In 1977, Nicole was ready to go half days to kindergarten at Pangborn Elementary. She was already reading so the teacher started sending her to first grade reading while in kindergarten. The next year the teachers called us in and strongly recommended that she skip first grade and go directly to second. She was well-prepared and though she was always younger and small for her age she had no problems with academics. She experienced some social stress as a result of being smaller and younger than her classmates throughout her school years, until college. In spite of being younger than her classmates, however, she liked school and always had friends. Before Nicole’s school years I had been practicing doing photography, playing rudimentary guitar enough to write songs and poetry. Now that Nicole was starting school I had a little more time to devote to those activities that seemed like hobbies. I started feeling pressure to develop some sort of a career. I frankly did not know where to start. Several times I thought about going back to college but at the time, it seemed like an unreasonable commitment of time and expense.
We had Amanda Martin come clean house for us on Fridays. She was the sister of Florence Martin who had worked for us when we had the store. Florence and Amanda lived with their sister, Mary, for as long as I can remember. Their house was in Maugansville, near our store. Florence worked for Daddy before we took over ownership and continued working in the store as long as we owned it. Now, every Friday morning Mary dropped Amanda off at our house on Jefferson Blvd. and in the afternoon I took her home. I liked the three sisters and they were always friendly with me. Even though they were very strict Mennonites and I did not live by their rules, they never were judgmental. I was even smoking a pipe during that time and though I did not smoke in Amanda’s presence, I’m sure she was aware of the evidence as she cleaned our house. I always fixed her lunch and ate with her or left lunch in the refrigerator for her. I took her home to Maugansville in the afternoon.
One night in 1978, Nate called from their home in Michigan. He had learned from a friend that the police were arresting a group of teenagers on drug charges and their son Jeff was on the list. Nate asked if Jeff could stay with us until things got sorted out. They would put him on a bus immediately for Hagerstown. The authorities in MI would not know where he was and there was reason to believe they would not invest much in searching for him. This was at a time when drug users were getting long prison sentences and drug dealers were being put away for life. Unfortunately, he was being charged with dealing. Of course we said yes, we would help. I had memories of jail time that my foster brother, Dick, had served and how demoralizing and generally unhelpful it had been. I visited him in jail and he was determined to change but when he was released, it wasn’t long before he was re-incarcerated. It was a downward spiral. Jeff’s case was even worse as a judge may have been been required to hand down a mandatory minimum sentence. When Jeff arrived, it was good to spend time with him. He had a lot of time on his hands and helped us with some house painting. We were not used to having responsibility for a teenager and it had its rough spots. Jeff had many clean years and was active with NA (Narcotics Anonymous.) He continued to struggle with addiction throughout his life, which complicated another health issue which began when he was just a baby and accidentally drank from a bottle of acid, a chemical used to test water. Together his health issues and his struggles with addiction, sadly resulted in his death at the age of fifty-five.
In the mid to late 1970s, I took classes at the Hagerstown Community College. I studied Photography, Painting, Graphic Design, English Composition and Creative Writing. One class studied Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden Pond.” I was beginning to work on my relationship to politics. My parents had taken the position that all politics was “worldly” and they chose to rely on God’s protection and his will. They believed our faith was in God and we were not to depend on the protection of a country or military. This meant that they wanted to live peacefully, avoiding conflict. They did not make trouble and did not take sides with any political ideology. They did not vote, would not voice opinions about politics and would not take up arms. I remember putting bundles together and sending them to Germany to help people after WWII. We received thank-you letters in German written on thin airmail paper that we could not read. In this English Composition class, I was thinking about how I was raised and Thoreau was a helpful transition. I remember writing an argumentative essay about voting. I took the position that certain members of society should remain neutral and refrain from voting or at least not become involved in obvious campaigning. I thought religious leaders, artists, and journalists should stay out of active politics. I guess I still thought it was a dirty business. I argued that they need clarity that could not be achieved with political bias. I think I was in favor of them being active in social issues but I thought they had too much persuasive power to be partisan. They should do their work and let their audience make their own decisions. The professor was not convinced and kept me after class to lecture me on civic responsibility. In my late twenties, I began to vote in major elections and later to a lesser degree followed state and local politics. I aways took liberal positions and became even more liberal as I got older.
I was writing poetry but I had little confidence that I would be successful as a writer. I was reading anthologies that included T.S.Eliot, Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings, then books by poets like John Berryman and Anne Sexton. My poetry was student work, unsophisticated, without a clear voice. I had been writing for several years when I sent poems to Judson Jerome and was accepted into a weekend poetry workshop. My memory of that weekend is surreal. It was both intimidating and inspiring, but mostly intimidating. The other people in attendance had been exposed to a lot more work and it seemed that they knew one another and were workshop-goers. I got one of my all-time favorite photographs that weekend when an older gentleman sat down at the piano and started to play what sounded like a musical version of poetry. In a particularly awkward moment at the end of the evening session, Jerome made it clear that he and his wife had an open relationship and invited others to join them in bed. I doubt if anyone took him up on the offer. I think the takeaway for me was to focus less on writing and more on visual art and specifically photography. I was becoming aware that I could not stand by the words I was putting onto paper. I had not lived enough and I had not read enough. I was still working on examining the limited and restrictive training I had received. I began to focus my work on photography. It did not have the classical history that literature had and was still in the early stages of defining itself as an art medium. It was contemporary and rebellious. I could say things in a photograph that I was incapable of saying in a poem or short story. This became even more clear to me in 1989, when I saw the 150 year history exhibit of photography at the National Gallery titled, “On the Art of Fixing a Shadow.” Robert Frank’s “The Americans” became a textbook for me and I learned quite a bit from studying the work of artists like Duane Michaels, Irving Penn and Man Ray to name a few.
In the late 1970s, I continued classes at Hagerstown Community College. I learned the basics of studio lighting, black and white film processing and printing. I set up a darkroom in an upstairs closet. There was just room to stand facing a shelf with the enlarger, with developer, stop bath and fixer on lower shelves. When prints were fixed I took them to the bathroom tub for washing. I was determined to learn as much as possible, developing film during the day and at night, making prints in the tiny closet, without ventilation. I would work for hours trying to make good prints.
Doris took some evening classes at Western Maryland College (now McDaniel). I went with her but while she was in class I drove into DC and did some “self study” of sorts. I felt a little guilty but enjoyed going to the Cellar Door, record stores, and a topless bar in Georgetown. I liked going to DC and sometimes took the day and went to museums and galleries. I sometimes spent days wandering the streets of Baltimore or DC with a camera. I made a series of street photographs in DC with color slides and put them to music. I used Herbie Mann’s jazz version of “The Battle Hymn of The Republic” I was happy with the way the images worked with that music.
I was moving out of the small, safe, social group that I had with other Mennonites and was beginning to associate with new friends who were non-religious. I was becoming more aware of my social limitations. I had difficulty trusting people and I did not know how to converse in “small talk.” I wanted to please people and my moods depended on the mood of those around me. Socializing was stressful. It was easy to spend time alone. I was, however, drawn to people I could learn from.
Around this time the Tischer insurance agency was awarded a one week trip to a resort in Puerto Rico. This would have gone to Joe Tischer first and Doris second. Joe chose not to go and Doris did not want to go by herself, so she suggested to Joe that I may want to go. I took that opportunity. It was my first experience staying at a tropical resort. Since it was technically an insurance meeting, I was roomed with a horny, dorky, insurance agent who wanted me to chase women with him. I didn’t party and I didn’t have more than a few drinks. I did snorkel over coral and watched amazing tropical fish. I came face-to-face with a three foot barracuda before I spotted him. I stopped and slowly backed up while he stayed perfectly still. My heart was racing. On another day, I took a tour to El Yunque National Forest and took pictures.
I was going to Camera Club meetings and was encouraged by some of the senior members to look for commercial work. I started out photographing handmade jewelry and pottery for craft people who needed good slides to submit to high end juried craft shows. Gradually, I picked up some business. I took a lot of pictures. For a while, we tried having someone come in on some days to be with Nicole in the afternoon when she came home from school. That would allow me to spend more uninterrupted time focusing on work. That turned out to be unsatisfactory. The sitter seemed disinterested. Nicole was clearly unhappy with the arrangement. I continued to be at home in the afternoons.
I was still getting Nicole off to school in the morning and meeting her at home after school. She was starting some after-school activities like gymnastics and swimming at the YMCA. We often went to the City library and got books.
I set up a new and larger darkroom in the basement and with a $5,000 loan from Daddy, I bought some professional studio lights and larger format cameras. I tried using the open area in the basement as a studio but it was difficult because of the limited space and low ceiling. Doris did not like having clients at the house. Daddy was always willing to help me financially even in this situation when he and Mother had little understanding of what I was using the money for. I was conscientious about making the scheduled payments. I was grateful that they were willing to lend us money when we needed it, even though we did not live the way they wanted us to live. They never understood my interest in art and never asked about my work. Even in her later years after Daddy died, Mother did not show any interest in my photographs and did not seem curious. She and Daddy were mostly focused on their own business and church society.
It was 1980 and I was 34. I didn’t have much photography work. I needed a job but all I had was a GED high school diploma and a few college classes. I had been unemployed for five years and not many people had heard of a man choosing to be a “homemaker” if that’s what I was doing. I liked what I was doing but I knew there was a price to be paid sooner or later! As Nicole spent her days at school and school activities, I knew that day was coming.
We had been active in the church at Northside Mennonite, which at one point had seemed like a refuge from the narrow-minded churches we grew up in. However, the minister, who was my cousin, Harold Lehman, had become someone that many in the congregation thought represented the past. After meetings and votes, it became obvious that change was not an option, so, like what often happens in many churches, a group split off and started another church. It was named Hebron Mennonite. It was freestyle. It was anarchistic. It was creative. There were leaders but no stated hierarchy. No deacons, no bishops, no ministers, I liked it. A committee planned the meetings. How long does it take before people resort back to comfortable traditions and patterns? It took a couple of years. New people joined and wanted it to be more of a real church and a minister was hired. A few months of that and Doris and I were done. As it was typical of our relationship, Doris was the force behind change. She enabled me to see that change was possible and preferable. We stopped going to church. As a result, we lost the Mennonite relationships we had there and we began looking for new Sunday activities and more non-Mennonite friendships.
While we were still active with the “New” church group, we were one of a group of young families. We participated in picnics, activities for kids and adults. Doris and I were involved for several years with a group comprised of four other couples who met regularly to discuss anything from personal goals and concerns to religion and politics. We referred to it as a “support group.”
My lack of sensitivity become obvious to me at a church-related outing. At the time, our main vehicle was a Saab and I needed something to knock around in. I thought a van would be good so I bought an old used work van from the local grain elevator for a few hundred dollars. It was light blue and in shabby condition. Its appearance was further degraded by the silver paint that someone had crudely brushed on over the company name that had been displayed on the side. I drove that old van and I was happy with its versatility. I could haul lumber for projects. I could stick a lawn mower in the back to take to repair and several times I slept in it when I was camping. My moment of awareness came when we took that old van to a church campout retreat. For some reason, we were arriving after most participants were already there. The event was set up in an open meadow in a beautiful mountain valley. Tents were erected and camp fires were started. Our friends were sitting and standing in groups. We made a “grand entrance” in my old van. I thought it was funny and played up the arrival by making a big circle. I realized that Doris was embarrassed when I saw that she was angry and crying. I was not deliberately being insensitive, I was just clueless! Her career was taking off and I guess it felt demeaning to her to be calling attention to an old van that looed like poverty or some kind of financial failure. It was shortly after that when we purchased a van that was much more respectable. It was still second-hand but a nice, newer model, window van.
I’ve wanted to be kind. The Martin side of the family could be insensitive and unintentionally cruel. I think my mother wanted to be kind and she was quite generous, but she had a sense of humor that could be hurtful. In the late 1990s after Gwendolyn and I were married, Janice and Gerri brought Mother to Ocean City to visit us. Since our house is small, we suggested that they stay in the beach condo that we had as an investment property. It was a short drive from our house. I guess, even though it was a modest, one bedroom condo, she could tell we were proud of it and when she walked in she looked around and said, “Well, now I know how millionaires live.” We were not wealthy and she knew it. That was her biting sense of humor. I inherited that and I don’t recognize it until words come out of my mouth! Daddy was always gentle and kind. I think I inherited some of that, too. I aspire to be kind, with some success.
Apparently my attraction to shabby things is embedded in my DNA. Before Nicole was born and we were still living in a mobile home behind the store, I got the idea that I wanted to make a sofa. My idea was to take a back seat from a junkyard car, preferably a luxury car, like a Cadillac. I would build a frame and that would be our luxury sofa. It would be comfortable, unique and best of all, cheap. I didn’t have a truck, so I borrowed one from Ed Brewer across the street from our store. He had the Saab dealership in the garage he inherited from his Dad. It was a big, new pickup truck. I drove it out to Elwood Grimm’s famous junkyard where there were acres of junked cars. Elwood was a colorful figure who also was a bail bondsman and may have also dealt in guns and stolen property. His office was in a trailer where he hung out with other greasy characters. I told him I wanted the backseat out of a nice car. He just said, “drive around and look for one.” There were fields of cars and narrow, muddy passages. I drove around until I saw something I thought would work. Before I got the seat out of the vehicle, I saw that one of the truck tires had gone flat. So, that became the new focus of my attention. By the time I walked back to the trailer office, got Ed Brewer on the phone, and the tire fixed, it was a huge pain in the ass. I was no longer interested in the project. The tire was gashed and destroyed so I ended up paying Ed Brewer almost as much as a new sofa would have cost! The idea may have been good but that experience was a total failure!
As politicians sometimes say, “mistakes were made.” A lifestyle that may have looked cheap to some people was interesting to me. We once went rafting on a creek with some friends. They had regular inflated rafts. Instead of purchasing a raft, I got four discarded and patched inner tubes and rope lashed them to a sheet of plywood. It looked ridiculous but it was fun and it worked pretty well! I’ve always wanted to be practical if it was possible to be practical and creative. But being creative is not always practical. Many ideas will not succeed, but failed ideas can be steps toward a creative and practical solution. Creative people sometimes appear eccentric and nonproductive. If they try to deny their nature and conform to societal expectations, they diminish their life experience and society is denied their potential.
Doris and I were both becoming dissatisfied with the church. Doris was always the more pragmatic and was first to express a desire to stop going. I was ready to stop as well. When we ended church attendance in the late 1970s, our Sundays were free. We began going to regional parks and driving to the cities to museums. I missed some of the friends we lost. We did, in fact, lose friends, but found interesting and enriching activities to replace much of what we had looked for in church.
In 1982, I was 36 and I had not done much traveling. I was starting to do more photography as fine art. I was spending long nighttime hours in the darkroom experimenting with printing techniques. I was tearing, cutting and rearranging photographs. I was hand-coloring and drawing on photographs. After watching the Paul Schrader remake of the movie “Cat People” I decided that I wanted to see New Orleans. I thought it would be an adventure to travel through all the southern states on a Greyhound Bus. It was in the spring and school was still in session. Nicole was nine years old and becoming more self-sufficient. Doris agreed to cover the after-school hours with her. So I arranged a hotel room in the French Quarter for five days. I took the bus from Hagerstown. I met some interesting people on the bus but I didn’t see a lot of the landscape because much of the trip took place at night. By the time I made it to New Orleans I was exhausted and the first day, I slept. The rest of the time I took pictures of the street life and the cemeteries. I rode the street car and saw people who opened my mind and my eyes. One beautiful man walked down the street each evening with an entourage. He wore bright pink “hot pants.” I listened to the Preservation Hall Band and, of course, I visited the zoo. I bought a plane ticket for the return trip. On one evening, while waiting to enter a performance space, an attractive woman started a conversation with me. As we talked, the exchange became more personal and I eventually began describing Nicole and Doris. Suddenly, I realized she had disappeared. It was then that it dawned on me what the interaction was leading to. I was so innocent and unsophisticated! I had a lot of exposed rolls of film and material to work with. One of my favorite photographs from that trip is a panoramic compilation of right and left flipped photographs that I made of the Audubon Park.
As I was forcing myself to move outside my circle of family and the safety of church friends, I became more aware of my social disabilities. I felt awkward, and jumpy. I whispered to myself in the presence of others. I was talkative and repeated myself. I think I was appearing to others as unsure of myself. I hummed and whistled when I was alone or at home with family. For years, I was often distracted by my own ideas and fantasies. There were times I pushed myself emotionally and when I reached a breaking point, I would sometimes get a clear image in my mind of a looming train locomotive approaching in slow motion. The vision was filled with pent-up tension. A slow advancing and yet never quite arriving sense of doom. I was always standing, paralyzed on that railroad track. It was an ominous vision with an expectation of catastrophe. These images frightened me but somehow I always managed to break the spell before I was “run over.” I found it comforting to imagine that the sensation of a slow moving train with building anxiety and impending explosion, was a memory of my own childbirth, but I also didn’t believe that was possible. It may also have been a warning of a possible nervous breakdown. Fortunately, it never came to that.
Before I had the basement darkroom and was still making pictures in the small upstairs hall closet, I had one of these train images come over me late one night after many hours of work. The closet was hot and unventilated. When I broke out of the trance, a whole tray of chemicals was spilled on the floor. I had no memory of how it slid off the shelf. After I cleaned up the mess, I washed and squeegeed prints, then went off to bed. I moved on!
Doris had friendships with the people she worked with, Nicole had friendships at school, and I made photographs and wrote in my journals and composed poems. I had met someone through a mutual interest in photography. She was a single woman, living with her Mother. We eventually became friends. She was smart and mostly good conversation but as time went on it became obvious that she was complicated and emotionally exhausting to be around. I wasn’t benefitting much from the relationship but we remained friends. For a while, I felt that I was her contact with the outside world. After several years of friendship, I eventually stopped communication with her. I have had a few relationships during my life that I just walked away from without closure. The fact that I could do that sometimes haunts me.
During my thirties, I met people who were artistic to some degree. They were mostly women and some of these relationships did not last, possibly because they became flirtatious though I was not fully aware of that. There was one woman who had a child Nicole’s age and we met in public places a few times while the children played. One day she told me we could not meet anymore because her husband would not permit it. She seemed embarrassed and disappointed. I had some close friends but making friends has never been easy. I think I may be perceived as an inauthentic person. The person I project is jokey and happy but much is unrevealed. I feel socially awkward. I do not have “small talk” skills. When I express important opinions, I may sometimes appear more angry than thoughtful and open.
I took a design class at the college and met an interim teacher, an artist from Wisconsin who had moved into the area to paint and show his work in the northeastern cities. By the end of the term we were friends. Richard was a part of my life for the next thirty years. For a while, he and his wife became the only friendship Doris and I shared. They didn’t have children but liked and enjoyed Nicole. We spent some vacations together at the beach. The first time we went to the beach together was shortly after we met and became friends. I found out later that they were surprised when we showed up with Nicole. I guess they didn’t know that she went everywhere with us. It turned out fine and they were happy to include her. We hung out on weekends cooking, drinking beer and wine, watching football on TV and talking art and politics. Richard would become argumentative when he drank too much. He had a masters degree in art and I learned a lot from him. It was during this time that my work became less decorative and more conceptual. I enjoyed much of the time we spent together. His wife was sensitive and easily offended. My relationship with her began to become strained in the late 1980s. I accidentally offended her more than once and I think I failed to apologize sufficiently or maybe she just rejected my attempts at apology. Eventually, while Richard and I continued our relationship, she withdrew from me.
My camera club friend, had moved to the west coast to school and my camera club days were over. I wanted to make art and I started to look at photographs differently. Richard introduced me to his art friends, Robert Preszler and Richard Meineke who were generous with their extensive knowledge of art. Meineke had been a student with Richard at the University of Wisconsin and was an abstract expressionist painter in New York City. We visited him in his studio apartment above a foundry in Queens within view of the Queensboro Bridge. He was fond of Nicole and recognized her creativity and intelligence. She went with us when we visited him in the city. He sometimes spent a week or more with the Lutzkes in the summer to get out of the city. They would come and have dinner with us. The conversation would often be about art and what was new. I remember Meineke mentioning a new music form that was becoming popular called “rap.” One night in 1980, Richard called to say that Meineke had died suddenly. He was in his mid-thirties and had been in the hospital for a short time and died of a blood clot. Later Richard and I went to Manhattan and arranged to ship his paintings to his parents in Wisconsin. We were told to each select a painting for ourselves. He was making beautiful, large scale, canvases.
Robert Preszler was a painter and curator of art at the Washington County Museum. He was especially encouraging and gave me my first show. Robert was both artist and art academic. Preszler and his wife had been in Africa in the Peace Corp. His wife and son were living in South Dakota and he lived in Hagerstown. He had a small apartment and made exquisite oil paintings. Many were detailed portraits of Native Americans. His paintings at that time resembled Edward Curtis photographs. They were dark and in the classic, Rembrandt style. He was especially fond of Doris! Somehow she came to own one of his paintings, which many years later she gave to me. He gave Nicole a pen and ink work. I admired his painting, including the portraits.
While Nicole still needed transportation, she was becoming more independent. I knew I needed to find a valid occupation. I was up until 1 or 2 in the morning working on photographs, drawing and writing. During the day I was trying to build a commercial photography business but I had a long way to go. I wasn’t confident of my skills and only pursued the work because I knew I needed to be doing something. I would find things to do during the day when I didn’t have work. I had lunches with my few friends. I liked hanging out with Dirk DeVault because we were both uneasy with the commercial world and would fantasize about how we would like to live. We did a few commercial advertising jobs together. We had similar tastes in music and for a while we discussed opening a record store. These conversations started before compact discs. After CDs, the interest in retro “vinyl” was a tiny movement. It was the early 1980s and there was no internet with streaming music, no eBay or Amazon. In our minds, it was records and record collections. We were both interested in used record exchanges. One day we were in downtown Hagerstown and we saw a small vacant gas station for sale. We decided that it would be the perfect record store. There was an office trailer with a sign to inquire. We knocked on the door and waited. After a while, we heard someone moving around inside and the door opened. A disheveled older man who looked like he had just woken from a nap, snapped, “What?” We asked how much for the property. He paused, then said. “A million dollars.” We said something like, “Oh, ok .” We sat in the car and laughed. I guess we were laughing at the realization that we were both living in a crazy fantasy!
A while later, Dirk and I were still playing with the idea and found a small basement shop available for reasonable rent downtown. Good price and great location, now we were being reasonable, right? We also had another person interested, a friend of Dirk who lived in an apartment on South Prospect Street. Someone I did not know well. One night, we met at the friend’s house to discuss a business plan over beers, a lot of beers. We talked about overhead and profits. We talked about how much business we would need to do to break even. While we talked, it had started to snow. We drank more beers and as the night wore on, we began to discuss the records we would sell and what we would not sell. A few more beers later a point of contention came down to Michael Jackson. Would we sell Michael Jackson’s records? It’s not a clear memory now but I think after a lot of discussion, the whole business plan that we had been cobbling together, fell apart. We had more beer and around 1 am we went out to clear the snow off Dirk's VW bug. Somehow he made it home that night. When he dropped me off I made it in the door and up the steps to the bathroom. I was so tired, I laid on the bathroom floor mostly blocking the door. I was still awake enough to know that Doris pushed the door opened enough to see me lying there, then closed the door, and went back to bed. I slept there on the bathroom floor that night.
In the early 1980s I was struggling with work. I don’t know why but maybe out of some point of pride I carried on. I didn’t feel like I could look for a job at a Sears or some grocery store. Maybe it had something to do with Daddy always being self-employed. It seemed that my only option was self-employment. I didn’t know if I was ready to be a professional photographer but I was on that track. I didn’t think my portraits were very successful. I tried doing some wedding photography. The stress was unbearable! I finally swore off weddings when I was hired to do a redneck wedding. The arrangements were made by the bride’s Mother. When I showed up at the church, the bride was visibly pregnant and the groom had a black eye from a drunken brawl at a bachelor party the previous night. I thought my art work was more successful but an even more difficult way to make a living.
I focused on commercial work and I started looking for a studio so I could move the work out of the house. I chose a second floor space that had once been the Wilmeyer photography studio. It had been abandoned for many years. Downtown Hagerstown was trying to make a bit of a come back. Many of the properties, including the one I chose, were owned by Vincent Groh and his brother. I stood in the dirty two room space and tried to imagine how I would use it. The ceiling was at least twelve feet high and there were four tall windows facing south. The main room was about fourteen feet wide and thirty feet long. The smaller room was about sixteen by sixteen feet. There was a small bathroom in the hallway. With some clean up it could be a perfect work space for photography. My door entered off the alley next to the lunch restaurant, Ann’s Plum. On the first floor, facing East Washington Street, was a thriving bookstore. On the second floor next to my space was a vacant office that later was converted into an apartment. Doris knew of a man with limited intellect and a speech impediment who needed work so I hired him to help for a few days. The ceiling was in bad shape and we discussed how to improve it. He said, “You should just sucko it.” Stucco may have been a good idea, but I just painted over it with “Kilz.” I rented a sander and refinished the hardwood floors that were penetrated with decades of crud. We painted the walls and trim. Doris made drapes from heavy duck cloth for the windows so the light could be blocked. It wasn’t a retail space but that seemed ok because I was going to focus on commercial work. The Maryland Symphony business office was moving in next door down the alley. The symphony became one of my main clients where I worked with business manager, Sandy Wantz. I also served on the Arts Council for a year or two with Sandy. I liked Sandy a lot and enjoyed working with her. This was before I knew she had a sister named Gwendolyn, who I was destined to meet nine years later. While serving on the local Arts Council, I was photo editor for the Antietam Review, a literary arts publication.
The symphony was my favorite client. I enjoyed shooting during rehearsals when the musicians were relaxed but concentrating on their art. The conductor, Barry Tuckwell, was a world-famous french horn player and was easy to work with. I did several informal and formal shoots with him on locations and in the studio. I got to know many of the musicians and did shoots with ensembles and solo guest performers. On one occasion I hosted a party in the studio after one of the Saturday night performances. The party lasted all night for a core group. When I was driving home the sun was about to come up. On one shoot with Tuckwell for a pops concert, I filled his french horn with popcorn. I shot it so that it looked like it was popping out of his horn. This was long before digital photography and effects like that were tricky. We made a life size print for the theatre lobby.
After getting Nicole off to school in the mornings, I would go to the studio until mid-afternoon when she came home. Sometimes I went back to the studio at night and on weekends. It became a sort of refuge. In addition to commercial customers, I was making art. At home, I worked in the basement darkroom late into the night. Doris was still working long hours but on most nights and weekends was available to Nicole. We were becoming more focused on our individual work and friends. All through elementary and for her first two years of high school, my primary responsibility was Nicole. She was permitted to watch several TV shows after school in the afternoon. There was a show called “Hodge Podge Lodge”, then “Mr. Rogers” and “Sesame Street”. My best times were still with her. She always seemed like a miracle. Conversations with her were fascinating because she was intelligent and wise. She liked school and her grades were great. Her teachers loved her. She read and reread books. One of her favorites was Madeleine L'Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” I don’t know how she got L’Engle’s address but Nicole wrote her a letter and got a response. On car trips we sometimes wanted her to put down the book and share the travel experience. She would put the book down for a moment, look out the window and say, “Big whup,” then she would go back to reading.
Nicole did not enjoy going to the YMCA for gymnastics or swimming lessons. We insisted on it for a while to the point where she would get a stomach ache at the sight of the building! She took piano lessons, but she was not happy with the teacher and rather than learning to read the music, she memorized. When she started playing flute in the school band in the third or fourth grade, she liked the instrument and learned to read music. She also joined a choral group called, “The Singing Angels” and performed locally. She continued to play the flute through high school and she was first chair in the All-County Band weekend. She also earned a chair in the Hagerstown Municipal Band and played flute and piccolo on Sunday nights in the City Park Band Shell. This was during the summer between her junior and senior years in high school. I took pride in her achievements. Unfortunately, my proclivity toward anxiety and obsession effected my personal life and work, often distracting me from being free to focus fully on the pleasure of being her father.
When Doris became a partner at Tischer Associates, she began identifying with the business social class. Our differences became more obvious. She seemed to like the work I was doing and she was encouraging but I knew she was dissatisfied that I was not able or willing to make a substantial financial contribution to the family. My business at that time was little more than a tax write-off. I had enabled Doris to pursue her career without much domestic distraction and was continuing to give her that freedom. The money that flowed from her work seemed sufficient, so there was not much incentive for me to worry about finances. My disinterest in money created problems I did not fully understand. While I had been willing to give Doris the responsibility to make the major financial decisions, I should not have been surprised when, over time, I began feeling uncomfortable. As she made more and more decisions, our house, and our things began to feel more like her things. We were socializing in different worlds and that influenced the things we desired. I was constantly reassured that she enjoyed her work and was doing what she wanted to do. Through that reassurance, I gave myself permission to pursue the things I was doing. But those different pursuits and the money attached, were creating significant lifestyle contrasts.
I was told that I had a “problem with money.” I never fully understood the accusation because I was satisfied with what I considered “enough.” I would dig ditches, if it came to that, to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads. What I didn’t understand at the time was that, what I considered enough, was not reassuring to her. I remember a particular disagreement when she came home with a long and beautiful, red cashmere coat. Why couldn’t I admit that she looked great in that coat? Was it the money? The purchase of that coat did not deny me anything that I wanted. That expense just wasn’t me. I was OK with worn blue jeans and an old jacket but that was not her and I did not expect her to want to live that way. The problem was that we were gradually losing interest in each other’s goals, the things we wanted from life. As much as we had not intended it to happen, our interests and associates were pulling us apart. Our differences were magnified.
Note: Doris read this and told me she has no memory of buying a red cashmere coat. I can not explain our different memories. I am keeping my memory in this memoir because it is a clear memory and seems to describe our conflicts. I have always had vivid dreams so I will concede that it is possible that there never was a long, red, cashmere coat.
It was a time of rapid change. However, while some things were changing, other things were staying the same. Women were given the freedom to work outside the home and were becoming integrated into solid middle class professions such as insurance sales, real estate agents, financial planners and business owners. Men were still expected to be the breadwinners, that was not changing as fast! While women were moving up, men were still expected to be the providers, protectors and decision makers. I had given those traditional male roles to Doris and it seemed that she had accepted them along with the other traditional male positions in the business world. She certainly had to push through that “old boy” system that favored men in business, and to her credit, she was successful. I was having less success finding my place in the traditional female roles. Of course the female roles in our culture did not come with the freedoms and privileges assumed in the male roles.
We sold the second-hand van that we had purchased and used for several years and bought a new Subaru. It was a car that I drove since Doris had a company car. The money to buy the new Subaru came from family accounts and I considered it a mutual asset. One day in casual conversation, someone said, “I heard that Doris bought you a new car.” I didn’t know how to respond because I had not thought of the purchase that way. It occurred to me then that maybe people were viewing me as a burden for Doris and maybe she was also feeling that she was just paying my way while I was unable to provide for myself! Maybe I was no longer making a significant contribution to her and Nicole’s success and quality of life. I was the male equivalent to women who stop working out of the home to raise a child and have difficulty reentering professional life. Maybe I was too comfortable and too dependent on her. In my conversations with Doris, it became increasingly obvious that we were no longer able to fully appreciate what the other valued. I think it was especially difficult for Doris because I was unable to clearly articulate what my goals were and what I wanted. My responsibilities as a full-time parent required less time and I did not know what I could do that would be as fulfilling. I did know that I did not enjoy the social activities that Doris was expected to participate in as a result of her professional work. We talked about separation but a part of me found it unacceptable... unthinkable. How would it effect Nicole? What would our families think? There were no “failed marriages” in either of our families!
While Doris earned the paychecks and made the financial decisions, she was generous. Nicole had all the best opportunities. We often had a week at the beach and we took a few trips to Florida. If she was being generous, was I merely the recipient of her generosity while pursuing my own interests and struggling with building a business without much success?