A Memoir       
Don Lehman

Chapter 12
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Foreword
1945-1950
1950-1957
1957-1961
1961-1962
1962-1966
1966-1973
1973-1977
1977-1983
1983-1988
1988-1991
1991-1996
1996-2002
2002-2012
2012-2014
2014-2016
2016

1996 - 2002

On May 4th, 1996 Gwendolyn and I got married. Nicole was my “Best Man” and Gwendolyn’s brother Dick was her “Maid of Honor” Janice, Galen and Gerri were there as well as Janice and Galen’s extended families. Gwendolyn sister, Sandy and Gwendolyn’s brother’s extended families. We were married in a Lutheran Church by a minister Gwendolyn knew. We had a reception at the Francis Scott Key Hotel.

Just before we were married, we went to see a woman Gwendolyn knew who was a financial adviser. We told her we were planning to get married and discussed our finances. Although our combined incomes had improved our financial situation, we were both financially careless. The advisor was appalled at the amount of credit card debt we had. She said we definitely needed to address our situation. I began to keep spread sheets on income and expenses. We refinanced Gwendolyn’s house, added my name on the deed and took sufficient mortgage to pay off credit cards and remaining stock debt. The mortgage interest was tax deductible. Gwendolyn had been contributing to a tax differed account and I began contributing part of my Professional Promotions salary for retirement. We kept the retirement money in conservative funds which helped later when the stock market crashed and a lot of people lost retirement funds. We never carried credit card debt after that day. It was 1996 and our retirement savings began to grow and our finances stabilized. My salary at Professional Promotions had increased and our three employees were getting bonuses. Within the business, everyone’s income was open and discussed. Richard and I took the same salary as our key employee. The other two employees worked fewer hours and received a little less per hour. All in-house employees stayed on for decades, we had no turnover other than some fill-in employees who came for short terms. On a few occasions, when money was available Richard and I took stock dividends.

Gwendolyn and I looked at some other houses in Ocean Pines but we both liked the house she had bought in the 1980s and we decided that would be our home. Soon I was working on improvements.

In the fall of 1997, I got a call from the principal at Stephen Decatur High School. He said, “you can not tell Gwendolyn but tomorrow she will be getting a call from the State Superintendent Of Education. The Superintendent will congratulate her for receiving this year’s ‘Milken Teaching Award’ for Maryland.” He wanted me to know because it would be a surprise and they wanted me to come to the school to share the excitement! Gwendolyn was completely surprised and thrilled. The press was there so there were pictures and interviews. The award was for $25,000 dollars and a trip for two to Los Angeles to a workshop and dinner award celebration! All expenses were paid. We went a few days early and visited former students working in Hollywood. We drove up the coastal highway to San Francisco to visit her nephew, Kyle, at the Presidio. It was a wonderful week and an amazing but well deserved honor for Gwendolyn!

After the original photography workshop at Stephen Decatur High School, I had continued to do workshops and summer programs in several other Worcester County Schools. I was still working full time at Lowes in the spring of 1998 and I was still officially an artist with the State Arts Council. Through the Arts Council, I was offered the opportunity to do a workshop at the private school in Berlin that was then called the Worcester Country School. Somehow I worked out a schedule with Lowe's that allowed be to do those workshops for five weeks. At the end of the workshop the school asked to if I would be available to come and work at the school as a photography teacher on faculty. I talked with Lowe's and they agreed to give me Fridays off and I told the school that I would teach one day a week on Fridays. Later that year I requested a step down from manager of the department at Lowe's and began to work part time. Lowe's was generous and did not cut my hourly rate. I worked part time on generous, full time pay scale.

In the Spring of 1998, Gwendolyn received a letter to inform her that she would be receiving the “Governor’s Arts Award “ for the state of Maryland. We were invited to the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. There was a big party with dinner and ceremony. The presentation was by the governor, Glendening. Gwendolyn’s sister, Sandy and husband, Bob came. There was also an award bring given to a painter and a musician. I was especially excited because the musician was the jazz guitarist Charley Byrd! When Gwendolyn was called to receive the award she was expected to say a few words and she had not prepared. She is very good, thanks to her many years of teaching, at speaking extemporaneously. She mentioned how excited I was to see Charlie Byrd’s named as a recipient! She said, “maybe more excited than seeing her name’” That pleased him and he made it a point to come meet me after the ceremony! It was a wonderful evening!

After I met Gwendolyn, I learned a lot about teaching from watching her interact with her students. Of course, I also learned from my mistakes. I am pleased with the many classroom successes and discoveries. It is satisfying to see students develop skills and get excited about their work.

In the fall 1998 I began teaching photography to high school students one day a week. That began eighteen years with the school that changed its name from Worcester Country School to Worcester Preparatory School. I was a part time faculty member. For a short time I worked at the school, and at Lowes. My salary had increased at Professional Promotions. Since I was married I was now covered on Gwendolyn’s health insurance and since I was beginning to feel like I was committed to, too many jobs, in the spring of 1999, I decided to quit the Lowe's job and focus on Professional Promotions and teaching.

I was relieved to be free of the Lowes job. Lowes had treated me well and I had enjoyed working there but I was now busy with the preparations for teaching and with the Professional Promotions work. I liked all my work but I was being pulled in too many directions. Professional Promotions was reaching it’s peak financial success. Everyone was getting paid a decent wage and we were getting bonuses at Christmas. Richard and I were taking stock dividends. The company had bought a nice, new pickup truck for me to drive. I was married and Gwendolyn’s health insurance covered me in case of an unexpected illness. It was no longer necessary to make those trips to North Salisbury to work at Lowes.

After the age of sixty I became much more aware of my obsessive compulsive disorder. While I think I always had obsessive tendencies, I had found ways to manage the symptoms. I had difficulty concentrating and completing tasks because of words and sentences cycling in my head. Often, I found myself repeating words and sentences audibly, quietly in a whisper. When trying to work, I would whistle or hum the same tune or measure from a tune, repeatedly. Often when I made a statement in conversation, I would repeat it again, in my head or quietly over and over. I rehearsed conversations when I was alone and repeated the same sentences over and over. When I started teaching I needed to be organized in a rational way and not in the obsessive way that I often worked. There were times I was so obsessed with one idea I completely forgot other important preparations. On the evening before a teaching day I experienced difficulty concentrating and felt an overwhelming sense of dread. I had little habits and movements that distracted me. Without going onto great detail, I told my doctor about my anxieties. He prescribed Valium with a warning of it’s addictive possibilities and how it loses it’s benefit if over used. I found that on occasions when I needed to get important work done a Valium worked well and broke distracting obsessive thoughts and activities. I would suddenly realize that I had been amazingly productive! I was always extremely careful and had the medication available for years and never used it more than a couple pills a month and sometimes I went months at a time without needing it. Maybe there are other medications that would have helped me when I was younger but I am grateful for that prescription even though the help came late in life. It helped when I was unable to be productive.

I was grateful for Nicole. The time I spent with her in her early childhood was a unique experience and I benefitted from that decision. I learned lessons of patience and nurturing. The drawings we made and conversations we had when she was learning to talk, sing and play have stayed with me!. She made up stories, she took pictures with a little Canon half frame camera and I developed the film. She was patient when I asked her to pose for pictures.

Later, trips to the Southwest in this country, to the Caribbean Island of Tortola and through a large part of England were some of the best times of my life. We traveled without much agenda or planning. We made discoveries and were open to go in whatever direction the other was interested in. We didn’t have cell phones or internet to do research and scheduling. If we wanted information we would consult our AAA travel book. If we wanted to call ahead we looked for a phone booth. We were not trying to meet a schedule and I always enjoyed our time together and the travel.

In the spring if 1999, I encouraged Richard to use Professional Promotions, Inc. money that was sitting in savings to purchase a condo in Ocean City, MD. I was concern that the business had few assets and I thought buying a condo would secure some money in an investment that diversified the business. He and Terrye came to OC and we spent the day looking at four or five condo units with realtor Jerry Richards. I was in favor of a condo in a building called Seahaven with 16 units on 42nd street. Everyone agreed and we bought the unit for $89,000. The business reserved it for employees and I managed it.

It was New Years, 2000, The beginning of a new millennium. I was turning 54. Nicole and Erik had a house in Lansdowne and Nicole had a good job in marketing/patient satisfaction at the Penn Medicine, part of the University of Pennsylvania. I was proud of her achievements and liked Erik very much. I privately wondered if it was wise for them to have bought a house together before they were married. It seemed financially complicated. They had just started dating when Gwendolyn and I were married, which explains why Erik was not at our wedding. That meant that they had been together for about four years when they bought the house together. Erik’s parents were still living in Hong Kong with two young children. Erik has four, younger adopted siblings. His father, Paul would arrange annual vacations somewhere in the world and all seven, Paul, Ulla and the two children at home, Jin and Annika would meet up with Nina, Thomas, Erik and Nicole. Paul and Ulla would purchase plane tickets and pay expenses. This Christmas they were at a Dude Ranch in Australia. There was some concern that computers may crash around the world because the year and would end at 1999. It was called the Y2K problem. Computers had been programed with two digit dates that would become confused at 00. During the year governments had pushed to update software. At midnight in Australia it was still evening here. Nicole and Erik called to tell us that the lights were still on and everything was still working. Months later when Gwendolyn discovered that I had bought some canned food and batteries as an emergency kit, she thought it was hilarious!

Around that time one of Gwendolyn’s graduating classes gave us an amazing trip to New York to see two shows. One of the parents was a travel agent and put together a weekend package of two nights at the Dream Hotel, two tickets to see Kathleen Turner in the “Graduate” and Bernadette Peters in ”Gypsy.”

That year there was a contentious presidential election that included the recounting of ballots that went on and on in Florida. The Supreme Court ruled that George W. Bush had won over Al Gore. A little over a year and ten months later terrorists flew highjacked airliners into the World Trade Center Towers in NYC and brought down both towers and killed 2,606. Two other highjacked planes on the same day came down, one crashed the Pentagon in Washington, DC and one crashed in a farm field in Pennsylvania killing an additional 390 people. President Bush responded by starting a quagmire of wars with Iraq and Afghanistan that continues today in 2016, fifteen years later.

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. That started a series of trips we have taken together over the years!

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 some 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 classes. She wrote and directed plays and I helped design and build sets. I enjoyed her students and I was becoming a better teacher. I had a full life, working with Richard and the employees at Professional Promotions and teaching photography classes at Worcester Preparatory School where the faculty was supportive and students were bright and creative! I wrote the curriculum and taught the film camera skills, history of photography and some darkroom skills. I was not very knowledgable in the history of photography at the beginning and did a lot of research. The students were responsive and every year there were more students signed up for the elective than I could take. I demonstrated the camera obscura effect, We took pin hole pictures and eventually in 2006-2007 I adapted the curriculum and we transitioned from film cameras to digital single lens reflex cameras. By the time I retired in 2016 the “smart phone” camera was becoming so ubiquitous the DSLR was impractical except for artists, professionals and enthusiasts. I was not sure what the next step would be for teaching photography as the camera was quickly becoming merged with the phone and computer. Photography was transitioning again. It was becoming another form of social communication that was mostly casual, digitally manipulated to express impulsive emotions and the pictures were being shared, then deleted and committed to memory. Not unlike the way words are spoken with sound, gone and maybe stored in memory. What was coming next was unknown to me but something I thought a lot about but reluctant to attempt to teach.

I was always proud of Gwendolyn’s a many accomplishments. She was totally dedicated to teaching and the interactions with students. She won regional and national awards for her success. She worked to improve the profession by serving as a contract negotiator and as a union representative. She edited a teacher’s association newsletter and wrote a popular column. In the summers she worked with younger students producing a show that she wrote and directed along with music teacher, Rick Chapman. She was the director and managed a small staff of employees and volunteers. She served on the board of Worcester County Youth and Family Counseling for decades and guided them through the early years when the organization seemed to be falling apart and we needed to co-sign loans to meet payroll. Thanks to her diligence through those years the organization has grown and succeeds in helping thousands of people in personal and family difficulties.

Professional Promotions grew steadily during the 1990s in the Clinton era and in the last six years of the 20th century the business was doing well. Everyone was getting raises and bonuses on a regular schedule. Richard and I took dividends and purchased the condo and vehicles. In year 2000, shortly after George W. Bush took office, business flattened, then started slowly declining. We managed to keep our employees who had been loyal and were willing to reduce their hours and we all gave up raises and bonuses.

In 2001, We purchased our first hybrid car. I had been following the development of hybrid technology and decided that it was a good time to buy. There were tax credits and discounts. Professional Promotions bought a 2001 Honda Civic for us to drive. It proved to be economical and reliable. We drove it until the spring of 2011 when we traded it for a new 2010 Prius that was just as reliable and even more economical. The Prius was a bit larger, more comfortable and upgraded. I was looking ahead to retiring so the Prius was not a company car. At about the same time the company purchased the Honda Civic of us to drive, the company also purchased a new Ford Ranger for me. We still did not take large salaries from the company but the two vehicles were a nice benefit. The company purchased vehicles for Richard as well.

It was a good time and I felt fortunate. I was happy Nicole had found Erik. He was kind, generous and patient with her. They were good for each other. I was grateful to Doris for the personal growth we shared when we were together. I was grateful for my family who were always there when I needed them. I was never wealthy but I always had opportunities and friendships. I was born with a good, creative and imaginative mind that could be both entertaining and productive. Now I was most grateful that I had Gwendolyn.

Early in 2001 we looked out the window one evening and saw Erik in the driveway. He had rescheduled a work flight to Salisbury to come ask for Nicole’s hand in marriage. A rather old fashioned tradition but a wonderful idea. He stayed overnight and left the next morning. we were glad to give him our blessing!

In the months after the terrorist highjackings in September many people were reluctant to fly. Erik and Nicole had their wedding planned of October, 06, less than a month after the tragic event. It was gratifying to see so many people get onto planes in Sweden and England and in locations over the U.S. to come to their wedding. It was a testament to the quality of their families and friends. Ruth Caddock, Nicole’s great friend from her year in England was a brides maid. The wedding was held in the Mercersburg Academy Chapel and the reception, planned by Doris was at the Fountain Head Country Club. I was able to contribute $5,000 to the event but I’m sure it cost Doris several times that much and Nicole and Eric may have contributed some as well. I do not know how it was financed. It was a beautiful event! I was so proud to walk Nicole down the isle! Ruth was Nicole’s bridesmaid. She was dating Claus Hansen and he was with her. Except for mother, my family was there. Erik and Nicole’s college friends and Erik family including many of Ulla’s relatives from Sweden had come.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Erik and Nicole's wedding reception
  Chapter 13, 2002 to2012

 
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