Leo Tales: Strange Landscape

Leo here.

Jim died 55 day ago. I know because I see Ellouise marking the days on the large wall calendar in the kitchen. Well, I was here too but I am not counting the days.... but I do understand why she is doing it. It seems like yesterday and then on the other hand it seems like a very long time ago. Counting is one way to keep things straight.

Ellouise starts each day with a list of things to get done - somedays she does better than others. She gets more done when nothing catches her up and she has to stop for some tears or when she finds herself lost in memories.

Ellouise bought a new desk calendar book this week. It is very complicated and she is spending a lot of time filling in things that are coming up as well as adding the things that have happened since January. She told Betsy she is using it "together." This is a new life - and its like starting a new college semester without a schedule or a reading list. 

Jim has been gone 55 days - but they were together 57 years. How many days is that? 21,505 days. I heard her telling her friend Betsy when they were talking on the phone that this is the longest time they have ever been apart since they got married in 1955.

But don't get me wrong. She's busy.

She's working on a new story to tell June 2nd with a group called, Better Said Than Done. I heard her practicing with her friend Susan on Friday. Its a bit of a tough one for her to tell because it is about something she and Jim did together - but all her stories have Jim in them. Susan asked her if she was sure and I heard her say, " Yes. Actually I like telling it - its new and when I tell stories I bring him close by." I hope she's right when she says that its a practice for telling Pushing Boundaries at the Capital Fringe in July. A wise storyteller advised her to think carefully about all her stories so she will know ahead of time which ones could have emotional traps in them, prepare for them and then choose her line-up carefully.

There is a lot of paper work to do on settling business stuff for Jim. Papers are stacked on the dining room table even though she does keep filing stuff away.

Today Ellouise and her son Jimmy worked on the paperwork for Arlington National Cemetary for Jim's burial. They decided on the wording for the tombstone. "I hate this." I heard her say. She says that about a lot of things - i.e. telephone calls asking for Jim, answering mail to him, and cancelling anything because he is not here.  Cutting off his Apple phone was tough. But I can see that even though its hard she is working her way through it with the help of friends - especially those who have walked this walk because they uniquely understand the strange landscape she is traveling.


Time traveling

Just finished a new story about the week-end Jim and I went back to Brooklyn, New York on a sentimental journey to refresh memories of the time in the late 1950s when we lived there while he was an intern at Kings County Hospital.

During those days he worked 36 hours "on" and 12 hours "off". He slept most of the time he was home but also always had papers to sort and catch up on. I took this picture one week-end. He is still wearing his "whites" and is reviewing the mail. Notice the narrow tie of the day.

We lived in a furnished apartment on the top floor of a turn-of-the century three-story house in the Newkirk Plaza area. The landlady was a European refugee who was also a painter. Our walls were covered with her paintings which I now know reflected strong influences of French painters of the early 20th century.

A few years ago I read about a Bed and Breakfast on the street where we had lived. I called them. It was across the street from Mrs. Geiger's house. What a chance to revisit Argyle Road.  I was eager to go. Jim agreed.

When we arrived and settled into our room "across the street" we were so surprised at how same the street looked. It quickly whisked us back in time. We started out to explore the neighborhood and then - --
something happened that changed the whole trip. But I can't tell about that yet - it will ruin the story.

I taped this story Monday for my Channel 16 TV show. As soon as I get the video I will post it here.

I love storytelling - telling the story - why, that brings it all back - across time to the present and back and I can once again spend the time with Jim.


                                              Jim and Jimmy, Jr.
                                              taken in a photo-booth at 
                                              Penn Station, NYC, 1958.

Sometimes when I time-travel I am looking for stories. Other times I am just enjoying being back-in-time
With Jim.

Grieving is like that for me.

But mostly - its using story and memory to keep him close.


Treasure Hunting in Kensington

When my good friend came to visit from PA last week I took her to one of my favorite local places, the Prevention of Blindness thrift shop on Howard Avenue in Kensington, MD.  You'd never guess from the outside how filled with surprises it is. Every inch of space is put to good use. There is little rhyme or reason to where objects are placed which does make it feel a bit like a treasure hunt.


Glassware crowded on a large table in the front room begs to be given a look. My eyes take to the gold trimmed "Hall" tea pot and for a time I think it may be going home with me.

But then I am distracted by a shelf of blue glass.

And after that I move to a small back room where
glass ware, vases, odds and ends and toys are mixed.

A sad faced clown towers over a shelf of odd mixed up toys.

                               Across the room I laugh out loud when I notice this wonderful two dollar dish.

But this is the gem I could not resist.

The hand built pitcher has a comfortable heft when you lift and hold it.
The subtle colors of the thin, fluid glaze please me. It belongs on my morning table --- maybe filled with cold milk.

Yep, this is for me.

I go home happy.


Tales from Leo: Grief is a Tricky Business

Hello, there. Leo here.

Its been busy at Ellouise's house this week. She has had several house guests and she's back to work with storytelling and the t.v. show. That has all been good!

When there is a lot going on, Ellouise is distracted and its easier to keep up her "front" of being OK.

I heard Ellouise on the phone telling someone: " When we went to CA for Jim's father's funeral I remember sitting next to his mother and hearing her saying over and over, ' I am a widow. I am a widow. I am a widow.' I did not understand that she was trying to force herself to realize it. I get it now."

Listen, watching Ellouise,  I am getting it that grief is tricky business. No one day is the same as the one before. Shifting ups and downs are the new normal. Other widows take Ellouise under their wings because she is the new kid on the block and they understand that she has a lot to learn.  Her childhood friend in NC, a long time widow, told her, "You will think its getting better and then for seemingly no reason  - out of nowhere - IT will hit you in the back of the head like a brick ... so watch out for yourself."

How can she watch out for herself? Big question. She watches where she goes alone - thinking it will help if the first time she goes to a place she and Jim had enjoyed together she asks someone she trusts to go with her. Often that does help - as it did last week when she and a friend saw the Snapshop exhibition at the Phillips Gallery -  but there are no guarantees and its usually not easy.

She left the gallery telling her friend, "I am surprised it was not hard to be here.  I know Jim would have really loved this show - - and we had planned to see it together.

See what I mean, grief is a tricky business.

Granny Sue Came to Town

Storyteller Susanna Holstein was here for two days last week - to visit, to tape the Stories in Focus TV show and to perform for Tales in the Village. We had lots of conversation, stories and FUN. Sue is the kind of person you wished lived next door. We have known each other through the web and occasional meetings for fifteen years and although she thrives on her farm in West Virginia and I am a born and bred city-girl we share many common interests which make the time fly by as we share our ideas and stories - - - rich ground for real friendship.

I also know Sue - as you can too - through her blog Granny Sue's News and Reviews. On her blog she generously brings you into her world as a homesteader in West Virginia, a storyteller, librarian and lets you know her large family. We had a good time talking about several of those personas when I interviewed her for Stories in Focus. I will publish that interview here as soon as it is ready.

Rather than show off the DC area I introduced Sue to my near-by neighborhood with a ride through the grounds of the spectacular Mormon Temple where the pink dogwoods were in lovely bloom.

Then we moved on to the old town Kensington for lunch at the funky non-pretentious Tea Room and a walk through of the shops housed in two stores called "antiques row" ending with some serious shopping at the Society for the Prevention of Blindness THRIFT SHOP.  In there I found a memory - a lidded glass candy dish very like the one my grandmother kept on her coffee table and Sue picked up "treasures" that she could see on the shelves in her antique shop. She really knows what things are - - and I learned a lot being with her. She opened my eyes to early pressed glass.

Her evening performance of stories and Appalachian ballads was "real" storytelling and the audience loved it.

I have wanted for a long time for the timing to be right to have Susanna here to tell stories and her visit was well worth waiting for.  Hoping she will be back soon.


An old story.

Peddlar of Swatham from Ellouise Schoettler on Vimeo.
A recent telling of an old story.
Keep your eyes on the treasure you have at home.

A Braver Day

One of my braver days.
It was a grand adventure.
With lots of stories
which I tell as "10,000 Miles from Home"- a 60 minute one-woman show.
Thinking about telling it in the Fall.


Nine Stories

Nine Stories
e. schoettler


Little bells and dreams

I have always loved these little flowers.

There was a dense bed of them bordering my grandmother's front porch. Seeing them brings thoughts of fairies and stories - - although I don't remember any of the tales.

But I do remember
and relish
my memories of long afternoons on Granny's porch.
Her house was magic to me - a place of quiet love and peace.
Being at Granny's was a relief from the dysfunctional chaos at my home.
Without fully understanding why
I sought shelter under Granny's wings
because I knew I needed it.

People tell me these days to "nuture yourself."
The truth is I don't know how.
But I do know
I might feel better
if I could escape
into a dense patch of these little "bells"  - - -
warming myself in the sun
dreaming of a prince.


Leo Tales: Changes

Hello, again. Leo here.

Just a bit of catch up on Ellouise. These are hard days but she is getting through them - even though she misses Jim terribly. This may sound silly but its difficult to accept the finality of death. Jim is not coming back. That's it.

Ellouise says the Serenity Prayer has new meaning - -
Accept the things you cannot change -

She keeps busy with the business of dealing with changes - calling people and telling them that Jim has died. Removing his name from various things. Meeting with the lawyer to start the probate process. Answering cards and sending thank you notes. Picking up the pieces of her life.
All of that continually reminds her to "accept the things you cannot change."

People ask, "how are you?" She says, "ok, I guess." Other widows touch her arm knowingly - and don't ask. They know. Their eyes say, "been there." There is an immediate and deep connection between them... no need for words. I heard her telling someone, "this is not a club I ever wanted to belong to - -"

People are incredibly thoughtful and kind. Sending messages. Telephoning and emailing. Seeming to want her to know "you are not forgotten. you are not alone." Yesterday one of Jim's classmates from medical school sent an email, "thinking of you." She burst into tears. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Ellouise is starting to tell stories again. Taping her TV show. Accepting a date to tell a story for a local show.  Beginning to plan for telling Pushing Boundaries at the Capital Fringe. Goals. Familiar territory to help her to keep focused.

Books and people instruct grievers to "take care of yourself." Ellouise is not sure what that means.  

After five weeks of waiting the call from Arlington National Cemetary came today. They assigned a date for Jim's final burial in August at 12:45 pm in the "little" Fort Myer Post Chapel for a Catholic ceremony - - followed by Full Military Honors.

Ellouise knows where it will be - with their daughter Gretchen.

                                                        Flowers for Gretchen's birthday, November 10, 2011.


Urban Expedition

Urban Expedition.

Adam's Morgan, DC
Love city-murals.
Fascinating shops.
Cultural adventures in the restaurants.
and  - - - no on street parking.
Be sure you have plenty of cash for the parking lots.


A Visit to the County

Jim loved to sit on the side porch looking across the neighbors' fields toward South Mountain as the shadows lengthened at the end of the day.

Yesterday was my first visit to our PA house since October. Well, while we were away little field mice came in to play and they left leavings. So - - our crew spent the day cleaning up and hopefully clearing them out.

Won't lie. It was hard to be there. Memories of Jim are everywhere. And, clearing out little bits here and there brings tears.

Grief tests you at every turn.

But there is nothing to do but "go on." And I am.

Today is Easter. Karen and I are going to Mass together to celebrate the Resurrection which brings HOPE to those who are grieving.



Circus Surprise

Anonymous art transforms the interior of a smallish restaurant in Adams Morgan. It was a perfect environment for storytelling when the storytellers assembled to celebrate women artists for the 5th annual SWAN event in Washington, DC.

From my vantage point on the balcony of  the second floor of  Mellow Mushroom on 18th Street in Washington, DC I was fascinated by this agile paper mache
tightrope walker and the high flying aerialists painted on the wall behind him.

Below the aerialists you can almost hear the crack of lion tamer's whip.

Brings back wonderful memories of Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus several years ago.

The brick wall art work was like icing on a delicious cake.


An Exercise in Practical Genealogy

Hello there. Leo here.

Because people don't pay much attention to a lion sitting on a shelf I see it all  with a lion's eye view.
In the days after Jim died Ellouise and her family spent a lot of time around the kitchen table talking about something they called the "eulogy" and then the obituary. It was all about the story they wanted to tell about Jim...
At first they wrote a time-line of "he did this and he did that" ... but no one liked it.  I heard Ellouise say, '' this is more like a resume than a story - it doesn't tell us much about what he did as a doctor because we weren't there to know that and because of patient privacy he did not tell us much about what happened in the office."  

They decided to ask other people about Jim - people who grew up with him, who worked with him, who knew him from different points of view. Since Jim, Jr. would deliver the eulogy he was delegated to call and talk to five key folks. This he did - and then they added a touching "good-bye" letter from one of his nephews and an appreciative letter Ellouise received from one of Jim's patients. As a result many voices told Jim's story when Jim, Jr. delivered his eulogy.
They published an obituary which was more like a resume history and let the eulogy add flesh to the story.

Ellouise, who came to storytelling through genealogy, called it "an exercise in practical genealogy" - - history and story tied together.

A story they were very happy to document concerned Mobile Medical Care, an organization which remained close to Jim's heart through-out his life.

From another article
James A. Schoettler, MD, who died of cancer on March 6, 2012 at the age of 80, was instrumental in the growth of Mobile Medical Care, Inc. (MobileMed), a non-profit organization that provides health care to the uninsured, low income, working poor and homeless in Montgomery County, MD.   If you are not aware of MobileMed, here is a link to its website: http://www.mobilemedicalcare.org/  and a link to Youtube with some additional information: http://youtube/zu5bvLegrIQ.  MobileMed, from very small beginnings around 1970, now has grown to serve over 7000 people annually in our community.

Dr. Schoettler, a successful psychiatrist who practiced medicine in Washington, DC and Montgomery County for over 40 years, joined MobileMed in its earliest days as a volunteer, and later served as its Medical Director (1976-84) and on its Board of Directors (1980 – 2001). He was still an Honorary Board Member at the time of his death. In 1986, he was honored by the Maryland State Senate for his work with MobileMed.

The following quote is from someone who knew him at the time. 
“I first met your father as a member of MobileMed's Board in the 70's and immediately knew  that ‘This is a good man.’ The staff were devoted to him and it  was easy to see why. "Doc" as they referred to him was available,  always respectful and tender in his evaluation of what needed doing
and assessing how he could help. Once, he saved MMC, the organization itself by going without salary for far too long I'm sure for his own finances but that was Jim through and through.”

Being a lion new to living with humans I wondered what all this really had to do with Jim  - since Ellouise is the storyteller  - until I heard someone ask, "Ellouise how did you get so interested in genealogy and family history anyway?'

"From Jim. He started looking up the Schoettler family before we went to Germany in 1985 - - so that we could find the town where his great grand-father came from.  I caught the genealogy bug from him... and that led me to storytelling.

Jim loved stories and storytelling. As a psychiatrist stories were the stuff of his business and he enjoyed listening to an being with storytellers. He called himself a professional listener - - -"



Red Triangle
printed papers collaged

Made this collage in Venice.
Printed the papers
then cut them and
reassembled into a new compostion.

That's what I am doing now
with the pieces of my life.

I have to be my own
new assemblage.