Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Winter Gift

"Baby it's cold outside."  That's all too true - and I am not eager to go out this morning but I have to. DRAT. Out the window I can see that I am not going anywhere until I get the new light coating of snow off my car. And another DRAT!

On  days like this I once thought "There is nothing finer than to be in Carolina" but from what I hear on the TV Carolina is suffering in the cold too.

The first time I ever lived in really serious cold was in 1957 when Jim and I were living in Brooklyn, New York.  There was a really fierce blizzardy snow that year. I was chilled to the bone in our third floor attic apartment where the windows leaked icy winds.

Jim was an intern at Kings County Hospital which was a 20 minute drive from our apartment. The snow started mid-day. It came down in heavy sheets with winds tossing it as it came. By that night the snow had piled up. Cars were not moving on the city streets. I could not bring our year old  son Jimmy and drive over to the hospital to pick Jim up.

Even though he had a room and a warm bed at the hospital Jim decided that he would "make it' home. Meaning he would walk some blacks and take several subways to our stop which was three blocks from the house. I was not happy about that then and now I realize how foolish it was for him to do it. But he was determined. He left the hospital about 8 pm.

Remember in 1957 only Dick Tracey had a cell phone. There was no way of checking in. So while he slogged through the snow and cold I waited - - often peering into dimly lit street below our third floor window for sight of him.

Finally, well-after midnight,  I saw a figure, bent against the wind, trudging up the street.
I heated coffee. He was a sad sight. It took quite a while for him to warm up after he changed out of wet clothes.
An intern's schedule those days was brutal - 48 hours on and 24 hours off. Jim had just bought us a day together.

He understood that the intern year was tough  - on him and in some ways even tougher on - a young wife dropped into a strange land and left to fend for herself - - with her toddler by her side.

By time for him to go back the roads were passable and I drove him to the hospital.

Over the years I have often thought of that cold walk - sometimes we would laugh about it - other times I would tear up thinking of Jim, a tired young doctor leaving the ward at the end of his grueling shift and walking home in the snow - a melo-dramatic picture, right out of O. Henry, that was real.

Today I look at that cold walk and understand it more clearly than I did then - it was a gift of love.

When our daughter, our second child heard this story, read she laughed, "Mom maybe thats when yal got me."
Who knows. Could be. Possibly. It was a cold night.

Treasures come in many forms. 

The Calendar - 1955

Recently I opened a collection of sentimental souvenirs from the early days of my marriage with Jim Schoettler. The memories came flooding back and I knew that meant stories ahead. And, I am working on those. 

Rather than waiting until the whole story has jelled I am telling vignettes of the longer story as a way of collecting more bits of memory and quilting them into a new fabric. Sort of like I work on my collages - bits and pieces worked into a whole. 

It is just the way I always work  - - my process, so to speak.

In this video a small calendar opens the door for a flood of memories to start working.

When I make an art piece I photograph the stages. For this story I am taping bits as I work out the final structure of the story - - and the tapes give me a record of the process and the progress of the story. 

Notes to myself as I build this story.

I am thinking of Luciano Penay, Chr. of my Masters (MFA) thesis committe at American University - whenever we met to discuss my paintings he would look - and then ask me - "these are the answers - what where the questions?" I am going to think about building this story in the same way. What am I reminded of?  When and where and who? And how will I shape the finished story.  How do you re-create those special moments when you were young? What really matters after all?

How do I work out a story and record my process? 

Part of my process is the work I do between this Blog, then taping parts of the story and most importantly telling it to a group when I can.  

HERE is a blog post I wrote when I began mulling over this stories in the calendar shortly after I opened the "memory" box and found it. 

THIS post comes studying some black and white pictures that were also in the box They helped me to step back in place and time - at the time we were there - living our story. 

A Snow Day in Baltimore - 1954

A SNOW DAY in Baltimore, MD in 1954, 

This photo captures a moment in time 60 years ago. 

I am using this photo and a few others to help me step back in time to catch a story.

Traffic is stopped at the corner of Monument and North Broadway. A woman walks down the center island probably on her way to Hopkins Hospital from Hampton House, the nurses home, which faces the hospital.

The picture fits today in 2014 as we have snow on the ground.


 In less than a block the woman will enter the hospital grounds through this gate That small older building which is squatting at the side of the driveway is the Gate House Shop. In the 1950s there was no shop in the hospital This is where people stopped for cards, small gifts and other personal items. It is not there today. As happens,  it fell to progress.

My husband Jim Schoettler was a first year medical student when he took these pictures. He was standing on the balcony at the Phi Chi Fraternity House at 606 North Broadway. That old red brick three story house faced the hospital and stood next-door to the nurses' home. 

Jim lived in the fraternity house when he was a First year student.

As you can tell from this photo his room must have been on the top floor. The upper colder reaches were usually where the lower classmen ended up. When he talked about it to me I imagined a small "garrett" room.

It is very like Jim to have noted his shooting location on the back of the photos. I am so glad to see his familiar handwriting on them - its like being close, almost touching him.


These pictures were taken 7 months before I arrived in Baltimore from North Carolina to enter Nurses's Training at Hopkins. The old house was torn down before I got there. All I saw at 606 North Broadway was an empty lot. But I heard a lot about it. Jim told stories of the guys who lived there and the comforts and discomforts of the house.  

When Jim and I met, he had just returned from a summer visit to his home in California. There was a new Phi Chi House located at the corner of Monument and North Washington Street. It was much smaller - a store front building with an apartment and a few bedrooms upstairs. He and two classmates, both fraternity brothers,  had relocated to an apartment over a corner store-front on North Broadway - a block from the front gate of the hospital. 

I think we still have the range finder camera he was shooting with in those days - but I doubt there is any film available for it. Did you notice the familiar pinked edges of the photos of those days - and the lovely black and white - -

I hope I can find someone who recognizes the cars -

 These photos were among the box of Jim's papers that I found recently. I don't remember ever seeing them before - but I am grateful to have them now.

I look at this picture and it brings back memories of  another snowy day after I was settled in the Nurses' Home in 1955 when the world looked just like this. Photographs, especially those old black and white ones, can bring back a scene, a feeling, a moment in time in a very real and vivid remembering. The time and place come back to life - at least for me and my imagination. 

Photos feed my imagination and make me want to think and seaeerch for more. 

Catch the images and memories  Tell the story.

This is a start - 

Do you do that? 

An Eerie Gift from Jim

Recently  I was reading Sean Buvala's new ebook, Measures of Story: How to Create a Story from Floats and Anecdotes,  about turning anecedotes and snippets into fully realized stories. It has prompted me to think about all the memories I have posted on this blog since I began writing it in 2005. So I am going to begin mining my treasures so to speak -  to remind me of stories I want to tell.

This is a nugget from July 2005.


Jim and I met at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was in his second year in medical school and I was a new nursing student.

Jim was very intense about his studies. Often our dates became "study" sessions. We spent hours in a hospital library. Jim had his nose in his books and often I dozed off over my textbooks.

Jim often helped me tackle difficult assignments. Learning all the bones of the skull offered quite a challenge.

One night when Jim came to pick me up at Hampton House (the nurses residence) he was carrying a round package wrapped in newspaper. He offered it to me. "I think this will help you learn those bones." I took it.

I felt round hardness in my hands. I lifted back on edge of the newspaper wrapping. I stifled a gasp - it was a skull. " I borrowed it for you." Jim explained. He was waiting for my reaction. I swallowed hard. "Thank you."

I took it to my room and left it on my desk while we went to a movie.

When I returned later I unwrapped the skull and stared at it. The sightless eye cavities above the gaping toothy mouth stared back. I set it on my desk and got into the bed with a book. Shortly, I turned out the light. I could still see the skull on the desk because of light from a streetlight outside. I turned away but I could not relax. I knew that skull was looking at me.

Finally I got up, picked up the skull and moved it to the closet. I set it on the floor and closed the door. I turned back toward my bed. Then hesitated, and - all right, all right - I did feel kind of stupid as I turned the key and locked the closet door.

That's where the skull stayed until I returned it to Jim.

Cuff Links

I published this on my blog last year.

The Cuff Links

use a picture of Jim from Fresno State College

When I met my husband, Jim Schoettler, he usually wore a white shirt with French Cuffs when he was dressed for church or to go “out”.  With that shirt he wore a pair of simple gold ovals with an engraved “S” in the center of the oval. I learned later that these were more than favorite cuff links they were his only cuff links.

His high school sweetheart gave them to him.  He laughed when I told him I was jealous of them.  “Why? That’s over.”  Although he added others over time he was loyal to those early cuff links because they carried and acquired history and he wore them often until he died. I got over being jealous as I came to understand that Jim was not one to waste money on something he already had and liked. Things were just things to him.

We never did agree about that. I am one of those people who is apt to imbue "things" with mystical power and sentimental meaning.

One day recently when I was reviewing my list of the things that I had to do for the day I remembered that I had taken my red striped shirt, the one with French cuffs, to the cleaners and had not picked it up yet.  I was startled as I thought about those French cuffs and the cuff links I had been wearing with it - - Jim’s oval cuff links.  I do that a lot. Wear some thing of his as a way to feel he is close by. But this time the more important point was that I could not recall removing them before I dropped the shirt off at the cleaners.

I squeezed back the tears realizing that if they dropped out of the sleeves they would  be lost to me. I felt terrible.  I quickly finished dressing so that I could get to the cleaners as soon as possible.

I was glad the familiar friendly woman was behind the counter at the cleaners when I pulled open the door and rushed in.  I told her my problem, “Do you have my husbands cuff links in your lost and  found?” 

“I will look.” But they were not there. She looked at my face and added, “If you left them in and they found them at the plant they will be in a little envelope pinned to the invoice on the shirt." She walked into the back room and I heard her pushing the heavy revolving rack around and the crackle of plastic as she checked the names on the garments.

It seemed a very long time and I was beginning to tear up again. When she returned she hung all my items on the front rack - and then she handed me a small envelope. "Here you are sweetie." I opened it and inside were two familiar gold ovals. The tears I had been struggling to hold back slipped freely down my cheeks.

A  woman waiting behind me who had heard it all volunteered, “I don't get that attached to things.”
“I try not to care so much but my husband died  last year and those are his cuff links.”
”OK.  I get it. That's terrible – sort of like flushing your engagement ring down the toilet.”

Choking back a laugh, and working hard to keep a straight face, I nodded. 

Back in the car I laughed out loud but none-the-less I am grateful that the cleaners agree  - -  small things do mean a lot.

Open the Windows to Memories

I will start by copying in the first post of this series in 2014. I thought at the time that travel was a natural place to begin.


Passports Open Windows to Memories


Today when I was searching my file cabinet for a 94 year old letter that is important to a new story I am working on - I bumped into a surprise.

The folder label said "Travel". Even though I knew it would not relate to the main search I was curious. I pulled the "Travel" file folder out of the drawer and am I glad that I did.

Five cancelled US Passports. After I checked their dates and stamps  I opened a red plastic travel wallet which was also in the folder. I was startled to find a stash of British Pound notes safely tucked in it - where they had obviously been waiting for at least twenty years. Found money. Since my last Passport recently expired - I will use this small fortunate find to pay for the renewal.

In the meantime - I am studying the dates on the Passports and the stamped pages for our travel stories.

When I looked at my black and white photo I remembered the day - August 27, 1975 - that Jim and I went to the walk-in Passport Office on K Street to apply for and pick up our new Passports. All done in three hours.

This was just a week before we were flying to London for our first over-seas adventure. I have to think about it a bit to do the story justice when I tell it.

Jim and I were excited. But we were also nervous over leaving three teen-agers on their own at home for two weeks.

We, like many couples at the time, who were traveling separate from their kids, arranged for separate flights. I flew over on British Air, leaving about 4 hours ahead of Jim. Our B and B was relatively close to Victoria Station so I found my way there and settled into a small intimate room - unpacked and went to sleep. Startled by a noise at the door of our room I woke to see Jim standing in the door-way.  The adventure had begun.

I feel lists coming on as I re-ignite the memories of those two weeks in the UK. And find the pictures.

Those two weeks together with Jim were wonderful and that was also the start of quite a trip for me. Jim went home at the end of the two weeks and I boarded a train for Paris at Victoria station. In Paris I met a good friend and she and I traveled together - for four weeks .
Using a eurail passes we hopped trains from Paris to Florence to Rome to Vienna to Germany. She dropped off the trip at her home in Germany and I went on to Amsterdam for a few days then flew home from there.  I was just winding up my MFA studies at American University and I had made the trip to see all the artworks I had been studying for seven years. It was more than I expected with other side-adventures thrown in. I am looking forward to riding memories and reliving it.

Happy to say there are three other Passports in that file. Stories galore.

A great way to start the New Year - - re-living travels that began in 1975.