Part 3: Strokes of Good Fortune
Then as if all my collective saints, angels, and muses had heard my pleas and harangues and either concurred or together conspired to silence me, my dream became a possibility! The product of both an enormous stroke of good luck that took the form of an inheritance my husband, Alan received quite unexpectedly and most of all, his enormous generosity to me, I now had the start up capital to start my press. I was delirious. The first thing I did was call Molly and the second was to call my friends Karen Chase, Howard Levy, and Peggy Penn to tell them that I would be honored to publish their books. We were all elated.
I hit the ground running. I had to learn everything. Immediately! I decided to do it in tandem with the most capable person I knew who miraculously was looking for part-time work. Florenz Eisman (then Greenberg) was a former creative writing student of mine who, in addition to having a great gift for writing, had worked for several years as a vice president for a public relations firm. She, in the course of her career had done just about everything—from secretarial work, to research, to writing. She knew her way around people, business, and most importantly, books. Even computers!
Our Press Needed a Name
This was the first of many not-so-simple decisions we had to make. Surprisingly, in all of my dreaming, I had never come up with a name. That took considerable thought.
Remarkably at major points in my life—when life seemed to be clearing a path for me and success was in the wings, a woman in my life died. Or so it seemed. When I was given my husband, son, and Ph.D, it was my good friend Janice; when I was given my press, it was my mother. My love for Janice however was pure; my love for my mother was anything but. A driven and possessive woman, my mother was far more interested in my intellectual and social successes rather than my writing success. Her great pride was in the fact that I was a psychologist and a professional woman. It was “nice” that I wrote poems. During her illness, however, she developed a marked and seemingly earnest interest in my writing.
During her last visit to my home in East Hampton, she (and my father!) read my poems. In our family room I had a basket where I kept all of the journals that my published work was published in. I cautioned both of my parents that my work was brimming with profanity and what they’d consider obscenity, and that they violated all of Mom’s prescriptions about voicing personal family matters in public. They were undeterred as they handed poems back and forth to each other. Mom, did you read this one? Dad, look at this one.
My mother who could hardly see twisted the pages high into the light to read every poem. Remarkably, no one died. Not them. Not me. Rather than be horrified, they were interested in what the poems had to say. My father reminded me that he’d been a laborer all his life so he’d heard those words before. Nor was he surprised by all the raging that went on in the poems. They asked me questions, particularly about events recorded in the poems. They did not argue; they did not chastise; most importantly they did not judge.
It Was a Miracle of Sorts
These poems had been there in the same spot during scores of previous visits and they showed no interest in reading them, but this time they were ready. I don’t know what prompted that openness, but I know the three of us were grateful. This was an intimacy that we had never known. For years, I had kept much of myself from their view. They knew only facts about my life; I kept what mattered safe inside; I had strayed from their version of good and wholesome and I long since saw any value in exposing either them or me to the worlds that separated us. They did not need to know; I did not need to confess. Yet on this weekend, this Saturday afternoon in November— I like to think it was even Thanksgiving weekend, as we always spent it together—we were ready. The gift of that closeness served us well during my mother’s illness.
My parents have always amazed me in their ability to grow as human beings as they aged. My father’s steps were always steady and involved with virtually no regression. He held fast to what was important to him, namely his Catholicism and the Church as supreme authority, but he was open to influence about everything else. All his life, he loved to learn. The world of people and nature were magical places for him and he reveled in each story or creation.
My mother was more complicated. Her growth did not come until her cancer. Prior to that she was of one mind about most things and that mind was always hers. You couldn’t convince her of anything and she was unpredictable—completely open one day and then refusing to talk the next. If she let you in, perhaps revealing some confidence, she would quickly shut you out. After revealing a devastating account of her mother’s death when she was a very young child, she was furious when I referred to it later on. She was enraged that I had taken this secret wound from her. I had violated her. She refused to speak to me. I stayed away from her for long stretches of time.
Miraculously, however, when she got sick, she shut the door on all that anger and resentment; it was simply over. She had other places to go. Kinder, happier places in which to live. It was as if she were reborn, but this time without the darkness. With her own mother seemingly close and whole, she began forming the bedrock of love that we all count on to carry us into adulthood, trusting that the world will care for and love us. She finally knew she was blessed. She finally believed she was loved. She was grateful and said so for every kindness or attention. Being close to her was effortless. She invited it; we all accepted.
And she lost no time. She wanted to know everything about each of us. In my case, my writing—what was I writing? Was I writing? I should be writing. I should tell my story. She gave me Reader’s Digest large print books that included autobiographies of strong women. Write your story, she said. People will read it; you tell the truth. Her support was palpable and unwavering. I told her that I had been writing the memoir of my young self as a 12 year old girl. She wanted to read it; I read it to her during hospital visits; I sat by her bed for hours everyday writing while she slept.
There was no greater gift I could have received than to be close to my mother when she was dying. It had always saddened me that such distance was necessary, but my sanity required it. Though she longed for closeness on one level, she destroyed it on every other. To face a parent’s death with coldness between you is a barren, painfully lonely land. To be able to go with her and face it together was a blessing. She talked to me of cooking for Dad, teaching him to cook, her concerns for the grandchildren, what she felt, what she wanted, what she worried about. I was able to give to her for the first time since I was a child.
Shortly after she died, the money miraculously arrived for the birth of the press. A friend suggested I name it for her. I liked the tribute and was relieved and very pleased that rather than cut her out as I had in the past, I now wanted to include her in this major event in my life. But to name it after her alone would be incomplete. There was more I wanted to say with that name and I didn’t want to exclude my father. I settled on CavanKerry—the two counties in Ireland where they were born—my father, Cavan; my mother, Kerry. Though CavanKerry would not be an “Irish” press, it was from that land—those two lands—that my own writing grew.