A Precious Find on Our Anniversary.

Yesterday when I was looking for something in the closet in the guest room I opened a large plastic file box and found a treasure trove of memories. There are letters between Jim and me, souvenirs from our honeymoon and this precious date-book.
January to December 1955.

I remembered picking it up from a basket of "freebies" on the counter in the Manhattan Drug Store across the street from the Emergency Room entrance at Johns Hopkins Hospital in December 1954. In those days a calendar of the coming year was a familiar give-away.

Free was important to me and as I look through these months and see how often I was babysitting I am reminded of how grateful I was for those casual jobs. And I recognize the names - families of residents and interns - the gifted guys in the white suits I was so in awe of when I was working on the wards.

There is nothing like an old calendar to bring memories flooding back. As I read through these pages I love watching the progression of the relationship between Jim and me. Even though the details are not noted I remember them. The excitement and innocence of our courtship time, the evenings of meeting Jim in the Doctors Cafeteria in the hospital after 10 PM when he would take a break from "the books" in a study room somewhere in the backrooms of the small libraries throughout the hospital for an hour with me. A few names of casual dates with Jim's classmates appear until he gave me his fraternity pin on May 16 th -

He proposed on July 9th.

Those were sweet days. I remember  pretty accurately how all this happened - but I am grateful to see it in writing. Confirming my memories.

Lovely and touching to find this on our Anniversary, Yes, it was all real. Not a dream. We were young and in love. And looking forward to spending our lives together.

And we did!

To celebrate and acknowledge today - - our 58th wedding anniversary - my family took me out for dinner.
When I told them about finding this calendar they were interested in hearing a few stories about those days - making me promise to take care of it. "We want to have it, Mom." Well, they can have it - but not yet,

 I still have work to do with all these "finds". Re-reading all the letters - many from Jim to me and me to him.  As well as quite a collection of other letters - from my parents and grand-parents writing to a young girl who has just moved 12 hours away from home for school and then marries. Puts me in several other contexts - - rich in the stuff of stories. Also some interesting family papers which document who we have been and what we have done.

Yes, stories to tell - and another goal for my 2014 list -
Organize, scan and copy - the "finds" in the box.
Make an album.

Jim had an impulse for recording family history. I feel him nudging me.
Keep the history.
Tell the story.
It is our legacy for our family! 


This Was The Start

December 30 - would be Jim and my 58th wedding anniversary. I will begin the day at a Mass for Jim.   

How could I have known when I arrived at the historic Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD in 1954 that this was the beginning of the rest of my life?

Jim Schoettler, a second year medical student from California,  and I, a freshman nursing student from North Carolina, met on a blind date the second month I was in Baltimore. But he had caught my eye before then when I spotted him at Mass on Sundays.

It was not long after that first date that we knew we had found a special connection between us -

We were married 14 months later on December 30, 1955.

We came to Washington, DC for our honeymoon never dreaming we would settle here ten years later.

At this anniversary I feel such gratitude for the 21,805 days we had together. 

Those days were charged with the energies of life - happiness, our share of sadness, anger and joy, and most of all the sweetness of love.


Slogging Through Christmas

A tree from a Christmas "Past".
For days I have been reliving many of the 57 Christmas holidays Jim and I shared. They carried sweet memories and I have cried "buckets."

Last year I fled to California for Christmas to escape having my first Christmas after he died here at home. I learned that you can't escape the feelings but distance does dull them down a bit.

This year I stayed at home. Home is the house Jim and I bought 43 years ago. It is filled with days, hours and minutes that we shared. I dodged having a big tree and opening all the boxes of ornaments. We carefully wrapped and saved our ornaments - our Christmas Tree has been a family album and we shared the tree-trimming giving time to remembering as we unwrapped each item. Always a special evening - with our kids or on our own.

I was okay without a tree but my son surprised me by walking on with a 4' artificial tree with the lights embedded. I still left the old ornaments downstairs. I trimmed it with small silvery "diet coke flip-up openers" and small red artificial apples. Actually it looked quite nice. And, Jimmy was right, I was glad to have it.

The one in the house most over-joyed to have the tree has been my kitten - turned cat. The first two days I guarded the tree because she was determined to have those red apples. They looked just like balls to her.  Finally I removed the cat to the downstairs. For several days it was a power- struggle between me and the cat .

Until, I took a nap Christmas evening and the cat had a clear run at this green thing she perceived as a giant cat-toy. A loud BAM startled me awake.


So today I am picking up the pieces and putting them away.

I may be using them again next year.

Just like I am picking up the pieces of my life as I move toward a new year - 2014.

There are still some mighty challenges  -
December 30 - our Wedding Anniversary  - is just 4 days away -  This would be our 58th Anniversary,

There is a lot to think about between now and Monday.

But at least I won't be putting up another tree.


Christmas Family Story 3 - Christmas Eve in California

The blog that I am re-posting today was written on Christmas Eve, 2004 at our daughter Robin's house in Lafayette, CA. I have chosen to repeat it because it is about the stories we told at dinner that night. One particular story our family had held in their hearts for 30 years surfaced and I hope will continue to live through our children and grandchildren.


Around the dinner table at Robin's tonight, everyone was taking a turn telling something about a Christmas Past.

Brad talked of a memorable Illinois Christmas at his grandparents house. Jamie, Robin and Brad's oldest, begged the question, saying that maybe this year might be the one he would talk about later.

When it was our daughter Karen's turn she laughed.
"Ofcourse I remember the year I got all the stuff."
She paused and then added,
" but there is the Christmas Eve we were out here, in Madera, at Grandma's and we went to Yosemite."

Jim and Robin and I nodded. "Oh, yes."

This is not our first California Christmas.

My husband  Jim is a California native. He went to medical school on the East Coast and ended up staying out there. Jim's father died in March 1974.

We came back to California with our three kids for Christmas that year so that all the family would be together. It was a wonderful reunion of aunts, uncles, and cousins as those anniversaries often are.

Christmas Eve dawned. All the resident families had chores to do and fixings to complete for the holiday. We were at loose ends and in some ways in the way.

Jim suggested we take our kids for their introduction to Yosemite - only a 90 minute drive away.

As we climbed toward the mountains we met snow. There were snow capped peaks ahead as we drove through lightly dusted hills and valleys.

We stopped for breakfast at a lodge near the entrance to Yosemite Park. The dining room had a cathedral ceiling and the large windows framed breathtaking views of the snow capped mountain peaks.

A floor to ceiling grey stone fireplace dominated one end of the room. Standing near-by was a 20 foot evergreen tree. The top just missed the rough hewn ceiling rafters. The room was perfumed with a mixture of spruce and wood smoke. The thick farm pancakes and maple syrup were as perfect as the setting.

We entered Yosemite Park through a tunnel. As we emerged the monumental El Capitan
stood before us on the left.

Ahead on the right we saw a bright white streak against a sheer rock face where
Bridal Veil Falls was frozen solid.
We were all so awed that we spoke in the same hushed voices we use in church.

The air was cold and crisp and pure. The skies overhead were bright blue with an occasional white cloud floating by.

Ours was the only car at the vista point. And that was how it continued all day. We saw no more than three cars all day. We owned the park.

Deer grazed in snow covered clearings.
When we walked toward a creek we heard the rushing water before we saw
it tumbling over the rocks. At every twist in the road there was a new view of the white capped Sierra peaks that surround Yosemite Valley.
Half-dome dominates and is my favorite sight.

That was thirty years ago today - but I can see it as clearly as if it were yesterday.

How could we have known that we were capturing a timeless moment that would live for each of us - -

Today I think of it as the day we spent in the Presence of God -

and I am so grateful we shared it as a family. 

Back to Christmas 2013

Christmas Eve 1974 was not the first time I had been to Yosemite with Jim.

Jim was raised with those mountains visible in the distance and he loved them. When we were in his hometown, Madera, together for the first time in 1958 he was determined that he would take me to see"real mountains" up close. I was hardly prepared for my first glimpse of the majesty of the Sierras or of Yosemite National Park.

Jim borrowed a car. We took two year old Jimmy, Mary, Jim's youngest sister and her friend and struck out. As we climbed toward the mountains on the narrow roads of those days I was nervous  - - soon downright scared. Jim reassured me and the teen-agers, Mary and her friend, so accustomed to trips up these roads, thought I was ridiculous and they laughed and teased me. They still laugh about it.

When we emerged from the entrance tunnel and El Capitan loomed ahead I caught my breath.  Jim was delighted by my amazement. This was indeed "the real mountains." I have never forgotten that first sight of their majestry.

The Christmas Eve we took our kids up to Yosemite in 1974 Jim was excited to introduce them to the mountains he had loved since he was a child. It was a meaningful sharing. 

The night at Robin's when they retold the story so pleased Jim because he knew he had given them the gift he hoped to - the kind of lasting gift every parent hopes to give their children.


A Family Christmas Story - 2: At the beginning

Christmas 2013

Williamsburg Wreath, photo by e. schoettler
Continuing the review of blogs I have written about celebrating Christmas in our family.

Jim loved Christmas. He was raised in a large family in California surrounded by extended families in the area so he loved to celebrate - even when we were living so far from either family.

I, on the other hand, never really liked Christmas. Some of my childhood holidays are spiced with love and laughter and I prize those memories but many other are best forgotten.  My father was an alcoholic and the Christmas Holidays triggered unhappy memories for him and tension and unhappiness for the rest of us. 
Jim's love of the Season went a long way to teach me that Christmas is a time to be happy.

That's one reason I like to look back on our Christmas-es together

Blog From December 2008

Christmas 1957
682 Argyle Road, Brooklyn New York.

We moved to Brooklyn in July 1957 when Jim graduated from medical school and was assigned to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn for his internship.

Christmas 1957
1957 was our first Christmas on-our-own. Jim and I were married December 30, 1955 and Jim came to Charlotte for that Christmas with my family. The next year Jimmy was one month old and we went to Charlotte for the holidays and for Jimmy's Baptism at Assumption Catholic Church, where Jim and I were married the year before.

Our first Christmas ornaments purchase at Bargaintown USA, Brooklyn, NY, 1957
We still have and prize a few of the fragile glass ornaments that we bought at Bargaintown USA - one of the pioneer warehouse-type operations in Brooklyn. The balls are decorated with silver glitter.
Christmas Ornament, circa 1957, purchased from Bargain Town USA,
 Brooklyn, NY

What was bright and shiny for years is now darkly tarnished by 50 years of being wrapped and un-wrapped with newspaper scraps.

In those days an intern's salary was laughable so we planned a very spare Christmas.

The single interns took the duty on Christmas so the married guys could spend the day with their families. It was a swap. Married guys worked New Years Eve. I was grateful and Jim would have hated missing being there for Jimmy's first Santa.

Santa brought Jimmy the noisy push toy he is holding and a classic small wagon of colored wooden blocks. By the time he had opened all the gifts for him sent from Califoria and North Carolina he was over-whelmed. Stopping only long enough to take a bite of the candy he found in his stocking. He was a happy kid, laughing and grinning all day.

We went to mid-morning Mass at St. Rose of Lima Church about a mile away and then drove over to the hospital for a sumptious traditional dinner which we could not have afforded at home and I had no clue how to cook.

Jim says he thinks we drove to Manhattan after eating, parked the car, took out the stroller for Jimmy and walked down Fifth Avenue to see the animated windows at Saks and then take in the monumental tree at Rockefeller Center.

Back to 2013

Storytelling has taught me to watch for the ways life circles back on itself when I work on my personal stories.

Jim and I left Brooklyn in 1958 and did not live in New York again. However after we moved to Washington, DC area in 1964 we went back frequently and usually at Christmas.

In the late 1960s Jim entered training as a Psychoanalyist at the Washington Psychoanalytic School and every December Candidates attended the American Psychoanalytic Society Meeting in New York City at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. That meeting was always scheduled the weekend before Christmas - not convenient true, but that was a magic time to be in New York. And at the Waldorf - Astoria Hotel with all its lavish Christmas Decorations. On Park Avenue we were a quick walk from St Patrick's Cathedral, Saks Fifth Avenue and Rockefeller Center. 
Not to mention access to all the wonderful museums in NYC.

Several Christmases in the 1970s we took Jimmy and Karen and Robin with us so that we could all share the magic - visit the Metropolitan Museum, see a few plays and take in all the sights of Manhattan.

Then one Christmas in the 1990s all our East Coast family which now included our grand-daughters
took the train and spent a Christmas week-end at the Waldorf -Astoria Hotel where we enjoyed the magic of New York City: Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, Macy's Santa Village and Santa Claus.

I am so grateful it is all part of our family's Christmas stories. Just writing this down prompts me to  remember more and more and know that I will be looking for pictrures later today to see what stories the others remember when we sit down for supper Christmas Eve.

Brierly Road Christmas
Telling the stories of our family stories of Christmas
is the best way to remember and honor Jim and celebrate all he was to us.

Who are you remembering during this Holiday Season?


A Family Christmas Story - 1

Collaged Abacus from About Time- a different kind of Family Album
Last year, the first Christmas without Jim, I escaped to California for the Holidays. I visited with Jim's family and his best friend Dick. And all of our family was together - visiting San Francisco, Avila beach and Jim's hometown, Madera, CA.

This year I stayed home. I am facing my first Christmas at home without Jim - head on. I am muddling through.

But I have not unpacked the 57 year collection of boxes of Christmas decorations and ornaments in the basement.

Even without them memories are everywhere - a song, a Christmas movie, you know how that is. And I am glad. In our 58 years together Jim and I shared 58 Christmases.

Christmas is a large part of our story together - from our Christmas wedding to a memorable family holiday trip to Germany - that in the 10 years of writing this blog I have savored Christmas on it many times.

For the next couple of days I want to recapture our story through those posts.

 From December 2007 

O Tannenbaum 

Jimmy Schoettler, 1957, Brooklyn, New York
 Christmas Day Jim and I will be flying to California. We will have Christmas Eve with our near-by family and Christmas Dinner with our daughter and her family near San Francisco. Its as close to bi-locating as we get. So we did not bring down the boxes from the attic and unpack the ornaments that are carefully wrapped in crumbling vintage newspaper scraps along with fresher, whiter more recent additions. Jim and I have always favored a big tree - since our first Christmas together when we had nothing to put on it . This was taken our third Christmas. We were living in Brooklyn where Jim was interning at Kings County Hospital. Jimmy was just a year old.

Because Jim and I lived away from either family of origin the tree took on a special meaning for us. As we added ornaments we took great care to keep them year-to- year. Over the years the kids added homemade ornaments. We bought trinkets when we traveled that became a part of the Christmas Tree dress-up. Every year the decorating ritual added more stories and the tree became a family album.

 In 2005 to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary my art show ABOUT TIME at Gallery 10 was all about our family. And, Jim worked with me to create it. People were not surprised. Albums and personal content have been a presence in my art work since the 1970s. Including the Christmas Tree was a natural - a perfect fit - an album - a living art work. Family art. The Christmas Tree is a special anonymous art work that families make together and treasure.

Christmas Tree Album, 2005, ABOUT TIME
 We installed the tree - family-style - in the smaller front room of the gallery. Jim reduced the tree to half a tree so that it fit flat on the wall like a relief - to set it up as an art piece. Karen and Monica and I strung the lights and added the ornaments. (click for a larger view - to see the memory pieces) 

 Another part of the show was a collage album - made as an abacus.
About Time, Abacus Album, collage construction created by Jim and Ellouise Schoettler
Remember - About Time.

Jim made the abacus and I constructed the digital photo cubes and collaged them.

Jim and his crew, Jimmy, Karen and Monica installed the abacus . 

 The photos spanned our fifty years together and included kids, grandkids, family, friends, art pieces and special events - with collage elements to embellish and transform. 

Jim and I have another of those anniversaries coming up - next week, December 30. Another milestone - 52 years. 

Dick, who was Jim's Best Man, lives near Robin near San Francisco. We will have lunch together on the 30th - a very nice reunion.

2013 - Back to today.

Dick Bloomer (L) and Jim Schoettler (R) - Good Friends

Although this picture of Dick and Jim was taken in 2011 - I know we met at Millie's in Lafayette for breakfast that year - because we always met there when we came to the area.

A gift for today - Dick called me for Christmas the other day and we talked and laughed  - of cabbages and kings - and Jim. The kind of conversation you can have with an old friend.

He and Jim met at Madera High School and were room-mates in college - at Fresno State Univ -(now Univ of CA-Fresno).  Dick was a favorite in Jim's family - always welcome for supper. And, he still is.  He is my connection to those early days and stories.
I met him when he came to MD in the Army when Jim was at Hopkins in Medical School.

Fortunately he was stationed in the South when we got married so that he could stand with Jim at our wedding. That's a long-time friend.

And, a long-time friend is a blessing in your life


New Video: The Door Story: A Christmas Tale

When my father returned from World War II my family was living in a two bedroom apartment in Charlotte, NC and my two younger sisters and I had to share a bedroom. It was crowded. At 11 - 13 I yearned for privacy in a room of my own. When I finally got that prize I also found myself in trouble. Trouble that lasted until Christmas 1949.

This story has been told in my family for more than sixty years. It is testimony to my father's quirky sense of humor.


Wreaths of Memory

This morning I am thinking of Williamsburg at Christmastime.

More than a dozen years ago Jim and I bought into a TimeShare in Williamsburg and since then have spent time there during different seasons. Christmas is my favorite time to visit Williamsburg. The historic town is especially picturesque when there is a dusting of snow to soften all the edges and blur time.

In 2005 all our family gathered in Williamsburg for ten days to celebrate Christmas and our 50th Wedding Anniversary. It was a special time in a special place. Many sweet memories -

Memories, as sweet as they are, have a slightly bittersweet edge for me with out Jim.  I am learning to face into them so that I do not lose the sweetness because I am afraid of the sharp prick of grief. I have realized that cost is too high.

I will schedule another visit to Williamsburg so that I can embrace that special place and the lovely memories it holds for me.

I particularly love the wreaths made from fresh materials that decorate the windows and doors in the historic district. They are sweetly fragrant and often surprising.  Starting today I will post pictures from my collection of wreath photos.

There is a connection between the photos of the wreaths and the memories of lovely moments in Williamsburg - they perserve something prescious and I can revisit them forever.


Stories Are Our Lasting Legacy

At last, The Atlantic Magazine has published an article I have been waiting for - for years.

Thirty years ago when I began hunting up my family history genealogy I learned that there was no passing down just the begats - you have to have the stories or the flesh will not go back on the bones. And often times, the stories you want are already buried and you can't get to them. The sad truth is that one death can close a family library of stories.

I realized I had to switch my tactics and create stories to go with the names and dates I had collected or they would rot in a box.  I was desperate to tell the stories so I became a storyteller.

Now, you don't have to go that far unless you have a yearning for standing in front of the room. But it is important to tell your family about you and your life and how you got to be who you are. Because who you are is part of who the younger ones in your family are and will be.

When I hit rough spots I am glad I have pieced together the stories of the women in my family because they are all survivors. They survived heartache, financial troubles, loss of children and husbands - young and old.  One husband was shot in a senseless robbery and his wife went on to raise six children in a time where there were no pensions or workman's comp - just hard work. I knew this valiant woman, my great aunt, who always stood tall and never lost her faith as she faced into the wind.

And then there are the stories shared around the table, mixed with laughter and love and memories of those who have gone. As well as telling of how things were 10, 20. 30 or more years ago so that our children today will understand us better when we wonder about technologies and lament the demise of the fountain pen or the silence of touch screens as we miss the clatter of typewriters which proved you were working.

Holidays are here. Families are gathering. This is a great time to tell some stories about you and your family. Our family is the most precious audience we have.

Wishing you a very blessed and storied holiday season.


The Christmas Pageant

Gathering together Christmas memories.
What about you -- are you remembering your stories as you prepare for this holiday.

Christmas 1946

Sister Mary John chose me and it gave my mother a headache.

When I was in the Fifth Grade at O'Donoghue School in Charlotte, NC my fifth grade teacher chose me to be the "Mary" in the Christmas tableau after all the carols were sung by the entire school. This meant that my mother had to figure out and make me a costume to wear. But you could count on Mama. She was resourceful - - - she worked it out - - and that's how I ended up wearing Aunt Ida's shroud.


When a Dream Came True

Yesterday I was part of the line-up of speakers for TEDxBethesda. It was an exciting and energizing day – I learned a lot – and being there brought me back to my roots  - - while I touched today first hand.

My back story:  in the 1970s I came of age professionally through involvement in the women’s organizations and activist activities of the Women’s Movement, particularly those involving women artists.  I worked with amazing women and shared ideas and dreams for our futures professionally and personally at the Washington Women’s Arts Center, Women’s Caucus for Art, the Coalition of Women Artists and across the country when I worked on the national campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.  When I say worked I mean just that from sweeping up and hanging art shows to plotting and planning organizations and political strategies. I rubbed elbows with the well known to the famous of those days – even to the White House and Hollywood. It was a heady time for a girl from North Carolina, a mom and a wife, and a fledgling artist. Yesterday I had a chance to water those roots by being there.  I felt again the energy of those those exciting days.

The event was held at Imagination Stage, an incredible children’s theater in Bethesda, MD, founded by Bonnie Fogel who opened the event with words of welcome. When I first met Bonnie this theater was her dream – a dream she brought to reality by perseverance, hard work, determination and her own imagination.  I was proud for her and of her for what she has accomplished and I appreciate the gift she gives to the families in our area.

Maryland Senator Jennie Forehand, the Honorary Chair of the event, was sitting in the front row, once more lending her significant clout and her heart-felt support to women.  Jennie and I go back a long way – beginning in the second grade at the Elizabeth School in Charlotte, NC.  Nobody that knew her then and through High School is surprised that she has spent more than 35 years in the Maryland Legislature – where she has “done” some extraordinary good. Her list of accomplishments is long  – her latest awards from organizations have been for her work on “human trafficking.”  I remember when she was running in her initial election getting her instructions on how to run a successful campaign from one of the first editions of the hand-book for women candidates developed by the Women’s Campaign Fund.

The applause was loud and sustained for organizer, Jane O. Smith, who organized this event as a “give back” and to celebrate reaching her five-year survival mark from her breast cancer.

Five years ago Josephine Withers and I were presenting a workshop at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC.  Josephine, after a successful career as an academic had recently retired as Professor of Art History at the University of Maryland and had trained as a Life Coach.  I was a full time professional storyteller.  Josephine and I had history – from the Women’s Artists’ Movement – we had worked together before. We decided to try something new -– a workshop on using story to re-describe your life and to chart your goals - and the Women’s Art Museum agreed to present it.
Could not resist this picture from a current exhibition
Jane came to our weekend workshop two weeks after her cancer surgery.  She told the audience that the workshop helped her to begin a new journey, the journey which led to her dream for this event.

Jane now has a career as a life coach among other things. I can imagine that a new title will be TEDx Producer. She brought her dream to life yesterday after months of hard work, creative networking, determination, positive thinking and dreaming. Her enthusiasm recruited folks like the well-known Internet guru Sam Horn and long-time CNN international correspondent Jill Dougherty and many others to step up and help her accomplish this dream. Yesterday the theater was full, about 125 people, primarily women.

The theater was comfortably intimate and perfect for this kind of event.  The excitement began in the lobby where tables were set up for coffee for the wait before the theater doors opened and  - for networking.  Mingling beforehand I met some interesting and vibrant women. One I spoke to had come from Alabama to check out the event as there is thought down there of organizing a committee to produce a TEDX. I met another intriguing woman who tells stories of her family through her needlework. She was the first of a half-dozen women I invited to be a guest on my TV show, Stories in Focus, so more people can hear their stories.

I felt the same energy and connection I used to feel at gatherings of women in the arts in the 1970s.  It was like slipping back into a familiar and very warm coat.  Being there was was a gift to me.

And, I knew that I had brought the right story to open my presentation – TELL YOUR STORY.

20 years ago a 1930s photograph album fell off a truck in front of me on a narrow road. I chased the truck to tell them what they had lost and the driver said,
“A 93 year old woman just died. Nobody wants her stuff. I am taking it to the DUMP.”

Well, I wanted it  - so I turned around and rescued it.  There are no names in it. The woman is a mystery – she has no story.

Oddly, the album now has a story – because I have told its story from coast to coast for 20 years. This woman without a story nudges people to tell their stories.

There is more to my talk – all about story - of course –  but my daughter Robin was right when she said, “Tell the Album Story, Mom and take the album with you. “
And my daughter Karen added,
“ talk about that woman. ”

I did  -and  they were right.

A woman came up to me at the break  - “ We recently buried my father at Arlington.  And then cleared out their house – but I want to tell you – we kept all the albums.”

Thank you Jane Smith for inviting me to be a part of your dream yesterday.


Reflecting on Storytelling as Healing

Thinking about storytelling and what it means to me.

Since my husband Jim died in 2012 I spend time at Arlington National Cemetery. The first weeks I sat on my canvas stool and cried. Then I began to use our time together there to remember our story and our 57 years together - until one day I fully realized that I was sitting beside Jim, yes, but that this was my grave too. When the time comes I too will move into 7424 Roosevelt Drive.

And for me -
at 77 years old it could be any time. I know - we could all die at any time - that's the life scenario - but let's face it after you enter the 7th decade death feels closer.

The day I accepted Arlington as my "forever home" I looked up and around at the field of white stones in Section 35. I was surrounded by stories and I did not know any of them. Except the names on the tombstones on either side of Jim. I recognized those two guys. They were buried in 1964 - the same week that our daughter was buried here. Jim and I often said we should find out who they were - but our lives were busy and we never did look for their stories.

Now I could. That was the place to start. And I did.

And that started me looking for stories not just in Section 35 - Arlington itself became the subject - its history, the daily workings of the place, the people who work there, the visitors - as well as the people buried there. You know all the articles on moving advise you to check out the new neighborhood before you move in -

My search for stories has been very fruitful - for finding stories and for finding my way back into living again. To set me on a path of moving forward until the day I do move in to 7424 Roosevelt Drive. Some people were surprised when I wove what I was finding into a story - a one-person show, Arlington National Cemetery, My Forever Home. I knew that Jim would not be a bit surprised and I often feel that he urges me forward on it - just as he encouraged me forward on all my storytelling work.

 But, I did not understand that making
my Arlington story would actually be part of the healing for me. Looking up and out, talking to people, and meeting new people who share my heart-connection to Arlington has broadened my horizons and opened my eyes to a wider world. I have met people I would never have met and heard stories that touch my heart and open me to a deeper appreciation of cost of the Military Service I say 'Thank You" for.

 The catch-phrase "a story is the shortest distance between two people" is often used to talk about the importance of storytelling. I use it myself - but now I am living it. Whenever I meet another family member at Arlington and say " I am visiting my husband are you visiting someone?" a story opens, a connection is made, and a bridge is built. I am truly grateful for this opportunity to know my neighborhood and to learn the stories before I move in.

 However, I have to tell you - the connections for me with Arlington are becoming quite surprising. I am working on a new one-person show which I hope to present at the 2014 Capital Fringe. It features 3 women. One is my great-grandmother, one a famous author, and the 3rd - a woman I know because 25 years ago I bought a dusty box of miscellaneous papers in a second-hand book shop in Charlotte, NC. It was filled with discards from an old woman's attic. Last month the librarians in the Carolina Room at the Charlotte Public Library helped me find some information about the woman in the letter. I felt a bit shaken when they told me she is buried with her husband in Section 3 at Arlington National Cemetery - 2 blocks from Jim (and me, eventually). Feels like a connection doesn't it?


NEW VIDEO: The Last Waltz

A story I enjoy telling. This is a Civil War tale of star-crossed lovers with a touch of a ghost story.


Catch up and a New Video

 Lately I have have been blocked off this blog by password troubles. Now back.

 For eight years I wrote something on this blog every day - just to keep in touch with myself and what was going on in my life. Well, since Jim died in 2012 I gradually lost interest in blog writing and substituted Posts on Facebook as a short cut means to keep in touch with myself and the world.  Of late, just to keep the channels open, my writing here has become a trickle of videos and fledgling "thoughts".

Part of my withdrawal has been because I find myself having to re-start my life and that goes slow. Nothing is as it was and so the blog took that hit as well. Its hard to talk about life when you are not really sure what's happening. I know there are many out there who understand this perfectly - because they have been there and done the life-redo themselves.

Facebook posts are easier  - - the medium is a social networking exercise so you put on your happy face even when that's not true at all. I do that - hoping to "fake it" until its true. Its sort of like being at Disneyland where everyone is laughing and the world is Candyland.  Facebook is a richly sugared world - nice -  I like it - but its not real. Someone said to me recently, " I read all your posts and you are doing so well - really getting over it." Hello, I am a storyteller.

Storytellers know how to give an audience what they want to hear.


I feel change happening.
Things are stirring.
Maybe change is taking hold.
So, I am back on the blog -
maybe not everyday -
hoping to notice what's happening
 and catch it -


 Adding a new video - a recent telling of an old story. I was drawn to this story about 10 years ago -


Art Pieces Can Have a Back-Story

This image has been around with me for a long time - at least a dozen years  - and I still like the look of it.

A bit of back story. When I made this collage I had just begun to fool around with digital imaging. I  mixed scans with collage - making the composition by cutting and pasting and then scanning the completed image. After that I altered the colors in the scan until they looked like I wanted them to.  It was fun. I spent hours upstairs in my office in front of the computer totally lost in the process.

Being lost in the process is what I really strive for because that is when my real creativity cuts loose.
Then, as a result, I make something that keeps me interested and happy with it for a dozen years.

I love the story on this collage because it takes me back to a printmaking studio in a VERY old building in Venice. That summer Jim and I rented an artist's apartment near the Arsenale and stayed there for a month. It was wonderful - better than we had dreamed it would be. We studied Italian everyday in classes in an old Palazzo near the Accadamia Museum. It was so hot that July that we escaped the heat by riding the vaporettos for hours every day. Before we went we had talked about taking a few days here or there away from Venice - but that never happened - except for one day trip to Padua to visit the Cathedral of Saint Anthony - Jim's patron saint.

That month was a magic time for us. We talked of going back but didn't. Things came up as they will.
But, as we often said to each other, "we have it."


And, thank God for the gift of Memory.

Video: Martha Pearl Re-dux

Tomorrow I am presenting my Flesh on Old Bones Workshop as part of the workshops line-up at the Annual Conference of the Association of Personal Historians. In that workshop I show how I use genealogy to build some of the stories I tell. For instance this story, Martha Pearl, is a story I often tell - because the exchanges between my mother and me rings bells for people. My one-woman show FINDING GUS is an example of genealogy at work as I tell the story of how I found the childhood story of my long-dead grandfather and discovered him as a family folk-hero. I will use the Martha Pearl story as a demonstration tomorrow in the workshop. Thought you might be interested in hearing it within that context.


New Video: Granny Peggy

I have always liked this story but I was surprised the day we taped it that I discovered I now understand Granny Peggy in a different way.  Life experiences opened my eyes.


Multi-Tasking on the Road

This time last Thursday I was hurriedly putting the last items in my suitcase so that I could get a few hours sleep before the car came to pick me up at 4:30 am to take me to Dulles Airport in the dark. I was a bit nervous -  worrying that I would sleep through the alarms and miss my plane.

Another part of me was nervous about this first storytelling trip I was making without Jim. The feelings were mixed - nervous about the trip and juggling the waves of grief that persist. Ah, me.
And all that was mixed with excitement over going to the Hagood Mill Storytelling Festival in Pickens, SC with a pre-stop in Charlotte, NC, my home town.

Interesting flight down in a small plane which they called a Canadian Regional Jet. I prefer larger planes but good conversation with an interesting seat-mate was so diverting I hardly noticed. The guy was on his way to San Antonio through Charlotte and once I told him about our time in the Air Force there and that Jim was a Flight Surgeon he was more forthcoming about himself as a Saudi Air Force F15 Fighter Pilot studying at one of the Air Force Bases in San Antonio. After he told me that I was bubbling questions about his flying, the plane and the tensions in his part of the world and he did not mind my asking.  

This was trip was an exercise in multi-tasking. I stopped first in Charlotte to have a visit with my 95 year old aunt, my daddy's younger sister and the last living one of his sibship of eight. These were the young and vibrant folks, 5 aunts and 2 uncles, who peopled my childhood. And a chance to visit with her daughter, my cousin. That's an important family visit in a short trip.

After a wonderful visit with my Aunt Loretto I drove downtown through familiar neighborhoods that are now peopled with ghosts and sweet memories. I was headed to the Carolina Room at the main Public Library on downtown Tryon Street. My goal was to find an important obituary for one of the characters in my new story.

I was in luck. The family history librarians were not busy and they were interested in helping me. They not only found the obit they also pulled up other documents about him and I left after two hours feeling rich with new information. Ideas for the story swirled through my head.

My final stop in Charlotte was to pick up my youngest sister who was going to South Carolina with me.  We started talking from the first hug and kept talking for the next 28 hours of catching up and laughing. It was great from the chicken and dumplings at the Cracker Barrel for supper through to the Festival the next morning.

Hagood Mill is a picturesgue setting with cabins, walking trails, a still, and an outside stage. There were women and men in early 1800s costumes sitting on porches working on traditional crafts. I particularly enjoyed one gregarious guy. a woodcarver, who sang a little and demonstrated how to use the spoons effectively. Since I was there as a teller, a part of the entertainment, I was working and could not visit with these folks as much as I would have liked to.

I loved the day. Being there, listening to the other tellers, and telling my stories. I particularly loved telling a shortened version of FINDING GUS my story about my grandfather who was an early football player for Clemson College in 1905-1906.

The festival attracted a crowd of real story-lovers and they were so much fun to tell to.

My sister and I headed out on the two hour drive to Charlotte right after the one-day festival was done. Hard to say good-bye - and look forward to having some time together again soon. Nothing like family!!!

Sunday morning I once again found myself on a Canadian Regional Jet - and unbelieveably it looked just like the one on Friday except it was smaller. This time I found myself sitting with another interesting character - a young and beautiful Eqyptian woman, a fashion model, who was holding a large and cuddly stuffed animal in her lap. When I fired up my mini iPad she giggled outloud - "you are doing Facebook" it was more like a question than a comment. "My mother doesn't do Facebook."
Lordy, lordy.

The same familiar driver picked me up - "how was your trip."
"Great" and I truly meant it!!!


New Video: Storyteller and author Solveig Erggez

When author and storyteller Solveig Erggez and I sat down to talk I knew it would be interesting and it was. Hope you enjoy our conversation.



When I told my Arlington story today
 a large bear of a man teared and cried

Instinctively I understood that my story had
tapped into his story
I would have cried with him if I could have
but a storyteller has to continue the tale
and bring everyone home.

So I held back my tears until I was in my car.


NEW VIDEO: Martha Pearl

Oral history is more than just asking questions. Often the person who has the story will hold back. I learned that the hard way. When ever I asked my mother for a story she danced around the bush rather that tell it to me.


One time when my mother opened a telephone conversation by telling me "I have a story to tell you." I not only listened I picked up a pencil and wrote it down. Later, by doing some sleuthing, I added another level of details to flesh out her story. In this video I tell the story I made from both elements.


NEW VIDEO: Stories in Focus: Joel Markowitz

Enjoyed talking with Joel Markowitz recently about what's new in the Theatre in the Washington DC area. 

Looking Back at the NEA Heritage Award Concert


 A week ago I wrote about the NEA Heritage Fellows Concert - but submitted to DCMETROTheatre.com a  bit late so he could not publish it. You know "old News"." Rather than scrap it I am posting here thinking there may be some storyteller folks that would want to read about it.

NEA Heritage Fellows in an Extraordinary Evening at Lisner Auditorium

By Ellouise Schoettler

“For one night each year, the National Endowment of the Arts invites recipients of the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts to share their art forms with the public at the NEA National Heritage Fellowship Concert.”  From NEA Press Announcement.  The event is open Free to the public.

Last Friday evening as I left the concert at Lisner Auditorium I

heard a woman say to her companion, “it was an extraordinary evening.” His reply, “It always is.”

This year nine extraordinary artists in the folk traditions were selected from a wide feel of nominees as 2013 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows. They are Sheila Kay Adams, Ballad Singer. Musician and Storyteller, Ralph Burns, Storyteller of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Veronica Castillo, Ceramicist and Clay Sculptor, Seamus Connolly, Irish Fiddler, Nicolae Feraru, Cimbalom Player,

Carol Fran, Swamp Blues Singer and Pianist, Ramon “Chunky” Sanchez, Chicano Musician and Culture Bearer and Pauline Hillarie, Tradition Bearer, Lummi Tribe.

Friday night the Fellows appeared “In concert” at Lisner Auditorium, Washington DC with Nick Spitzer, Host of the weekly radio program American Routes was Master of Ceremonies.  Find bios along with audios and videos of all the Fellows HERE.  http://arts.gov/lifetime-honors/nea-national-heritage-fellowships/2013-nea-national-heritage-fellowships-concert

Only large color panels defined the space on the stage.  The performers were the main focus and one after the other they performed in top form before an audience who appreciated the traditional arts and they did not hold back on their enthusiasm.

Of the nine performers I was most touched by two women, ballad singer and storyteller Sheila Kay Adams and Swamp Blues singer Carol Fran.

I do have to tell you. Not only am I a fellow storyteller, I too  like Sheila Kay Adams,  am a North Carolina native . Also I have seen her perform in a tent packed wall to wall by up to 2,000 people at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee where story-lovers love her. Friday night she did herself proud as she shed her light on traditional ballad singing, storytelling and her home state.

She was not on stage specifically to tell a story but she’s a Tar Heel through and through so she couldn’t help herself.  Her causal patter with the audience about her hometown of Sodom in Madison County, NC evolved into a bit of a story. Her 7 generation deep-root connection with traditional music passed down through her family became another bit of a story. Her  explanations that ballads are songs that tell a story added to the story quilt she was piecing.

She sang two ballads, the first accapella and the second she accompanied herself with the bango. Her voice was clear and crisp and the beautiful melodies were true as she sang the stories in her songs.  Her ballad singing and her songs took the audience back more than 200 years to experience the purity of the tradition. It was a moment. More about Sheila Kay Evans HERE. 

A stranger to me, Carol Fran, is a Swamp Blues singer from New Orleans, La. She and a back-up group of jazz musicians closed the concert by bringing the audience to their feet.

Her red sequined dress glittered about her as, using a cane, her pianist gently assisted her to the center of the stage. As soon as she accepted the microphone she took charge . Her deep, resonant voice belted forth a song.

Carol Fran is called the Sarah Vaughn of New Orleans. She showed the audience she is still in command of her voice in both English and the French of Louisiana.  Her eyes were shining and her face smiling as she sang. Her body swayed gently with the music and her feet that had needed help coming on stage were slightly dancing.  She came to life in her music and inspired the audience.

“I am 80 years old this year.”  She declared proudly to the audience and a wave of applause roared back to her.

More information about Carol Fran HERE. 

It was an extraordinary evening. Don’t miss it next year. It is Free to the public. You can sign on to the Lisner Auditorium web page HERE. They will keep you informed.


New Video: A Window into the Past

 Talking about making stories from letters. Two letters from the same young woman to her husband gives us an intimate glimpse into her life - more than 150 years ago.


New Video - Two Women From the Past

Letters are important to me. I collect old letters and use them in story-making. In this video I tell a bit about how I first came to perform a letter I found in a used bookstore in Charlotte, NC.
Two women write - one in 1852 and the second in 1918 - glimpses into two lives.


New Video: The Dutch Connection

I am telling this story for my grandson who is living and working in Amsterdam - to let him know he has a Dutch connection - that is more than a hat.


Remembering on 9/11

God Bless them. RIP. We all have a story of 9/11 and we remember. I recorded this version in 2011 at the 10th anniversary.


Sometimes You Need A Back Door

Today I went out for a while for a round of close-by errands:  to take library books back and check out something new to read, to pick up cleaning so I will have freshly starched shirts for taping the tv show Monday, to dally at an outside table on the Starbuck's patio with a new Charles Todd mystery while I enjoyed a large iced tea with lemonade and then to stop at the Chevy Chase Super Market before I headed home. It was sunny and hot like I like it as I sat sipping my drink and thinking that it could be dangerous to come outside my house. And then countering to myself - you have to be brave.

The first person I stopped to talk with was a dear near-neighbor, a woman I am very fond of, who whispered, "I am sick". I thought she meant that she had a cold or the flu or something usual like that but no - "I have something serious" - and she told me what. It is a threat to her and a sadness chilled me. "I will tell you about it later." "By Monday," I said. You see what I mean, coming out of your house can be dangerous. Maybe you already know that?

I sat alone at a table and read a few pages in my new book. It gripped me but it could not hold my attention.

A little later a woman I used to work with stopped by my table. We had not seen each other in quite a long time so there was much to catch up on, even for casual acquaintances like we are. Up shot, her husband died the month after Jim. Sure enough we drifted into being two widows talking - which I have to tell you I often hate and need a back door to run through to escape. But, there was no backdoor, so I listened as she told me her story.  I sensed she told me the story because lonliness grabs her. I would like to help but as much as I understand, I am not a good person to look to when you want to fill a void that is pretty much like mine. Empty can hardly fill empty.

However when she began telling me about her recent efforts to choose a new home in a senior community I listened intently. It was like I was listening and watching a snake charmer lure a snake out of the basket and I was mesmerized by the scary snake. She has a plan. She has researched the area. She knows she will move but has not selected where yet. She is a frail octogenarian whose clear and intent eyes let you know she has a strong will. I was impressed and admired her courage when she told me, "I am making a new life." Oh, yeah, I understand that all too well.

Coming out of your house is dangerous when people you see can mirror your questions back to you especially when you might not be ready to tackle them.

But what do you do when the outside thrusts its way inside.  For instance, recently I received a letter from a person not close to me, who decided that now 16 months after Jim died, it was time to write "the glowing letter" about "what Jim had done for him" that he regretted he had not written sooner and to rid himself of this regret and complete his absolution he chose to send the letter to me. Oh, BTW, I should mention, that no where in the letter is there a "sorry for your loss."  In this amends its all about him. I hope he felt better after he licked and sticked the envelope flap but he sure did stir things up for me.

There is no back door to escape something thrust upon you. So I am a bit angry, a mite upset and wondering if there is a next move required from me. I have reached back to Jim, remembering advices from him in the past. There are many. After thinking them through  - -  I have decided he would probably tell me - "let it go.  its not your problem. don't encourage anymore correspondence with him.  this is who he is."

There it is - - that's my back-door.