In the spring of 2014 I was sitting on the sofa reading a book when suddenly I realized I was slumped over and the book was on the floor. I knew that I had momentarily passed out. I had been having dizzy spells but I had just pretty much ignored them. Well, I ignored this little incident as well. About a week later I was sweeping the walkway at the side of the house when I suddenly woke up on the ground. I had a scraped hand and a bruised forehead. I was ready to ignore it again but that night I mentioned it to Gwendolyn. She insisted that I get checked out at the cardiologist. The doctor had me wear a heart monitor for 24 hours. When they evaluated the results, I got a call from the nurse stating, “ You are experiencing cardiac syncope. You need a pacemaker right away. We can do it on Friday.” Again my response was, are you kidding? A pacemaker? I told them I was not ready to make an appointment. That night Gwendolyn insisted that I call Nicole and tell her. The next morning Nicole was able to use her contacts at the Penn Medical Center to get an evaluation on Friday. Obviously I was not driving, so Gwendolyn drove me to Philadelphia. Nicole went with us to the doctor. We took the train and she made it stress free finding our way around the hospital complex. The UPenn doctor agreed that I needed a Pacemaker for syncope, a condition whereby the heart spontaneously stops beating. So far I had been fortunate that my heart had continued to restart. I was also fortunate that I had not been driving any time when I had passed out. I was given the option of having the Pacemaker put in at the Penn Center or back at Peninsula Regional in Salisbury. I chose to stay with my local group of cardiologists and had the work done in Salisbury. I was starting to feel like an old man! The procedure was easy and I was only in the hospital overnight.
I was about to sign a contract to teach another year at Worcester Prep when I was scheduled for surgery. I told Dr. Barry Tull that I would be getting a Pacemaker in a few days and he surprised me by saying, “Welcome to the club, I’ve had one for a couple of years. It’s no big deal!” That made me feel a lot better because he seemed fit and healthy with lots of energy! I continued teaching two more years before retiring from that job. That year, 2014-2015, I taught classes on Thursdays and Fridays. On my final year, 2015-2016, I taught five classes on Fridays only.
I closed the studio in Berlin that I had shared with Professional Promotions and moved everything to warehouse space. We had been sharing the expense with PP as we used it for our personal storage and I painted and did photographs there. When I retired from PP, I took over the entire expense of the studio. I spent some time sorting through papers and equipment in the process of closing the studio and moved all the storage into rented warehouse space. I brought some of the things that needed humidity control to the house.
In 2013 we built an addition that included a 5’ x 12’ space for storage, a small guest room, private bath and a new laundry. The old laundry had been in a hallway closet near the kitchen. That space became a new pantry. The original bedroom became my new studio space. The new guest room also had a large sliding glass door onto a back deck and the outdoor shower.
It had become a tradition to go to Shepherdstown, WV to the Contemporary American Theatre Festival. In July 2014 we saw all five terrific shows. That year we specially liked “Dead and Breathing” and “Uncanny Valley.”
We decided to sell the condo at the end of the 2014 summer season. It was only on the market for a few weeks before we had a contract. During our ownership the real estate market crashed and gradually recovered and we felt it had recovered sufficiently to profit from a sale. We enjoyed having it for nine years, renting it, sharing it with family; however, in recent years it was being used less and had just become an investment that was not paying dividends.
Simon and Toby came for a week again in the summer of 2015 and we had a great time. They have a list of things they like to do when they come. To name the main things, play mini golf, go to Candy Kitchen (they call it “Candy World”), Jolly Roger rides and games, the beach and the boardwalk. On the day we went to the beach the weather was perfect. The waves were good, the water was warm, the sky was blue and temperature perfect. Simon and Toby are both good swimmers and had great fun riding the boogie boards and bouncing in the waves. A highlight this year was when Simon bought a set of ping pong paddles and balls at a local store. Gwendolyn needed to work a few of the mornings so while she was working we built a table out of wood we had in the shed. We also found some paint and Simon and Toby painted it. They were so excited to show the “surprise” to Gwendolyn when she came home. When the paint dried, we set it on sawhorses and started playing. Simon’s game improved quickly and I needed to take effort to challenge him. Toby played also and improved his game. We rode bikes and ate out for some good meals. When it was time to go home, Nicole and Erik met us at the McDonald’s in Dover, about half way for each of us. They were happy to see their parents!
Christmas was with family in Hagerstown, then in the afternoon of New Year’s Eve we took Erik, Nicole and the boys to see Jennifer Hope Wills in “The Music Man” at the Walnut Street Theatre. After the show Eric and Nicole took us to dinner at Sagami in Collingswood, NJ. It was a wonderful holiday.
Over holidays now, while in Hagerstown, Gwendolyn and I often stay at the Hampton Inn at the Maugansville exit on I-81. When I was a kid in Maugansville, I never would have imagined spending holiday nights in a hotel within view of where Mother’s sister, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Harry Miller lived. I used to ride my bike to their farm when I was just a kid. I thought I was going there to help out on the farm but I was probably just getting in the way! Even though we sold milk in the store, I had a little metal milk bucket with a tight lid I could hang on my bike handle bars and I would ride to their farm to get raw milk. Mother and Daddy thought it was more healthy. Once when I was too young to ride my own bike I went with Nate. There was a long downhill lane from the farm to the main road into Maugansville. While we were coasting down the farm lane, somehow I got my bare foot caught in the front spokes. My foot was cut but I was not hurt badly.
After I moved out of the Frederick townhouse that I had renovated with Galen’s help, we had a series of renters with ups and downs. It was a nice, modest house when I lived in it. Several of our renters did not work out well at all. A few times after a renter moved out, we had to do a lot of work to get it back in shape. We had enough good years to make it profitable. In 2014 we had renters that were gradually destroying the place. We finally asked them to move and they refused. After several month of lost rent, we finally and reluctantly had them evicted. Over the years we continued to pay ourselves when we worked on the house and the rent had paid the mortgage and expenses. In 2014 the mortgage had been paid off for about five years. At one point, we cleaned it up so Janice and Galen could live there while they built a nice house in Libertytown just outside of Frederick. The Libertytown house was a family center for them as their grandchildren grew. They wanted to do a “fix-up” and rent the Fifth Street house to their grandson and a few of his friends. Janice always managed the property and since the deed was always in their name, there were years that they were able to take some tax benefits. Generally, I was becoming less interested in the property and there was less reason for me to be part of the ownership. We quickly established a price and they bought our share.
We had some money in a savings account as a result of selling stock in Professional Promotions, selling the Ocean City condo and now the sale of my share of the 111 West 5th Street in Frederick. Gwendolyn and I had been talking about buying or renting a place in Lansdowne, PA. As Simon and Toby were growing they were involved in many more activities like school, soccer teams and camps. They were coming less frequently to spend time with us in Berlin doing activities at the beach and boardwalk. If we wanted to be part of their lives, and we did, we needed to be in Lansdowne. For a year or more we looked at real estate websites and I did financial calculations comparing rentals, condos, and houses. We decided against rental because we wanted to make an investment in a property. In late February of 2015, we selected 2 condos, one twin and about 3 houses to look at and spent a day with real estate agent Gloria Carpenter and her son Michael. We selected a 75- year-old house that seemed solid and was located on a street that looked inviting. On April,13th, 2015 we settled on 188 West Greenwood Avenue. The prices in Lansdowne seemed low considering the pleasant community in close proximity to the train and the city of Philadelphia. Within a few weeks, we had purchased the house and began using it while we did extensive improvements. We refinished hardwood floors, upgraded the electrical panel, painted rooms, completely demo-ed and remodeled the main bathroom and powder room upstairs. Then we put in a new kitchen and broke an opening into the garage and added a downstairs bathroom. During the summer, we started working on landscaping and in the fall hired a company to do some new plantings and worked at some of it ourselves. Gwendolyn made most of the selections and we worked on plans together. It took most of a year to finish all that. We still had some painting and window treatments to work on but it was a comfortable and attractive place to stay. Simon and Toby like coming and we had quite a few family dinners.
We met our next-door neighbors and enjoyed chatting with them while the work was being done.
One of the stories was a project that went south! We had to remove a large concrete porch at the back of the house. We hired a company to build a new deck. They started the project on a hot summer weekend. We were there and they seemed to be doing a pretty good job. On the third day they were ready to put down the deck boards and the railing. We were leaving and had paid them half of the contract price. The foreman asked kindly if I would be willing to pay the rest of the amount before we left as they expected to finish by the end of the next day. I agreed and paid in full. He said he would text pictures as they worked. I received a picture the next day and the work did not seem right when I looked at the pictures. We went back the next weekend and they had not finished and the work they had done after we left was sloppy and totally unacceptable! On close inspection, I realized then that they were incompetent. I called and got no answer. I left a message stating my disappointment and made it clear that I did not want them to come back! A few weeks later Galen and Janice came and Galen rescued me. On another hot day we spent a day and a half dismantling the worst of their work, rebuilding and finishing the project! About 10 months later I went to Frederick and helped him with a deck he was building on his house. Galen has helped me many times with projects here at our house in Ocean Pines! I have always enjoyed working with him and I admire his problem-solving abilities and skills.
After that unpleasant experience with an incompetent contractor, we had several excellent contractors, including the crew who refinished our hardwood floors and a contractor who did all the work in bathrooms and kitchen. The yard, shrubbery and flowers and trees were looking great.
At the end of the 2014-2015 school year Gwendolyn retired. A few former students had been talking for years about planning a big retirement dinner for her. They started working on the dinner and a Scholarship Fund in her name. The goal for the scholarship fund was $47,000 dollars, a thousand for each year she had taught, one year in Hagerstown and 46 at Stephen Decatur in Worcester County.
The dinner was under a big tent behind the Merry Sherwood estate. It was a warm Saturday afternoon in early June. Most of the work was done by Phillip Cropper and Laura Deeley Bren. The grounds were beautiful and the tent was filled with gourmet food and flowers. There were activities for the kids and a program. Lou Taylor spoke as former student, principal and assistant county superintendent of schools. Friends and other faculty members spoke and told stories. Gwendolyn and I sat in the front row. Simon and Toby sat there with us! They showed a video and Gwendolyn made some appropriate comments! There were hundreds of people there, mostly former students. Some were still living here but many came from a distance like California and Florida. It was a proud day for me to be with her. Gerri, Janice and Galen came and Jack and Deb, Dick and Sheryl were there with some nieces and nephews. It was a day of big celebration.
I continued my volunteer work for the Ocean City Art League. I enjoyed hanging the shows with other volunteers and I liked setting the lights. Shortly after I started volunteering, the organization built a new facility with the support of contributors and the town, called the Ocean City Arts Center. It featured two large galleries, two small exhibition areas, two large classrooms, pottery workroom and four artist studios. It became very successful. I was invited to show my work in an exhibit with two other artists in early 2015. I showed eleven 8x12 black and white photographs mounted under glass in 16x20 vertical, white mats and thin black metal frames. All but one were recent work on the subject of “Time.” I had been thinking about time, writing, making lists of expressions regarding time and photographs were an inevitable subject. I wanted to print the work myself so I purchased a nine head, Epson printer with archival, pigment inks. We have used this printer to make high quality prints of Gwendolyn’s paintings and photographs in addition to my work. I was pleased with the work when it was shown at the gallery and the opening was well attended. Of course, all who were there had not come to see my work but I was pleased with the number of people who did come. I was honored that Gerri, Janice and Galen came all the way from Frederick to the opening. Nicole, Erik, Simon and Toby had a chance to see the show before it came down.
After Thanksgiving, 2015 we went to Puerto Rico with the Muthers. We spent a few days in a resort Hilton hotel in San Juan, walked around the fort and old San Juan. Most of the week, we spent at a Resort near Fajardo. We had a townhouse at the Waldorf Astoria. It was a wonderful relaxing time with Nicole, Erik and the boys. Erik’s travel and Hilton credits made the resort affordable for us! Our Thanksgiving dinner was in a nice restaurant at the hotel. Traveling with them is so easy for us because Erik does most of the planning and driving. We drove through the La Yunque rainforest and it rained a bit. We all started hiking down to La Mina falls. Gwendolyn and I did not make it all the way. It was getting late and I was concerned about overdoing it on the hike back out so we rested a while then turned and headed back out.
At the end of the 2015-2016 school year I retired from eighteen years of teaching photography part time in the art department at Worcester Preparatory School. I had developed the curriculum and I wrote the textbook that we used. We covered the basic technical instruction, I demonstrated the camera obscura effect. We made pinhole photographs and photogram prints. We discussed the history and the work of 19th century photographers, then the 20th century fashion, journalism and fine art photography of Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Annie Lebovitz and others. We explored the work of artists such as Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Ralph Eugene Meatyard. My students made many wonderful photographs over the years. We had work exhibited in the hallways all year long and every year there was a major show in the spring. Student work won state and local awards. We had work published. We transitioned from film, single lens reflex cameras to digital SLRs and in the final years spent some class time discussing how photography was changing and being redefined with camera phones and social media. Aside from my age, one of the reasons I chose this time to retire was that I thought the textbook needed to be rewritten to address the recent changes in the medium and the role photography was playing in culture.
Back in 1988, I started out teaching one day a week on Fridays. For a few years I taught classes two days, Thursday and Friday. I always had five or six, fifty minute classes on Fridays. Over the years, I experienced anxiety frequently the day before and the morning of classes. The symptom was a sense of dread and obsession around an idea or problem. Even though the classes went well and the students were enthusiastic and worked hard, I could not shake the emotional stress. The anxiety would dissipate when students entered the room. They always seemed happy to be there and often told me it was their favorite class! The classes were popular and every year many more students would sign up than I could take. Dr. Barry Tull was always complimentary. I was never told what to teach or how. My classes were never monitored except when the school was being evaluated for association membership qualification. I could spend money and submit bills and get reimbursed. No one ever questioned my spending. I never spent more than the generally agreed $3000 per year. At first I used my own equipment but quickly added cameras that the school bought. By the last year we had about 10 Nikon DSLRs. When I started, I had a cart and moved to various available classrooms. After about three years the school built a new gym which included an exercise and weightlifting room. I was given the room that had been used as a weight room. I was thrilled to have my own room. For part of the year, I closed up the windows and had an area we could use as a camera obscura, a darkroom and a studio after we purchased a professional lighting set-up. Eventually, the music department expanded into that room. I was given a small Cape Cod style house that was on the campus and used as an auxiliary classroom. The entire house was mine for the last nine years that I was there. I made the kitchen a darkroom. One of the bedrooms was storage and shooting area and the other was a camera obscura and studio with professional lighting. The dining room and living room was classroom area. The small bedrooms upstairs were unused and students enjoyed shooting pictures up there, especially when it was raining or extremely cold. I mostly worked with 10th, 11th and 12th grades though some years I took ninth graders who had a strong interest. I had a few students who were able to work the class into their schedule all four years of high school. Most students took more than one year. The students were bright and generally well-mannered. Class sizes were mostly 8 to 12 but I had as many as 14. I learned so much over those eighteen years! The classes I had taken, the self-study and professional work I had done was useful but teaching pushed me into a deeper understanding of the art form. I had a large library of photography books when I started teaching. I had favorite photographers but I had very little awareness of the history and culture. As photography changed from film to digital, teaching required me to stay up to date with the technology. I believe I made a substantial contribution to the school’s art department. I benefited by working with students, writing a textbook, making lesson plans, working with other faculty and, of course, by getting paid. It was never in my plans to teach and it was an opportunity that I never dreamed I would have. I’m grateful to Dr. Tull, the faculty and the students.
I was asked to attend the graduation exercises at the end of my first year of teaching. They ordered a mortar board cap and robe for me. I went to the headmaster, Dr. Tull, and emphasized that I did not have a college diploma and was not qualified to wear the uniform. He dismissed it saying, “Oh, people can buy a diploma. Don’t worry about it.” So, for 18 years I wore a robe to graduation. At some point the faculty stopped wearing the mortar board. It always seemed like a bit of a fraud. In the classroom, I sometimes felt like I was an impostor and that I would be discovered but I loved the subject and was motivated to work hard. The students responded with extraordinary work. I have learned that the impostor syndrome is a phenomenon many people experience, even those who are considered highly qualified!