THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter 6
We scoured the countryside to find a place to live and in short order, came upon Pretty Penny Farm right in the middle of Sunshine, Maryland. The rent was $75.00 dollars a month. For that, we had a five-bedroom farmhouse in the middle of 110 acres of absolute heaven. Our driveway was at least a quarter of a mile long. It consisted of nothing more than a set of tire tracks through the woods, about a mile south of the Sunshine Gas Station on the left, off of New Hampshire Avenue. Between the tire tracks, late April grasses were springing up through the red clay dirt, and both sides of the drive were lined with the bright white blossoms of Wild Dogwood trees. At wood's end, the landscape opened up to broad fertile fields stretching across the countryside. Drive on....through the fields and there, situated at the end of the drive, is a single gabled, Victorian farmhouse. On the left were sod fields, green and beautifully tended and on the right, a splendid herd of Black Angus cattle. In back of the house was a small stable, a garage, a combination workshop, and behind all that…stretched another field of perhaps forty or fifty acres, all star-spangled with Daisies and Queen Anne's Lace. On the far side of the meadow was a meandering stream...complete with busy bees, fireflies and tadpoles. Our nearest neighbor was a good half mile away. Life burst forth in all directions hitting each one of us front and center with a permanent smile affixed to each face. A general sense of wellbeing over took us with the sweet airs of Spring. The cold of winter was over, truly over, and a new beginning marched forth into the month of May.
We spent the first night on the floor with blankets and pillows. Moving day, which was supposed to be on Sunday, had been moved up to Monday. This meant that Bowie, who was preparing for examinations would be holed up in a library for most of the day and that the unpacking and setting up the house would be left largely to me and the children. No problem here! We could hardly wait to unpack our new adventure...And so, we set to work at about ten o'clock in the morning. Three hours later, the empty moving van, bumbled on its way, out to New Hampshire Avenue, leaving us behind in a cloud of red dust.
Unpacking for the children was like a second Christmas. Each box held a surprise. We opened the mattresses first. This was a brilliant piece of strategy on my part. The children jumped from one mattress to the next. They jumped and jumped right into their lunchtime. Peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches were the magic words for the day. McKay and Gitty were out like a light: Totally zonked!
Something was not quite right though...It was just too quiet. Now, if I could just find the tape deck and the speakers, we could have a bit of Mozart. After rummaging about, I found them. It may be hard for you to understand now, but in those days, girls did not handle mechanical things. Those jobs were reserved for boys. As children, often we had been told that only boys could mend and fix mechanical things and that women were meant to cook and sew. No one questioned these teachings really. It was just accepted. It was one of life's prescriptions. That's how things were. For example, my twin sister Easy and I were never allowed to touch the toy train set which ran around the Christmas Tree at our Grandmother's house. Only boys could do that. Our cousin, Little Billy, spent all day fussing around with those trains, just to spite us, I am sure. It was frustrating because we were the same age as Little Billy, but it was clear to us who had the power. We were not allowed to touch the "Victrola" either.....or the radio....Only boys could do that. And when televisions were introduced into the world....well, only boys could be smart enough to set them up and use them.... that's just how things were. And yet, here was I, in May of 1969, A RISD graduate, unpacking boxes without Mozart! I found myself thinking that I had to wait for my husband to get home before there could be music. Then it hit me...I can do this myself! I turned the speakers around and sure enough there were words printed right there in front of me....Right Speaker...Right Wire: Left speaker, Left wire. "Was that all there was to it? You mean THAT, was what I had been intimidated by for all those years? Humph!! Boy's secrets are just plain dumb," I said to myself. "These things were made for people.... and by people.... and not only for men and gods after all..... "and I"... I reasoned with myself, that "I am, by golly, a people! I am even dumber than I thought I was, for believing that stuff." Such was my self-castigation and enlightment for the day... Moments later, Mozart's flute lived once again the kitchen of our farmhouse in Sunshine. Why this had not occurred to me before, I don't know. I guess, because it is hard to throw off the traces, break old habits and slip the cultural bonds of tradition.
It took several weeks to really get settled down and moved in. It was not just the unpacking and arranging of things about the house...but becoming comfortable with the placement of all those things, now rearranged....finding the post office, the grocery store, the hardware store, and of course the shortest route back to Dr. Ross's office in Bethesda.
It always amazed me, that with the most extreme of busy schedules and endless patients to see, and meetings to attend, that Syd Ross always appeared to be laid back and relaxed....and had all the time in the world to spend with you and only you....and still, he kept a happy wife and found time to take his daughter Wendy, personally up to her college interviews, and take son Michael out for photography days in the country. He kept a close personal touch with his children: Wendy, Jill, John and Michael. His wife Bernice, beautiful and serene was truly remarkable, because she shared her husband with so many. However did she do it! There was an extraordinary bond between them. Syd Ross died in September 2001....I miss him. I know that there are many people like myself who are grateful for the life of this gentle man.
I slept happily through most of May, June and July in Sunshine and then… Things began to happen. I had finally caught up on sleep and was back to Go, one hundred percent! With everyone healthy and happy, I found that I had time in the evenings to start to work on sculpture. But making sculpture would be different now. I no longer had to wait for inspiration to hit me. Now, there was sculpture-on-tap, twenty-four hours a day. I am quite sure that this resulted from the forced regimen of the past year.
The-Great-Year-of-the-Scrub, as I like to call it, coerced me into becoming superbly organized for the first time in my life; organized in a way that I had never known before; down to each and every minute of every day...day after day....month after month. The beauty of this newly found gift was that the making of sculpture now happened so effortlessly. This forced regimen of course, had nothing whatever to do with art. It had only to do with Discipline and Discipline is Freedom!!!
When you first learn to drive a car, one must learn the rules of the road. One has to consciously think...of seat belts...of one's feet and hands and vision..... Of one's placement with in the vehicle and the placement of the car on the road....Relative speed and relative space between cars, etc....and then...... at some point, everything comes together. You are no longer aware of all the learning and practice. In fact, one has only to have an idea in one's mind: that of the destination alone! Get in the car, key the ignition and go! And so it was for me....All of the training in art school, and all the lessons from life came together because of the forced discipline, blessed upon me by "The-Great-Year-of-the-Scrub." It was exactly what was needed to free up all the sculpture locked away inside of me.
"The-Great-Year-of-the-Scrub" made all things possible. I doubt that I could have become a sculptor, had it not been for Salmonella D. All of my education would not have been used in any meaningful way. Without the Freedom of Discipline, quite simply, these works of art would never have been produced. Of this, I am quite certain. There are many parts and pieces, which must come together to make a sculptor but for me, the most important ingredient was discipline. For me, my parents and grandparents, relatives and friends helped to build a base on which to stand. There was lots of hometown support, teacher support, and the support of the schools and colleges. When all is said and done, there was great timing. Great timing is of equal value. I have never been directly involved in a war. I have never missed a meal either. No.... Nor has there been any great suffering worth a mention here, but without Women's liberation in the sixties...well just forget it! In addition to all this.. there was good health...and good luck with the gene pool. The gene pool is of course, just the luck of the draw.
A favorable climate in which seeds, when planted, can take hold and grow, cannot be ignored either. But even with the right parents and just the right climate and just the right everything....and even when the key is placed in your hand...at some point the key must be used. Talent alone is not enough. There is a certain something that actually makes one, not only able to produce, but actually makes one get out there and do the work. I do not know what part of the gene performs that task or just exactly what it is called.... but for me it was called Salmonella D! And without it...talent...no matter how great...is not a true talent. True talent must contain this element. If it is missing, one can pass it along to another generation, but the talent itself can never be fully realized.