A Memoir       
Don Lehman

Chapter 14

Chapter 1 1946-1951
Chapter 2 1950-1952
Chapter 3 1952-1957
Chapter 4 1957-1961
Chapter 5 1961-1962
Chapter 6 1962-1966
Chapter 7 1966-1973
Chapter 8 1973-1977
Chapter 9 1977-1983
Chapter 10 1983-1988
Chapter 11 1988-1991
Chapter 12 1991-1996
Chapter 13 1996-2002
Chapter 14 2002-2012
Chapter 15 2012-2014
Chapter 16 2014-2016
Chapter 17 2016


In the summer of 2002, Nicole and Erik invited us on a trip to England. We spent time in London and visited Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon and the Cotswolds. It was Gwendolyn’s first trip abroad and she was excited to visit locations she had read about all her life. Erik shared hotel and airline points he had achieved at work. We shared other expenses and did some things together and some on our own. Gwendolyn and I had traveled but we especially enjoy traveling with Nicole, Erik and now with the grandsons! In addition to England, we have vacationed to Florida and Puerto Rico with them.

It was times like these that I was grateful for all the seemingly random, fortuitous directions my life had taken. I had applied to teach photography art classes in schools and met Gwendolyn. She was the right person for me at just the right time. It was a love story! She was accepting and willing to love me. I was ready to love her. She was easy to love and I wanted to be with her. We were happy together. We both had issues with anxiety and we could be sensitive and helpful to one another. She was a happy and positive person. My relationship with Gwendolyn was exciting, and a time of personal growth. We traveled, we read books and we taught workshops and classes. She wrote and directed plays and I helped design and build sets. I enjoyed her students and I was becoming a better teacher.

It was at the end of that trip to England in 2002 that we learned Mother had died. Erik arranged for us to change out plane tickets and fly home a day earlier so we could arrange to be at the funeral. I was back at Mt. Olive Mennonite church, but the building and the people no longer effected my emotions. I was numb here and was comforted by the presence of my immediate family. We waited in a small anteroom. We were telling stories and not entirely successful in our attempt to be reverent. Mother had lived 92 years and was relieved from the anxiety and depression she suffered most of her life, as well as the natural effects of old age and heart disease. There was no reason for sadness. I was surrounded by the important people in my life. Gwendolyn, Nicole, my two sisters, Galen, Nate and Kathy. Doris was there. Except for Nicole and Gwendolyn and maybe Kathy, we had all experienced the oppressive religious social politics our parents had clung to and we were happy to have, with considerable effort, freed ourselves of. Nate wanted to speak but he was not permitted. The church was too sacred for an infidel (my words) like him to stand and what he might say could not be predicted. One of the church officials read something he had written. After the burial, we enjoyed talking and catching up with some of the cousins, especially Uncle Andrew’s family, Alta, Carroll, Nelson and Wilmer.

After Daddy died in 1992, Mother had several years of reasonably good health before her heart began to fail. She was still using antidepressants and had some appointments with psychotherapists but she was as happy as could be expected. Nate lived close by and spent a lot of time with her. Also, Janice and Gerri took turns spending days with her. I did less, mostly because I was four hours away and partly because I found her tendency to criticize difficult to the point of being intolerable. I did make trips to the Professional Promotions office once a month and would go to see her then. Menno Haven was about one half hour from the PP office. During the last year of her life when we had 24 hour care for her, I sometimes spent the night in her apartment with her. Nate was with her when she died. She had been to the hospital a few times with congestive heart failure and when she died she had requested that Nate not call for an ambulance. She knew she was dying and Nate says that she went peacefully. Janice and Gerri arrived shortly after her death. Since Gwendolyn and I were in England, we learned from a phone call from Doris since she knew how to contact us.

The next summer in 2003 Gwendolyn and I went back to England. We spent a few days in London, then drove to Salisbury, Stonehenge, and on to Bath. We stayed in a B&B in Bath and made a few side trips. One side trip was to the Laycock Abby to William Fox Talbot’s home. That trip culminated in Ruth Caddock’ home town in East Anglia to attend her wedding to Claus Hanson. Nicole participated in the wedding. Doris and Ed were also there. One memory is that the wedding was in a tiny, thatched roof country church. The church was filled and it was one of the hottest days in British history. The hotel we were staying in did not have air conditioning, (most British hotels did not) and it was very uncomfortable. However, it was a beautiful wedding and reception. Our travels in England were memorable!

Stonehenge is one of those places that seems to vibrate with mystery. What was going on in the countryside around those rocks five thousand years ago? Unlike natural wonders of Niagara Falls, Yosemite Valley, Grand Canyon, Stonehenge was constructed by human hands with purpose. On this trip, I did the driving in a rental car, trying to stay on the left and navigate through the roundabouts! Only got honked at a few time.

In 2002 we started a series of improvements on the house. I turned the screened porch into a sunroom which made it part of the living quarters, adding about 150 square feet to the house. I also reconfigured the front deck. Two years later we remodeled the kitchen. The Coke machine that had been in the kitchen when I met Gwendolyn, sadly had to go. Once again I did most of the work. Galen came and helped set the cabinets. In 2007 we hired a man to completely remodel the hall bathroom. Two years later in 2009 we designed an addition for the house that added an office, a sitting room off the master bedroom with a fireplace and a large walk-in closet. The project also included a new, larger bathroom off the master bedroom. We hired a contractor to do the major construction and I did the finish work and painting. We were happy with the addition. Gwendolyn and I had been using the small dining room as an office and now with the new larger, sunny office we had our original dining room back! Erik referred to the sitting room as the Simon and Toby addition because I built an alcove with a trundle bed where the boys slept when they visited.

In 2002 I began a series of paintings. I used soft pastels and made 6” x 8” paintings. Mostly the subject was interior rooms and doors. Light was often coming from the other room or from around the corner and through the doorway. I also made a few nude studies. By 2004 I had about forty that I was happy enough with to mat and save. I also kept a lot more sketches and unfinished pieces in boxes. I was working in acrylic on board and on canvas at the same time. I painted a canvas of Daddy as a young man with his first car. That painting was based on an old photograph. I also painted a “plain” Mennonite style suit coat. Other paintings are also mostly architectural interiors.

We went to New York that winter and saw one of Gwendolyn’s former drama students, Jennifer Wills, in a Broadway theatre. She shared a lead role with Brook Shields in the musical “Wonderful Town.” She invited us back to her dressing room after the play. It was exciting to go backstage at The Al Hirschfeld, a Broadway theatre. Later she went on to play the lead in “Phantom of the Opera.” Unfortunately, we did not get to the city to see that production. We saw her in several plays at the Walnut Street Theatre. We took the Muthers to see her playing Marian the librarian in “The Music Man.” Simon and Toby got to meet her after the show. They were amazed to see her out of make up and stage costumes. They couldn’t believe it was actually her!

Early 2004 we learned that Nicole and Erik were expecting and the baby was due in late June or early July. I was in Salisbury getting the Honda Civic Hybrid serviced when Gwendolyn called and said Nicole and Erik were heading to the hospital. They had declined the information about the gender. As soon as the car was done and I drove back to Ocean Pines, Gwendolyn had our things packed and we headed to Philadelphia and the Thomas Jefferson Hospital. I was surprised by how concerned I became for Nicole’s well-being. It was an extremely long labor. We waited all night with Doris. In the early morning of July 3rd, the doctor decided he needed to do a c-section. We were so happy to see a beautiful, healthy boy who would be Simon! Nicole was fine and happy. We all took turns holding him. It was a Saturday. Later that day we left, came home and packed our things and went to DC for the NEA (National Teachers Association) convention where Gwendolyn was a rep. I spent some time that day looking at art then I went to the general meeting when Hillary Clinton spoke. That weekend we went back to Nicole and Erik’s and again took turns holding baby Simon. We made many trips to their house that summer.

After a few months, when they both went back to work, Nicole asked if Doris and I would make time twice a month to spend a day with Simon. I was glad for this opportunity so on alternating Mondays either Doris or I would spend the day with him. Gwendolyn went with me when she was not working. It was wonderful watching Simon’s development as he began to walk and talk. The twice a month visits continued when Toby was born and there were two little boys. We went to the playground. We went for long walks. We liked walking to the nearby train station. Sometimes we went to McDonalds or a local restaurant for lunch. Mostly we just played until nap time. After their nap they always anticipated when Nicole would come home from work. She would often call when she was leaving to say she was on the way. I would give the phone to Simon. He would always ask her, ”Are you on da way?” These alternating Monday trips to Lansdowne continued for five years until both boys were in school! Soon after Toby was born, Nicole transitioned to reduced hours at work and had a bit more time at home.

In the spring of 2005, after considerable discussion, we purchased Richard’s share of the condo from Professional Promotions and moved ownership to Gwendolyn and me. It was a bright, south facing, one bedroom, two bath condo in a small 16 unit building. The building was called Seahaven at 42nd street ocean block. We liked the condo and the location near the Convention Center just a few steps from the beach. We turned rentals over to a local rental agency and used it several weeks each summer for ourselves, sharing it with Erik and Nicole and relatives. During the winter months we made improvements like replacing carpet with ceramic tile and upgrading furniture and redoing one of the bathrooms. It cost us a few thousand each year but it was not a great financial burden. As nieces and nephews got older, our families came less frequently and it just became an unsuccessful financial holding. The real estate market was beginning to improve and after nine years, we sold it quickly in the fall of 2014.

In the summer of 2005, Gwendolyn and I took a vacation to Florida. We flew to Miami. Erik gave us a night on his Hilton “points” at a nice little hotel in South Beach. We loved it and bought a second night’s stay. They had a beautiful pool and a gate that led to the beach. At night we walked through the streets and enjoyed the art deco inspired hotels and restaurants. From there we drove south, spending a little time in the Everglades then down through the Keys to Key West. On the way to Key West we stopped and looked at the beach on Bahia Honda where I had camped in 1966, almost 40 years earlier. We checked into the Casa Marina Resort Hotel. I found it hard to believe we could vacation in such luxury! We enjoyed the hotel restaurants, pools, ocean and especially the outdoor buffet breakfast each morning! One day we rented a scooter and explored the island! We walked the streets and went to art galleries and historic sites such as Hemingway’s home. At the end of the vacation, we drove back to Miami and flew home.

The big event for 2006 was Toby’s birth on March 10th. It was a Friday and I had been so stressed by the long wait and worry when Simon was born that I decided that I wanted to wait until the actual birth before going to the hospital. We knew that there would be a Cesarean so we left home when we knew they were at the hospital. Erik called us when we were on the way to tell us they had a second boy and everyone was healthy. When we got to Lansdowne, we picked up Simon at day care and took him with us. When we arrived at the hospital we got our first look at “Baby Muther” through the nursery window. They did not yet have a name. It was fun introducing Simon to “Toby” Tobias. Later in the day we took Simon to their house and stayed with him over night. On Saturday, we took Simon back to the hospital for some family time. Doris was there. In the afternoon we put Simon in a stroller and walked the several blocks to the Convention Center where the annual Flower Show was in its final days, maybe it’s actual last day for the year. The flowers were looking rather sad! Simon was getting as much attention as the flowers! People could not resist commenting on his adorable face! He fell asleep while we strolled through the show. After that weekend, we loved going to visit the Muthers and playing with the two beautiful boys. That summer they played in a little kiddie pool in their back driveway!

I turned sixty years old in 2006. Gwendolyn would also turn sixty in September. It was the year of our tenth wedding anniversary. We decided to celebrate with a family party! In the fall, we reserved the Rhubarb House Restaurant in Hagerstown and invited Gwendolyn and my brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and a few additional friends. We took Karen Cramer with us so she could attend as a friend. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Hotel at Maugansville where we often stay when visiting family. We were happy that all our family members could attend, even Gwendolyn’s nephew, Curtis Cunningham and his wife came from Florida. I gave Janice’s grandson, Isaac, a video camera and he interviewed people and I made a DVD of it. Toby was just a baby but he was there! I was happy that Doris also was there. Gwendolyn and I had a wonderful time and our families became better acquainted.

Over the years, Simon came to spend time with us without his parents starting when he was still less than a year old and he always seemed comfortable and happy. He slept in a “Pack and Play” at the base of our bed. As he grew, he refused to sleep in what seemed like a baby bed. On one occasion he pointed to the “Pack and Play” and said, “I’m not sleeping in that!” We improvised while we planned an addition. When Toby was born they soon started coming together to spend long weekends or 4 of 5 days in the summer. They had a list of places they like to go when they came to the beach beside playing in the ocean. We also had lots of toys and activities at our house. They put on shows with a little karaoke, Gwendolyn had a little chest filled with large acrylic “gems” that they used when they played “Pirates.” We had picture drawing contests. They had lots of energy and we invented activities for them! We had many fun times!

After Christmas Day 2008 we went to Florida with the Muthers. We stayed in a condo near the top floor of the Hilton Doubletree in Miami Beach. We were on Collins Avenue so the beach as well as the hotel’s heated pool were the main attractions. The condo had three bedrooms and Gwendolyn and I were in one that was somewhat separated by a short hallway. In the mornings we would hear little feet running back the hall to our room. We had a wonderful holiday with perfect midwinter weather of 75 to 80 degrees during the day! Toby was still using a pacifier. One day when Gwendolyn and I were sitting with Toby on the condo deck, about 17 floors up, his “pacie” popped out of his mouth and flew through the deck rail. We did not see it fall so we did not know where to look for it. It may have been blown onto another deck below or it may have fallen into the bushes next to the hotel. Erik and I looked for it on the ground but were unsuccessful. I think that ended his use of a pacifier though he experienced a bit of withdrawal. I was surprised to see it fall through the rails of the deck. Since he was used to me rescuing things that were out of his reach, the first words out of his mouth were, “Pappy, get a stick!” We were also with Simon when he lost his last pacifier. He was demonstrating how he could bite the end, then pull on the ring stretching it when it tore in half. He had a look of shock on his face before he burst into tears.

By the end of summer 2009, we were ready to move into the new office here in our house. It was a pleasure to work at the new work table I had built in. I had designed and built a U-shaped table that faced windows all around. There was work space for Gwendolyn and me to sit next to each other. When we sat at our computers we could look out onto a deck and the wooded space between us and the house next door. There were several large holly trees. The window to my right looked out toward the street and in the morning I could watch people walking their dog or riding bikes. Our street had a cul de sac at each end so there was little traffic except when people came for their mail. The mail boxes were directly across the street.

I designed and self-published a book of photographs I titled, “Scenario.” This was done for the purpose of preserving some of the work I did in the late 1970s and 80s. I used “Blurb.com.”

Most days, I went to my studio in Berlin where I did photography and design work for Professional Promotions. We split the rent for the studio space with the company because we also used it as a storage space. I built large, deep shelves and the space was large enough with high ceilings to do photography and room for additional work tables that I built for doing artwork. It was a good space to work in. I had started out in the Eastern Shore Business Center back in 1995 when I moved out of the house in Snow Hill to share the house Gwendolyn had. The first studio was a second floor office about 12’ by 14.’ It was a tight space for the Professional Promotions work. A new and much larger space opened up on the first floor in about 2000. It was ideal for personal artwork and Professional Promotions work. It had one space of about 14’ x 16’ that I used for storage and camera work with studio lights. In a second space of about 12’ x 12’, I built work tables on three sides with bookshelves and overhead lighting. A hallway that had additional storage led to a bathroom that I shared with a doctor’s office. At Professional Promotions we were transitioning to digital photography and I had new equipment to work with. For at least 15 years I spent a lot of my time in that studio space.

In July 2009, we started going to Shepherdstown, WV to the Contemporary American Theatre Festival. We enjoyed the shows. The first show we saw was called “Farragut North” which was later made into a movie called the “Ides of March.” There were 5 shows and we saw 3. We were surprised by the quality of the material, sets and the actors. There was no question that we would make it an annual summer event.

In the summer of 2010 Gwendolyn and I went to Savannah, GA and Charleston SC. The weather was hot, especially Savannah. We spent time driving through the city with the air conditioner on. We liked the markets and the Telfair Museum but limited our walking. On one day trip we cooled off a bit by going out to Tybee Island. We loved the art galleries and restaurants, especially “Hanks” in Charleston and enjoyed walking the streets at night taking pictures.

I also used Blurb.com to produce a book for Toby and gave it to him at Christmas. It was a book about trains and train crossings. “Toby’s Book of Trains and Railroad Crossings.” It was a picture book of photographs made with Toby at railroad crossings around the Berlin, MD, area and on a steam train excursion birthday party held in the caboose. The train excursion was planned by his parents and left a station near Wilmington, DE and traveled a short distance. Toby was fascinated by trains and especially the way tracks were embedded in the road at crossings. We took many rides on the small train at the “Jolly Roger” park in Ocean City. I had made a book for Simon, the year after he was born, with a story and pictures about ducks, his favorite animal at the time.

In December, 2011 we made a quick trip to New York City for the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Show. It was a great opportunity to see the refurbished Music Hall. The art deco theatre palace was built in 1932. The traditional Christmas show with The Famous Rockettes was an annual production since 1933. I was blown away as we walked through the doors. The hall interiors were beautiful. Designed by Donald Deskey, when it was first opened, a New York critic reported, "It has been said of the new Music Hall that it needs no performers." The theatre had just undergone a 30 million dollar restoration in 1998-1999. Walking the streets of Manhattan is fun at Christmas!

Christmas was a special time, especially for Gwendolyn. She had happy memories that go back to her childhood in Williamsport, Maryland. For me as a child, it was more of a church-related season of singing Christmas carols and reading the bible story of Joseph and Mary, shepherds and baby Jesus. There were toy displays in the store and lots of holiday candy. I used a sheet of plywood in my bedroom to set up a train display. I don’t really remember it as a Christmas thing, maybe it was just something I did in the winter, like sledding on the streets when it snowed. Weaver Avenue, a street near our house had a hill, perfect for sledding. The street would be blocked off and we could sled without the worry of traffic. Kids used to jump on their sleds and grab the back bumper of cars. It was dangerous fun! Occasionally on back roads, Daddy would allow Dickie and me to hook up to the bumper of our car when the roads were covered with snow.

From the time I met Gwendolyn, we always spent Christmas with Jack and Deb and their family. It has become a wonderful tradition. On Christmas Eve, Jack cooks a gourmet dinner and later reads aloud a children’s book of The Night Before Christmas poem written in the Cajun dialect. He’s pretty good with the dialect and everyone has a good laugh! On Christmas morning the grownups have mimosas and there is a gigantic gift exchange! We then arrange to see our siblings and spend time with Nicole, Erik and the boys.

Our condo view from deck, 42nd Street, Ocean City, MD
Condo Living room.
  Chapter 15, 2012 to 2014