In the summer of 1988, I remember being in the basement, in our house on Jefferson Blvd. My life was coming apart. I remember I was reading Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe. I was spending a lot of time in that basement. There was a corner that I had closed off for a darkroom. In the open area I had built a high desk that I could stand at or use with a tall stool. This is where I wrote, drew pictures, retouched and manipulated photographs. The rest of the basement area I had a card table and a few chairs, it was my space. I was in transition. For a few years Doris and I had discussed our marriage. In some ways it seemed that we were slowly, unlocking the bond. Sometimes it felt freeing and exhilarating and at other times, I was miserable. Doris was working with Ed Cochran in what had once been the Cochran family business before his father retired. Ed had negotiated his brother out of the business and Doris became a partner. Doris was excited by her business and friendship with Ed. Nicole was preparing to move out and spend her last two high school years boarding at Mercersburg Academy. She was already becoming an adult. I knew that my relationship with her was changing and I understood that Doris was becoming more of a role model as Nicole matured. Since Ed had become such a big part of Doris’ life, during that summer Nicole spent time with Doris and Ed. He had a pilot’s license and access to a small plane and a helicopter. He liked to take Doris and Nicole flying. When Nicole was ready to move to school, Ed’s van was perfect for loading her clothes and dorm furnishings. He and Doris moved her in. In the fall it was pointed out that Ed’s car, with an auto transmission, was better for teaching Nicole to drive so he stepped in. In the spring of 1989, we had a birthday party at a restaurant. Doris paid for the party at a nice restaurant near the school. After the party, it was a short walk back to school from the restaurant but it was dark and Ed was happy to use his van to give Nicole and her friends a lift back to the dorm. By that time, I was living nearly full time in Frederick in the basement apartment I had built in Gerri’s basement. I remember leaving the restaurant that night and driving back to the apartment feeling somewhat like I had been a guest. I was aware of my feelings, however, I did not dwell on these issues. It helped that Nicole was in school and I was keeping busy and seeing a therapist once a week.
Doris and I took a few trips together when we were seriously discussing separation. One trip was to Atlanta and one was to New York City. We compromised on the activities and hotel choices. Mostly, what I remember of those to trips was a feeling of melancholy. There was a sadness and resignation in the knowing that we were no longer compatible. I think we liked each other, cared about each other, but undeniably happier in our separate lives.
One of my first art teaching experiences was when I was asked to do a presentation for a group of amateur painters. Since they were painting from photographs I was asked to talk about photography. I didn’t know a lot about plein air painting but it seemed like a better idea than copying a photograph. I thought the photograph was the art and it was redundant to paint a copy of it. For me, art was more about ideas than craftsmanship. So, the idea was the photograph and painting a copy was an interpretation of the photograph. Maybe the photograph was art or maybe it wasn’t, but painting a reproduction of the photograph seemed ridiculous. In my presentation, I tried to make that point and it was awkward. After that, I did not do photography workshops for painters. I did do workshops in photography and those were more successful. I did an interesting presentation to mentally handicapped adults. I showed them some photographs that I could talk about and then made some pictures with polaroid film. They were very enthusiastic! My best success came much later with elementary students in summer programs and with my many years working with high school students in the “Artist in Residence” workshops and at Worcester Preparatory School. Since retirement I have accepted a few invitations to teach photography to adult amateurs using digital cameras without much success. The proliferation of camera phone pictures has changed the way most people think about photography and the classes became preoccupied with technology which has never held my interest.
In the 1980s, I enjoyed exhibiting work at the Washington County Museum, the Community College where I was teaching adult education classes, and at several smaller galleries. My last show in Hagerstown was not publicized and was not well attended. It came at the end of my commercial work and just before separating from Doris. After that I did not show work again for twenty-eight years except for work I occasionally used in the classroom.
In the fall of 1987 I left the studio and drove to a local art supply store. On the way back I saw smoke rising from the center of town. As I got closer to the studio the streets were blocked and I soon realized the fire was in the building that my studio occupied. The fire was on the second floor but mostly in the front of the building over the bookstore. It had started in the apartment where a child was playing with matches. No one was injured but there was extensive damage throughout the building. I had to stand outside and watch the destruction. I had three concerns, first there was Herman, the cat that we had since he was a kitten. We had gotten a second cat that Nicole named, “White Flint,” who we called Foophy to keep Herman company when we were working, but Herman hated Foophy. We decided that Herman had to become my studio cat. As I watched the smoke coming from the building, I wondered, what was happening to Herman? I tried to persuade the firemen to let me run up to the studio to rescue him but they would not permit it. Too dangerous, they said. I was concerned about all my expensive cameras and studio equipment and I knew it was being damaged. I was also concerned about the work in progress and the future of my business. Later that evening I was permitted to go back into the building. The power was off and it was dark. I could see that there was extensive smoke and water damage. I called Herman and heard a weak, hoarse little meow. Herman had squeezed under a bookshelf. According to the fireman, fresh air could have seeped up through the wood floor and he had avoided some of the smoke by hiding under the shelf. Somehow he had breathed enough fresh air to survive! I rushed him to the vet where he spent the night. The next morning he was fine except for the hoarse meow that remained for several days.
I would have to move out of the studio into a crude warehouse space where I assessed the damage to my equipment. Cameras and studio lights were coated with a greasy, black, smoke slime. Negatives were lost or damaged and work was actually burned. It was a critical move toward ending my commercial work that I had begun scaling back when I took the cross country trip. My work was set back even further when I discovered that collecting insurance was going to be a farce. Doris had just left the partnership that she had for many years with Joe Tischer and had moved to the Cochran agency. My policy unfortunately was still with Tischer and he was in no mood to settle the claim. I had difficulty getting an adjuster to even look at the water and smoke damaged cameras and studio lights. Tischer persuaded the adjuster to minimize the value of the damage and only paid for some of the cleaning and restoration of equipment.
From that warehouse space, I moved to a third floor studio on the corner of North Potomac and Franklin where I stayed for about six months. It was a building owned by a local architect. I notified my remaining commercial clients that I would no longer be available. I kept the Maryland Symphony and work I was doing for the State Arts Council. I focused on work for Professional Promotions and did some art but I remember being at loose ends. The studio was a place for Herman and me. We hung out while I tried to imagine what my future would look like.
I wanted a place that would cost less so my next move was to a small space that was owned by my brother Nate’s father-in-law, Abram Baer. It was located in Maugansville behind his house in a sectioned off part of a large garage. Nate helped me move my things from the third floor in Hagerstown to the place in Maugansville. We shared the small rent and were seldom there at the same time.
The psychologist I was seeing on a weekly basis had an office in downtown Frederick and I felt that for the first time I was making real progress. This was my first work with a clinical psychologist and it was helping. I decided that I wanted to work with a female therapist. I was fortunate to find Dr. Sharon Kuebbing. I saw her once a week for a couple of years. I was learning to let go of past experiences that were holding me back. Some of those troubling experiences occurred in my childhood and involved my parents and religion. I was learning to let it go and becoming more focused and less obsessive.
My time was spent working on Professional Promotions. My photography business was minimal. I was still working with a few clients and one was the Maryland State Arts Council. Their office was in Baltimore and they were happy with my photographs. They were soon to become an important contact.
I had been working, with Galen’s help, on creating an apartment in Gerri’s basement in Frederick, MD. I was staying there in that apartment most nights.
In the early spring of 1989, I had a show in a Hagerstown gallery. The Fair Gallery on East Antietam Street was crowded that night and I sold several photographs. The gallery was filled with friends, business associates and local art supporters. I was showing 47, five by seven, black and white prints, mounted in vertical, eleven by fourteen, white mats. They were all presented frameless, under glass. I was pleased with the work. Many were from the cross country trip, some were more local. They were mostly outdoor photographs involving landscape. A few included mirrors reflecting parts of the landscape, views looking forward and looking back. It was a party atmosphere. I had arranged for Jimmy Brown, a blues singer that I knew at the time to play and Dirk DeVault’s wife, Nancy, showed a few handmade kimonos. It was a fun evening. Doris attended and Nicole was there from Mercersburg Academy. The headmaster and his wife from Mercersburg Academy were there, who were William Wegman’s in-laws. After the opening, I took some friends to a local restaurant. When the party broke up around eleven o’clock I was alone. While traveling for six weeks across the country I did not feel lonely but this was different. I don’t remember if Doris came home that night but we had, of course, been discussing a separation for quite a while. I had been spending many nights in Frederick in Gerri’s basement. I felt the adrenaline draining from my body. I was suddenly lonely and depressed. As miserable as I was, it was a moment of clarity. I knew I could not rely on the company of others or their response to my work for happiness or self-worth. It was not a new idea because I had spent a lot of time living inside my head even as a child. I needed to be content with who I was. I knew my limitations but I was confident in my ability and would focus on the future. I was ready to accept change. After that I lost interest in exhibiting work and even lost interest in producing fine art. While I did some work, it was not my main occupation. I had many satisfying art ideas that I merely visualized. The work I produced, I kept to myself. I started telling myself, “If I’m going to be lonely, I’d rather be alone.” It was not a painful loneliness but more like time being present with myself. I learned that I did not need to feel lonely when I was alone.
Nicole had commuted to Mercersburg for her first two years of high school. I had participated in a car pool. Now in 1988-89 she was living at school in her junior year.
At this point, Doris and I were unofficially separated. I was spending more time living in the apartment I had in Gerri’s basement and most of my days were at the studio in Maugansville. I worked on Professional Promotions with Richard Lutzke.
Nicole was unaware of most of this and the plan was to keep our separation quiet until Nicole came home for summer at the end of eleventh grade school year. There had not been divorce in either of our families. Obviously, I had not expected our marriage to end. It was not an easy process and there were tears of anger and sadness. My focus now was on informing my family and friends and plotting a way forward for myself. It appeared to me that for Doris, the future was much more resolved and secure. She was taking over the house and furnishings. She had a relationship with Ed Cochran that I was not clear about but I knew it was more than a business arrangement. They had been spending a lot of time together. The most difficult task at hand was to tell Nicole that we would not be living together, then I would need to tell my Mother. I had already informed my brother and my sisters. They knew me well and were very accepting. They loved me, maybe more than anyone else other than Nicole.
How did it go? Well, it varied. I told Janice, Galen and Gerri first and they made no attempt to question or place blame. They helped me move forward. They both lived in Frederick about thirty minutes from Hagerstown. I had been spending more time in Gerri’s basement and that’s where I would live. It would be rent free for a while in exchange for the labor creating the apartment. Nate suggested that it was a temporary separation. I assured him that it was not temporary. I understand why people were surprised. We had been together for twenty years and from the outside it may have appeared that we were a perfect couple. My few friends expressed surprise or disappointment, but were quietly supportive.
In the spring of 1989, when Nicole moved home from school at the end of the school year I needed to tell her that I was living in Frederick. It was awkward and I was vague. As I recall, I implied that it was more about living in Frederick and working there than it was about separating. I think Doris and Nicole had a more frank discussion after I left. I felt like I handled it poorly. After talking to Nicole, I felt like a coward, a failure. I wanted to be better than that.
My Mother needed to blame someone. It was just one more way that I was disappointing her. She said, maybe, if I just got a “regular job” Doris would be happy. I just said, “No one is to blame.” I made no attempt to explain. I think Doris supported the “no one is to blame” statement but I have no way of knowing how she explained it to her parents.
The general opinion seemed to be that the separation was a result of my apparent unwillingness or inability to have a “regular job” but my priority had been focused on art and I felt comfortable with the contributions I had made to the marriage. I believed that I would be ok. I had pretty much stopped doing commercial photography after the fire. The mail order business, Professional Promotions, was showing some promise. We were creating simple designs, having them printed on t-shirts and other advertising specialties. Our target market was orthodontics but we also worked with dentists and some veterinarians. We were still in the startup phase. Richard had a Masters Degree in Fine Art and a successful business selling graphic art and illustrations to textbook publishers. Some of the work he was doing himself and some he was having done by local freelance artists. We had a verbal agreement that I would do creative work, photographing products, designing brochures, writing copy, pricing product and creating designs. Richard would bank roll the business, work with suppliers and run the office. He also provided office space. We started with one excellent employee and she helped us find a second. Richard and I would share the profits if and when the business went black. We started working out of his office, attached to their house. Richard’s investment was escalating.
Doris’ Dad, Merle, called and wanted to meet with me. We met in my small studio in Maugansville. Thinking about it now, I can imagine he was not impressed with my small work space. To me, he was alway a kind and tolerant man. Apparently he, too, believed the split was about my lack of substantial income. I was not contributing and the burden was on Doris to provide. I knew that Doris wanted me to bring money into the family budget but I insisted that I had made a major contribution to the family in providing her complete freedom to pursue her career. In many ways, we had provided for each other. She had the freedom to work without a lot of concern for the home and Nicole’s well-being, while she had provided for the family financially. Without financial stress, I had time to spend with Nicole and at the same time I could work on my skills both as an artist and photographer/designer. I was becoming tired of hearing that I had deprived the family of income! I tried to explain that, in my opinion, Doris was earning plenty of money. If for any reason we needed money, I would do whatever was required to provide but I had not seen the necessity under the circumstances. I knew our separation was about much more than the money, but the money was a symbol and easier to discuss. I told him about Professional Promotions and that I was focused on that as potential for future income. I think he went away still believing that I was at fault. I think many people did think that I was at fault. I accepted that while it was difficult, the separation was simply the best for Doris and me and I preferred to place no blame. The therapy that I was doing seemed to be preparing me for the separation. It seemed to me that Doris was in a good place. It helped that I moved to Frederick and had what felt like a fresh start. Janice, Gerri and Nate were accepting and I was excited and optimistic.
Shortly after I moved to Frederick my car was side swiped at night while parked. I discovered it in the morning and called Doris who was my insurance agent. She recommended that I get a repair quote from a Hagerstown auto repair. I guess she knew the owner and he knew that she had just bought a new BMW. He said, “So you are Doris’ husband?” I said, “Yes, however, we are separated.” He looked at my aging, damaged Subaru and said, “Looks like she’s doing better than you!” So there it is.
I was strangely optimistic. I had a bank account but no credit card or credit in my name. Doris and I had discussed a financial settlement. She wrote something up, I made some suggestions and we came to an agreement. She had set aside money for Nicole’s education from money she received from a stock sale when she left the Tischer Agency. I don’t know how much she got when she sold that stock and I don’t know how much she set aside for education. I don’t think I ever asked but if I did and if she told me, I forgot. We agreed not to negotiate that money but to leave the full amount in Doris’s care and Doris would be responsible for Nicole’s education and expenses. We paid the remaining debt to Daddy, estimated the value of the house and assets, divided it by three and I took one-third. With the college fund and two thirds of the assets, Doris would be financially responsible for Nicole. I remember the psychologist questioning whether it was wise for me to negotiate the settlement myself. However, I agreed to the settlement and signed all the papers with Doris and a lawyer. There were several poignant moments around that time. Signing those papers and walking out of the lawyer’s office that day is an experience that I clearly remember. I did not tempt regret. It was clear to me that there had been purpose to our relationship and we had in many ways supported one another. It was over now. It was best to move on. I chose to think of my life at this point as a fresh start, a second chance. I was curious but patient.
I suggested to Janice and Galen that we go together and buy an investment property in Frederick. Galen and I would remodel it. I quickly found a townhouse on Fifth Street. It was very inexpensive at $43,000. I had little experience with finance and real estate. My intention was that we would flip it for a profit. I committed to buying it without much discussion with them. It turned out to be in need of more repair than I anticipated. I used money from the separation settlement to purchase my share. Since I had no credit Janice and Galen put the title in their names and we wrote an agreement. I continued living in Gerri’s basement apartment, a space Nicole thought was depressing. She referred to it as “the coffin.” I worked on the townhouse renovation project three blocks away. If I had taken a little more time to study the location, even though it was about two blocks from a very nice neighborhood, I would have noticed that it backed up to several blocks of public housing. It was just the beginning of the crack cocaine epidemic and drugs were being sold in front of our property. It was a twenty-four hour business. There were also a few prostitutes working the block. We planned to make the house a good place to live in spite of the community activities.
I chose a local bank and met with a somewhat older female manager. I laid out the story of my financial situation, recently separated, no credit card, no credit rating and limited savings that were mostly invested in the Fifth Street property that I was planning to help renovate. She was extremely kind and helpful. She opened new accounts and helped me secure a credit card. My money was gradually running out. Janice and Galen took out a home improvement load for the the renovation project and I started working on it.
I did a complete demolition of the interior of the townhouse. I ripped out cabinet and moldings. We were replacing wiring, plumbing, drywall, doors and windows. When it came to putting it back together, Galen helped and we both paid ourselves out of money they borrowed from the bank on equity. The work was therapeutic and I thought of it as a metaphor for the renovation I was doing in my personal life. After stripping the inside, Galen and I literally rebuilt the inside and replaced a failing brick wall at the back. The entire back of the house needed to be replaced so we propped the second story roof and built the new floor and walls. When we were done, we had a property that was, in many ways, like a new house!
Around this time I met an interesting woman and she often came to visit. From my perspective, she was merely a friend. She had a boyfriend and he was understandably insecure about our friendship. There was no reason for him to worry, but I understand why he would. She lived in Hagerstown but would come see me at my place in Frederick. I would make dinner and she was good company. Like my other female friend from Hagerstown, she was intelligent and interesting but was becoming dependent on me and expected me to be available. She was company for a while.
One of my closest friends at the time was still Dirk DeVault. We had done a few commercial projects together. One night that year we had a few drinks in a bar in the small town of Waynesboro, PA. We were there for about an hour at a table when the waitress brought us drinks that we did not order. We were obviously surprised when she indicated that the drinks were sent over by two guys at another table. I don’t remember if we finished the drinks but we gave them a subtle nod and left soon after. Being a single man took some getting used to. Some wives were not happy with their husbands associating with me. I realized that I represented a lifestyle that some wives found threatening. There was a certain freedom in the life I was living but they clearly did not understand how uneventful my life was. I was certainly not a wild bachelor. I had few friends but I was enjoying the freedom. The work I was doing was physical and mostly stress free!
I continued working on Professional Promotions from the studio I shared with Nate in Maugansville. I also did work for a few new clients and doing some art but mostly I was on a bit of a professional sabbatical.
While I was still in the basement apartment, Richard called and asked to come see me. It turned out that he had fired the first of our two employes. His wife had become jealous and suspicious of the relationship. The office was in a room off the side of their home. Richard’s wife was a weaver and made women’s clothes. She was often away from home selling her things at craft fairs. The employee had been bringing baked goods to share with Richard and as far as I know, that was about it. Margaret was jealous. She gave Richard an ultimatum and he fired the employee. He was apologizing for not telling me in advance but the entire situation was embarrassing to him. His first priority was to save his marriage. I felt bad for him and the employee. I met with the fired employee and apologized for her mistreatment. At first I thought it might be illegal but she was an “at will” employee. We put it behind us and soon hired a replacement.
I gave Richard the option of taking over the business and running it with his wife. He did not want to do that. I decided that the arrangement that we had where I provided most of the labor and he put up the money was not working. The money represented power and I was agreeing to some costly decisions that I did not fully support. He was also working closely with the employees and had taken over much of the work I had done at the beginning. I knew it was time to legitimize the partnership or dissolve it. He agreed but expected me to take over half of his investment. This was something I should have negotiated because I had invested quite a bit of time to offset at least some of the money he had invested but I was still mostly disinterested in money and I was not good at looking out for my best interest. Papers of incorporation were drawn up and a payment plan was established for me to pay for half of the stock. I was given a fair interest rate. He built an office on their property and moved the business out of their house. The business paid him rent that was reasonable and mutually beneficial. His wife was no longer involved and since I was critical of her position regarding the employee firing, she stopped talking to me. We had been friends as couples but that was clearly over. Over the years I tried to normalize the relationship with her, without success. After several years I was able to make a final payment on my share of the stock. For twenty-six years, Richard and I remaied equal partners. The business became Professional Promotions, Inc.
In the early winter of 1989, I was drifting. I was 43, living in my older sister’s basement in Frederick and tearing out the interior of a hundred year old, half a twin, townhouse on Fifth Street. In the tiny apartment, I built a wall of stereo and TV. On weekends that fall and winter, I wrapped up in a blanket, listened to the Cowboy Junkies, drank a few cokes laced with generous amounts of rum, smoked a few cigarettes in the park across the street and slept. It sounds like I was depressed but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like I was recovering. I felt safe and free. I was giving myself a time out!
I had a darkroom setup in the small bedroom of the apartment and did some work there. Mostly, I was enjoying immersing myself in the physical work at the 5th Street townhouse.
I was done with psychotherapy, my therapist and I had agreed that I was finished with the work I needed to do. I did a lot of important work in those therapy sessions, she suggested that the immediate issue had been the marriage separation and that was complete. She assured me that she would be available if I felt that I needed to do more work in the future. I did not go back. I thought the most important work that I did was related to my relationship to my parents and my religious indoctrination. I could have done more work on that but the therapy had given me support and tools to continue working on my own.
I was still doing photography for “the Maryland State Arts Council.” I photographed “Artist in Residence” projects in Maryland schools. I met an artist who was recently separated and was dating. I told him I didn’t want to date, I just wanted someone to have sex with. He was separated and living temporarily in his parent’s house in Chevy Chase and had the appearances of wealth. In all seriousness, he told me that women would not be interested in spending time with me because I would be “down time” in their search for money and success. I didn’t know if he was insulting me or women. Around that time I saw a comedian on TV who said, “I don’t have a girlfriend right now. I’m saving up my money for a really good one.” This gave me a lot to think about but, as it turned out, it wasn’t all about money after all.
I became interested in the Artist-in-Residence workshop projects I was photographing. It seemed like something I could do. I had a portfolio from shows and with a kind of, what-the- hell attitude, I filled out the application paperwork, put together a page of twenty slides of my best work and sent it in. I could do workshops in schools. I liked working with kids. I didn’t think there was much chance they would accept me into the program since I only had a high school equivalent diploma and a few college classes and workshops.
I bought a computer and daisy wheel printer. The home computer idea was in its infancy. It was an Epson. It had no hard drive. You put in a floppy disk, yes it was flexible and “floppy”, to store your work and another floppy with the operating program. Of course, there was no internet and no graphics. It was a typewriter that also did some math, with memory. I loved working with it and imagined that I would start keeping a schedule and document my work and resume. I wrote letters to Nicole and kept notes.
Later that year, the house on Fifth Street was finished. I had restored it with Galen’s help. We had kept records of our time and paid ourselves an hourly wage from the bank loan. Janice was the bookkeeper. In the end, the house and renovation cost nearly $100,000. That was more than we had planned to invest and we could not find a buyer at the price we needed. I moved from Gerri’s basement to the newly remodeled townhouse. I paid a minimal rent to cover mortgage and utilities. It was a definite improvement in my life, though I had almost no income and was accumulating credit card debt.
In the spring of 1990 Nicole graduated with honors from Mercersburg Academy. During her junior and senior years at Mercersburg I sometimes spoke with her by phone or she visited a few times but my contact with her was limited, partly because of her busy school schedule and my preoccupation with making a new life. I knew that she was having difficulty with the separation and I didn’t know how to help. One night during a phone conversation, she told me a story she had read about a scientist who had spent many years on a scientific research program. In the end, he had to admit that his hypothesis was flawed. He ended his research and closed down the lab. She found the story depressing and was asking herself and me, what is the point of trying? I wanted to help but I was never good at providing satisfactory answers. I knew that for her, it was a metaphor but I was not prepared to explain how much good can come from a process that may not ultimately have the outcome one expected. I’m sure that is a lesson she learned and maybe she was aware of it then but distracted by her sadness.
The graduation ceremony was held on the lawn like several that I had photographed when Mercersburg Academy was one of my clients. The weather was perfect and I was proud to see Nicole receive awards with her diploma. Earlier, I was in the audience when she had a flute performance with a student pianist. After the ceremony I took some pictures of Nicole with Doris and with some of her friends. Doris’ parents were there as were my sisters.
In the spring and summer of 1988 and 1989 Nicole and I made two trips to the Southwest traveling in the desert around Albuquerque, Grand Canyon and all the way south to the Saguaro National Monument. On our first trip to The Grand Canyon, we drove in at mid-afternoon and enjoyed the amazing vistas. Early the next morning we woke when a park ranger knocked on our door. He informed us that we needed to leave immediately or make arrangements to stay several days because a huge snow storm was moving in. We didn’t want to be stuck in a cabin so we packed up and left. On our way out we stopped at some of the same vista overlooks and it appeared that a white curtain had been dropped. There was no vista, the falling snow was like a white-out. On the second trip, it was summer and the weather was perfect. I had tried for months to get two tickets to ride mules into the canyon. By the time we arrived there was only one ticket available. I wanted Nicole to have the experience and she was willing. The park ranger leading the trail ride gave a stern speech before heading out. I was apprehensive and a little concerned all day until I saw them riding back out. She had enjoyed the experience and had been “adopted” by a family who rode with her. She was a wonderful travel companion, ready to explore side trips and new experiences. We broke down once with a torn fan belt and an overheated engine on a road near Monument Valley. It must have been 110 Fahrenheit in the shade, and there was no shade! We sat there in that rented car maintaining our sense of humor! It was before cell phones and GPS. Eventually, a kind man came along and took us back to the closest pay phone where we called for road service. He stayed with us until the car was repaired and we were back on the road headed through more desert toward Las Vegas.
The summer after Nicole graduated I took her to Tortola and we spent a week on the beach at Cane Garden Bay and exploring the island in a Jeep.
During her senior year, she had signed up for a student exchange program called, “The English Speaking Union of the United States.” An old, private school, student exchange program between the U.S. and U.K. It was an opportunity to have a year of cultural experience and since she had skipped first grade, to get back to her age level when entering college. In the fall of 1991 she would start college at Haverford College near Philadelphia, however, in the fall of 1990, she was headed for an adventure in England and her first trip abroad. She was assigned to meet a group for a short orientation in NYC then fly to Heathrow. From there she would be on her own with suitcases and trains to Bury St. Edmunds in East Anglia. Someone would meet her there and take her to the English boarding school named The Culford School. She had decided she did not want either me or Doris to take her to New York. She chose my sister Janice and Janice agreed. She spent the weekend with me in Frederick and on Monday morning she and Janice drove away. I was excited for her. I knew how capable and sensible she was but I must admit to being apprehensive. One of the rules of the program was that she would not return home or have family visits during the year, a rule we broke twice when she returned home at Christmas and I went to travel in England with her on winter break. Doris also went for a short visit. On spring break she traveled to the lake country in a 2CV with a friend from school named Ruth who became like a sister to her, a relationship that remains.
Shortly after Nicole left for England, I received a letter of acceptance as an Artist-in-Residence with the State Arts Council. They had an assignment for me, three weeks at Stephen Decatur High School in Berlin, MD. I checked a map and saw that it was just outside Ocean City over three hours drive. I would be staying at the Snow Hill Inn and have meals with the owners. I had not been to Ocean City for at least five years. I would be working with the photography teacher in 11th and 12th grade classes. I realized immediately that I could not be gone for three weeks because of work I was continuing to do for Professional Promotions. In order to keep the work flowing and meeting schedules, I responded by offering to work the 15 days on a three days a week, five week, schedule. They accepted that schedule and I was excited by the opportunity. It felt like a validation as an artist and as an academic. I went to work putting materials together.
It was difficult to keep the studio in Maugansville while living in Frederick but I needed a studio to do photography work for Professional Promotions. I rented a small space in downtown Frederick and moved out of the Maugansville studio.
I was continuing to work for the Maryland Symphony in Hagerstown. Sandy Wantz was still the business manager of the symphony. The following week I was in a meeting with her. I mentioned that I would be visiting a school on the Eastern Shore with people from the state arts council in planning for a residency. That’s when I discovered that she had a sister named Gwendolyn, who taught at the same school. She was single. Sandy suggested that I try to meet her sister when I visited the school. I liked working with Sandy. We served together on the Washington County Arts Council and since she was the business manager for the symphony, I had worked closely with her for years. We had good times with Conductor Barry Tuckwell. When Tuckwell was performing at the Kennedy Center, he invited Sandy and me to the concert. He was staying at the Watergate Hotel. We met him in the lobby after the performance and went to dinner. Sandy and I arrived back in Hagerstown late that night. Several times Sandy and I worked with Tuckwell in my studio and on locations making photographs for publication and promotion. I was looking forward to meeting Sandy’s sister.
In late November 1990, I traveled with arts council representatives from Baltimore to Worcester County to visit Stephen Decatur High School and meet the teacher I would be working with. I also asked to meet Ms. Gwen Freeman if possible. Before leaving the school in the afternoon, I was introduced to her. She was seated on a bench in the office holding a stack of papers. She had an open smile and was pleased to meet someone who knew and worked with her older sister. I liked her smile. Her bushy hair and large glasses gave her a smart, bookish look. She was pretty in spite of looking somewhat frail. I learned that she had just returned to school after an extended medical leave. It was a very brief meeting. She seemed busy and distracted and I was on a tight schedule with another artist and the reps from the state.
Returning to Frederick, I worked on the materials and presentations for the fifteen day workshops scheduled for January and February 1991. I continued to focus on Professional Promotions. Richard and I were taking no salary and I was continuing to make payments to Richard for my share of the stock. I was paying rent to Janice and Galen for their share of the house and covering other living expenses. My only income was from the small amount of freelance work that I was doing. The workshops in January would bring in some money.
In 1990, in preparation for teaching workshops in schools, I made an appointment to meet with the photography teacher at The National Cathedral School in DC. I don’t remember how I made the contact. His name may have been given to me by the women I had been working with at the Maryland State Arts Council. I no longer have notes from that meeting or the instructor’s name. He was generous with his time and introduced me to the idea of creating a camera obscura to help students understand the camera optics and “pin hole photography.” I built a portable camera obscure for teaching then later I used the classroom or studio by obscuring window light and focusing the outdoor scene through a small hole. I used it in many classes and students were always fascinated. They enjoyed photographing the effect with the film and digital cameras. I always felt like a magician when I was standing with a group of students in a dark room with the only light coming through a dime sized hole. As their eyes adjusted to the dark, they began to see the inverted landscape, outside the window, focused and projected on the walls and ceiling! It was the source of many creative experiments!
That winter I thought a lot about Nicole in England. She felt alone and was having difficulty breaking into the English private school tight social cliques. I wrote letters to her on my Epson computer and printed them out on my daisy wheel printer. I did some painting and took long walks through town. I sometimes stopped in at Janice’s and chatted. Often Gerri would be there. I would occasionally get visitors. The two women that I knew from Hagerstown came, Dirk DeVault came at least once. I smoked a few cigarettes and watched the news and rented video tape movies from the video store. I spent one day a week in the office and took phone calls when no one else was there. The business did not have a toll free number and we only got a few calls a day, on good days. Some days we got no calls. Some orders came by postal delivery. The business was growing slowly so there was reason to push on. I developed colorful mailers and graphic art for T-shirts and other advertising specialties.
Doris arranged for Nicole to fly home at Christmas. I was happy to see her. She split her time between Doris and me though Doris and Jefferson Blvd. was home for her. At the end of the holiday, she reluctantly returned to England. She was still not happy with the social aspects of the school but she did enjoy the academic challenges and cultural experiences. I took her to the airport in Newark, New Jersey. We were both in a melancholy mood. I remember we were distracted for a while by a shabby, bearded man in the airport who struck up conversation. He seemed like a bit of a savant who had a lot of trivial information and enjoyed talking to strangers. When he learned we were from Maryland, he quizzed us on the 23 counties. He could name them all, we could not! I have no memory of driving back to Frederick alone that night while Nicole was flying back to England.
In early 1991, Saddam Hussein was causing trouble in Iraq and building up troops on the Kuwait border. President George H. W. Bush was itching to start a war with Iraq. On Saturday, January 12, I drove to DC and held a “NO WAR” sign in front of the White House. There were a few other protesters. Some nuns chained themselves to the fence and were arrested. I just held my sign and talked with a few people. I did not know that the next day there was a huge demonstration planned, so on Sunday I turned the TV on and watched throngs of people demonstrating. On Thursday, January 17 the US started the war they named Desert Storm. It is estimated that nearly three hundred Americans died in that short war and many suffered from the effects of chemical warfare after they returned home. There were likely thousands of civilian Iraqi deaths but the US Pentagon refused to release estimates. We did not count or estimate the Iraqi deaths. That was nothing compared to the war his son, George W. Bush, would launch in 2003 in Iraq and then later in Afghanistan.
In early 1991 I was prepared to do my first Artist-in-Residence workshop. I would drive to Snow Hill on Sunday afternoons and check into the Snow Hill Inn. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays I worked at the school. On Wednesday after classes, I returned to Frederick and resumed Professional Promotions work.
I did not see Gwendolyn much during those five weeks since she had her classes and I was focused on the students I was working with. In early February the school had a Black History Month program. I went, assuming it would be attended by the faculty. As I recall, Gwendolyn was the only other white faculty there. We sat together. Two white faces in a sea of black.
That evening Gwendolyn asked if I would come in to her theatre class and take some pictures of a rehearsal and I agreed to do it. I was impressed by how attractive her students were. One of the students in the class was Erica Cramer. The Cramers were good friends with Gwendolyn and have remained our friends. Erica became a writer and producer of TV shows, (Erica Messer). Later, I stopped in and watched one of their night rehearsals. After the rehearsal we talked for a while. I noticed that her students were hanging around on the stage watching. It turned out that they did not want to leave without Gwendolyn’s directive. They were concerned for her and were feeling protective. Her connection with students was remarkable. She was still recovering from surgery but seemed more relaxed and healthy. I liked her working manner, she clearly enjoyed the students and her role as teacher and theatre director.
I knew that I wanted to get to know her better but the opportunity had not occurred. On the last week I was at Stephen Decatur, when I was leaving the school in the afternoon, I decided to turn around and go back to ask if she wanted to go to the movies the next night. That would be my last day at the school. She said yes and offered to fix dinner before the movie. I found her house and she fixed two small Cornish hens. We went to the theatre at the White Marlin Mall. In the early 1990s Ocean City was still a ghost town in February. There was just one other couple in the theatre that night and we saw an Albert Brooks movie titled, “Defending your Life.”
I don’t remember our conversations but we had no difficulty finding common interests. Gwendolyn’s house was filled with books, art and memorabilia. We were Albert Brooks fans and had enjoyed the movie. I discovered that in addition to her sister Sandy, I also knew of her two brothers and their spouses. I felt relaxed and comfortable. I was used to female friendships but this felt like something more. Maybe romantic, a feeling I had not had for quite a while. I was not ready to trust the feeling, so I was cautious.
When the assignment at the school was complete, I was back in Frederick. During a phone conversation with Gwendolyn she said the play that they were rehearsing when I photographed her students was being performed and I was invited. It was “The Curious Savage.” I could spend the night at her house. I went and the play was excellent. That night I slept on her couch. She told me she was going to be in Hagerstown visiting her brother in early March. I invited her to come to Frederick and have dinner with me at my house. When the time came, I cleaned the house and made spaghetti and salad. I was so looking forward to seeing her again. She came, she looked happy and beautiful. The evening was electric and romantic with candles and music. Her body and intelligence was exciting. She brought the Enya CD “Watermark.” We sat on the sofa and listened to the music after dinner. I could tell we were making a connection. I had not been unhappy living alone but I realized I was ready for love and she was extraordinary! She stayed until after midnight and when she left she took one of my shirts. I was infatuated, however, before I could see her again, I would be going to England to spend the winter break with Nicole.