, New York, came for dinner with his wife and several guests. He purchased a sculpture titled: File # 37 “Polly-Pratt-of-Close-Road,” a three-foot high bronze figure of a standing child. He invited me to come and visit him and his wife the following day. While delivering the sculpture, Bjorn told me that he worked for his own company called “Silva,” which was the leading compass manufacturer in the world. (Today, Silva is part of a larger company called Fiskars.) Bjorn clearly had a keen interest in the sport of Orienteering, which made use of the compasses, which his company produces. He told me that he himself was a “Ski Orienteering Champion” when he was living in Sweden.
He then began to educate me. “This sport called “Orienteering” originated and developed in Sweden you know. It is a sport, which claims that it has more participants than any other sport in the world because it is for both sexes and all ages. Americans however, are just getting to know about it. I am hoping to introduce Orienteering to the young people here in the states and in time, to make it America’s most popular sport. Orienteering is a cross-country race with a topographical map and compass. It is mainly practiced by the Boy Scouts and the Military here, but Orienteering is really big in Europe. Every weekend you can see people running around all over the place! Old people! Young people! Up and down the hills, around the lakes and ponds, in and out of the woods, jumping over streams and fences, all of them having a wonderful time!” You could tell by now, that Bjorn’s heart and soul were really into this sport!
I noticed a very large black and white photograph above the mantelpiece above the fireplace. It was of an orienteer, racing cross-country in a competition in Sweden. I made a remark in passing that it was a great photograph! Bjorn enthusiastically agreed, and said he had taken the picture himself and that it was one of his most favorite photos. “Tell me Sterett, could you make a little bronze sculpture of the young man in the photograph? I need 127 of them and I will be giving them out as trophies at competitions all over the world. Do you think you can do it? Perhaps six or seven inches high?” “Sure,” I said. “I would be happy to make them for you.” Bjorn was so happy with the resulting little running figure that he commissioned the same little figure to be made again. This time it would be nine feet high for a new National Monument to celebrate the Sport of Orienteering to be placed Stockholm!
Another commission! I could scarcely believe it! The sculpture business…… I mean the business of getting business, had not seemed too difficult up to this point. I had no idea of how incredibly difficult it would be to live on sculpture income alone. (I would soon find out about that little detail.) For now, I was just enjoying being a sculptor and a mom. I will say at this point, that being a Mom beats all. Given a choice between being a Mom and a career in sculpture…being a Mom comes first every time, always and forever, nothing even comes close!
Now I must tell you, that I had no idea how I was going to tackle this huge new piece of sculpture. But for sure, I was not going to tell Bjorn that I did not know what I was doing. I accepted the commission and set to work, building the running man up on the second floor of my studio barn in North Salem.
So far, in my short career as a sculptor, I had made only female figures, mostly because it was easier to get female models. Women were more often willing to work for me for two or three hours at a time and whenever I needed them. It was more difficult to get men to model because they wanted to work full time from nine to five, five days a week with benefits. I simply could not afford that. Fortunately, I had two good-looking male cousins who lived nearby and my friend David Keen who lived across the street on Keeler Lane. They were kind enough to lend an ankle, a head, a back or an elbow, or whatever part I needed. My nine-foot running man was a composite figure based on the three of them.
I strung up my homemade, aluminum armature using the cross beams in the studio barn and used wooden puzzle pieces wrapped in wire to support the clay on the figure. There was a hook in the top of the sculptures head, which I tied to an overhead beam, hoping to keep the figure in an upright position. Actually things went quite well ….. for a while. I had only the one photograph from which to work, but thank goodness for the intensive anatomy training at the Rhode Island School of Design. Before long, I had a fairly credible figure.
It was then, that the first crisis began. My beautiful man was starting to sag! I raced to the upper barns where David Keen was working with the show horses and squealed for help! Together we bounded up the stairs. The running man was sinking lower and lower. I mean nine feet of clay is really, really, really heavy! We ran a rope through the hook in the sculpture’s head and tossed it up and over the highest crossbeam. David began to pull on it with all of his might hoping to raise the figure upward. I got underneath the man’s behind end and I too pushed upward but to no avail. The sculpture collapsed. As it sank to the floor, I remember seeing David being pulled up toward the ceiling, swinging back and forth, while the sculpture flattened me out on the floor on the studio. Ahhhh, such is life. I had to begin all over again of course. This one, I chalked up to what one might call a “learning experience” and you can be sure that my next attempt at armature building was bigger, stronger and far more successful! Daddy always told me that you learn from mistakes, so not to worry about them and to always keep moving forward. I guess he was right. You actually do learn from your mistakes after all.
THE ANGEL’S STORY Chapter 24
Tarzan to the Rescue: Crisis #2
As I mentioned in the previous chapter, the collapse of the Orienteering sculpture was the first crisis. The second crisis happened after I finished re-building the figure. The figure itself, I thought, was looking pretty good. He was just about finished when my neighbor Russell Jones, a retired businessman who at age eighty, had taken up the art of writing cookbooks stopped by to see the new Running Man Sculpture. Russ lived with his wife Alice, a New York Banker, on the top of Keeler Lane. He had heard form David Keens parents that the sculpture was finished and he wanted to see the nine-foot clay of the running man. I thought it so kind of someone to bother to take an interest and was delighted to show him my work. He was very encouraging and said that he had a few suggestions and would return later.
The next Week Russ showed up at the Shepard’s Cottage with several books under his arm. “I am much older than you are Sterett, so forgive me for speaking so frankly, but someone has got to tell you Dear, I mean, well…. you see… this is my Dear, a very delicate subject. But you see… well, I mean”…. Stammering he said, “You have to redecorate!” So I have taken the liberty of visiting our local library to find photographs of the old Greek sculptures…specifically nude males. You see, Sweetheart, his genitalia are far too large for an athlete. Now if you study these photographs, which I have brought to you, you will see that the penis is merely a little ….. “ thumpkin.” I do so hope that you are not offended but I thought that a nine-foot mistake being shipped to Sweden as a new National Monument to the sport of Orienteering would be very embarrassing. So I will leave these books for you to review and let you go back to your work.” I could feel my cheeks were flushed with embarrassment. Totally flummoxed, I thanked him and assured him that I would return the books to the library on time.
How to solve this problem?…. Russ was right ….a nine-foot mistake would be awful. Even though I had attended The Rhode Island School of Design for four grueling years, I had never seen a man nude. The women models were nude of course but our male models all wore jock straps. My Daddy was very modest man and so, the only man I ever saw nude, was my husband. I had no idea whether he was small, medium or large! The only guide I had was on the inside of his Jock strap, which was marked with an “M.” So I guessed that he must be somewhere in the middle. ( I know now, that the “M” refers only to waist size.... and nothing else). But when I looked at the collection of photos left by Russ Jones, the Greek sculptures had almost no penis at all! What to do? O’good grief! What to do? I called up my friend Dr. Edward Gordon, a psychiatrist with a practice close by in North Salem. I knew that in order for one to become a Psychiatrist, that one had to have graduated from medical school. “ Mmmmmm…. That should do it,” I thought. Ed Gordon will know what to do.” “Should I whack it off or not?” That was the question I put before him. “Mmmmmm,” said Ed…. “Let’s see. Now if I remember from my days in med school…I think changes do in fact happen to the male when he is exercising as opposed to when he is at rest. I think that the penis goes up and the scrotum drops down…or ”… he said thoughtfully, “maybe it is the other way around! I really do not remember off hand, but I will call Burne Hogarth. Burne and I went to school together. He is the creator of the marvelous Tarzan images for the comic books. I am absolutely sure he will have the definitive answer for you.” I thanked him for his offer of support and went back home to wait for his answer. This problem as you can imagine, was very unsettling! At this point, I was putting an awful lot of faith into Tarzan!
The days slipped by, and then one week…. two weeks…At last the phone rang! It was Ed Gordon with great news. Russ Jones had been correct. Burne Hogarth said that indeed, changes do occur to the male while pursuing an athletic activity. But that it was not one,
or the other, but both the scrotum and the penis are drawn up into the body during athletic competition. It seems that blood is distributed to every other place in the body excepting for the genitalia under such circumstances. So the question was answered…But now … What to do? Somehow I felt that the Greek sculptures were just too small and that the reason for the tiny “thumpkins” was more for practical purposes than for anatomical correctness. I mean think about it. If a penis, made of marble, is sticking out from the sculpture, the chances are that it will be knocked off. I concluded that “thumpkins” must have been built be for practical considerations. Soooo. Ok! What to do? I mean, no matter what size it is, if it is made of bronze, then I won’t have to worry… But just how big should it be? Something in the middle…. Not too big….. Not too little. A decision had to be made. I got out my butcher’s knife and Hack-Whack! The deed was done and the sculpture finished! At least I thought it was until, Ann-Dickey Parrish, a cousin of my mother’s arrived. She also wanted to see the sculpture for which her sons had modeled. In a very matter of fact tone of voice, the first words out of her mouth were: “ Well Sterett…What are you going to do about it?” “Do about what? I asked. Well… It looks Ok to me but this one is going to Sweden isn’t it? Are you going to circumcise him or not?” OMG! What do they do in Sweden? Better check that out before you ship.” “Oooops,” I said, “I hadn’t thought about that! I better call Ed Gordon back again.” Later that same day, Ed did assure me that Sweden was very up-to-date and that a circumcision was in order. So now you have another day in the life of a sculptor. I hope some of these little vignettes will give you some insight into the daily challenges faced by us sculptors. I think that most of what we do is problem solving… in one-way… or another!
THE ANGEL’S STORY Chapter 25
Royal Copenhagen Porcelain and Bronze
Even when you are working full time at making sculpture, sculptors are always worrying about their next job. However, sometimes magic happens in the most unexpected places. After shipping File #44 “The-Orienteer-of-Pound-Ridge” to Stockholm, there were no more jobs or commissions on the horizon, so when a neighbor invited me to exhibit some of my sculptures at a fundraiser for “Open Gate” in the Peach Lake Pavilion, I accepted. Although Open Gate is based in Somers, New York, this gala event was held in North Salem, New York. Open Gate is a non-profit residential and day program for individuals who are developmentally disabled or behaviorally challenged. There was not the least idea that this festive occasion would be good for business, but rather a pleasant way to spend an evening and perhaps a good way to meet some of my neighbors.
Earlier in the day I brought one life-sized sculpture, along with several smaller sculptures to this Peach Lake event. I dragged File #41 “Barbara-Lee-Furbush” (about 900 pounds of bronze,) all by myself, onto an old horse trailer with a device called a “come-along.”
In 1973 I was fearless! This system for moving big bronzes worked fairly well … that is…as long as everything went well … and fortunately it did. I never had a big bronze tip over one me… Looking back, I was really stupid and just plain lucky. If one of my bronzes had tipped over on any part of me, I would have been mincemeat! Sometimes you just get lucky in life. Now, when I look back at what I was doing, I was on a fool’s journey but I did not know it at the time.
I remember that there was live music being played by a local dance band and the place was packed with people, dressed up in “after-five” cocktail clothes. Placed in the middle of the room, my sculptures were used as decorations for the evening’s festivities, along with all sorts of arts-n-crafts and donated items, no longer useful to their owners. The party’s revelers were a noisy lot as they danced, ate delicious food and drank the liquor, which flowed non-stop from the pavilion’s bar. Everyone was having a wonderful time. The guests were very curious about the sculptures and lots of questions were asked. Questions such as: “Did you make that all by yourself? Who really made that? What is it made of? How much does it weigh? Is it for sale? And on and on. One of those people asking questions was a very “merry” rosy-cheeked gentleman named Ivar Ipsen. One of his questions was: How would like to come to Copenhagen with me? Whatever his questions were, I just said “ Yes, of course, I would be delighted to go to Copenhagen with you.” I said this just to be polite in the conversation’s banter. I never thought that he really meant it! Wrong! ….
Early the next morning and still in my pajamas, a silver gray, stretch-limousine pulled up in front of the house… One that was so long, that it had to bend while driving around corners. I grabbed my trench coat as I watched several men pour out onto the driveway. All of them were formally dressed, immaculately turned out in dark blue business suits, white dress shirts, gray wool vests and silk ties. Handshakes were extended with How-do-you-do-s, followed by the clicking of heels and deep bows. Ivar Ipsen stepped forward with cheerful introductions and announced that they were from Royal Copenhagen in Denmark and that he was the Managing Director of the American Division, in White Plains, New York. He explained that his neighbor’s daughter had sold to him, two tickets to the Open Gate Gala, which is how he happened to be in Peach Lake last night. “May we come in please?”
Stunned by their presence and feeling slightly ridiculous in pajamas, I invited them in saying, “Please do come in, and while you are looking at my work, please excuse me while I change my clothes,” and then I scrambled upstairs PDQ! The Danish gentlemen filed into the house to view the sculptures and carefully examined everything in my studio. Coming down stairs, I could hear lots of chatter but it was all in Danish and I couldn’t understand a word of it. After mulling around, the “committee” gathered around Ivar. He asked me, “Could we purchase two of these little figures to take home to Denmark with us?” Naturally I was amazed and delighted. I replied, “ Wow! Why yes, absolutely! Wow!” Ivar leaned across the dining room table and wrote out a check on the spot. With a very wide smile, he straightened up and pulled from his vest pocket, an airplane ticket to Copenhagen in three weeks’ time. He said that, “Royal Copenhagen had been looking to find someone to create a new line of porcelain figurines for their company. In our Scandinavian countries, great emphasis has been placed on modern design in our Art schools and consequently we have to look outside of our country to find someone to make new, old time classical figurines for the factory. We have been holding competitions over a seven-year period just to find you. Now…. All of your expenses will be paid and you will be paid for your time as well. We look forward to seeing you in Copenhagen! The Gray limousine swallowed up the committee and they were gone. With a check in my hand, I couldn’t believe it! “Wow …. What just happened?” I asked myself.
Strangely, within the next two weeks I received offers of work from Royal Copenhagen’s Scandinavian competitors: Bing and Grondahl, Copenhagen Porcelain and Michelson.
I had never heard of them but apparently they had heard of me. Somewhere there must have been a leak! It seems that competition with in the porcelains industry is rather fierce. How they found me, I never found out. But what an extraordinary thing to have happen! In any case, I accepted the invitation of my first suitor, Royal Copenhagen and began to prepare for the upcoming trip in May of 1973.
Three days before leaving, I was visiting my friend and sculptor, James Knowles in North Stamford and a close family friend of Jim’s named Bodil Olsen. Over coffee and Jim’s many sculptures, I told them all about the upcoming trip and how it happened to come about at a fundraiser for the behavior and mentally challenged.
Bodil piped up and said that her cousin Per Breidahl was the head of the state’s Commission for the Arts and should I need any help with anything at all, to give Per a ring. She slipped his telephone number into my coat pocket and gave me a hug. Bodil’s personality is so upbeat that you just have to love her. There are some wonderful people you meet along life’s many roads; people who invariably lift the spirits of others and make their lives a little bit better. Bodil was one of these people. I know that she missed her home in Copenhagen and wished that she were going with me. I hugged her back and promised to bring home a dinner dish for her from Royal Copenhagen’s splendid porcelain collection. We would remain friends for many years to come.
Getting ready for the trip was a big deal. Bowie took over for me but I made sure I left him with not one but two kid sitters just to make sure that he was fully covered and would not have a worry in the world. Actually it was more probable, that I did not want a worry in the world myself. Bowie was fully capable of managing everything by himself but,I am a worrier when it comes to care for our kidletts, but maybe… I just overestimated my own importance. Bowie drove me to the JFK Airport in New York and whoosh I was off on a flight to Copenhagen, to the home of the Little Mermaid and the land of Hans Christian Anderson’s wonderful Fairy Tales. I was off to business meeting with a famous, two hundred year old porcelain company called Royal Copenhagen and a fairytale of my own.