Diverging Paths, 1957-1997

       From 1957-1965 my children and my graduate studies were my chief concerns. In 1965 we moved to Norfolk, VA, where I began my teaching career at Old Dominion University. Remarrying In 1969, I began traveling during summers. Twice during the l980's, I taught overseas, 1982-83 in Romania and 1986-87 in China.

     Ruth retired from Hunter in 1962.  She and Charles traveled widely, including a cruise around the world in 1963.  By the 1970's Ruth took significant roles in two Zen communities, even teaching Zen Buddhism at the New School in NYC. 

      We corresponded less frequently, but continued to meet in Manhattan when we could.  After Ruth's Parkinson's symptoms worsened, she moved to the Williams Residence on the upper West Side. She lived there until she died in 1997.


Ruth at 80
Mrs. Lilienthal at 80

       In the days and weeks after Ernest’s death, the Meyers family and countless friends in Lexington joined in helping me through the first floods of grief, then through coping with the machineries of widowhood as the survivor of someone who left no will.

       Ernest’s mother Linda came to care for the children as I finished the summer semester at the University of Kentucky on an M.A. in literature. In August, Babette, Richard, Linda and I joined Dick and Phyllis and their children at the summer house they had arranged in New Jersey.  There the five young cousins played on the shore and in the sea, a welcome distraction for my two while the somber adults watched.

       Across the school year 1957-58, I found that taking classes kept me busy and focused in a steadying way.  Along with other friends, Ruth, of course, encouraged whatever strength I showed.  I was not much of a correspondent that year, but eventually I wrote to tell Ruth that we would come to New York again during August, 1958. 

Carolyn Dear,

           How often I have thought of you this winter!  You’ve stamina.

            If Charles’ plans don’t change I should be in town on the dates you mention. Saturday August l6 would seem, now, to be a good day for a matinee –

            The snapshots of Richard and Babette are darling.  Astonishing what imprints they are of you and Ernest.

            --finally saw the movie “The Red Balloon” and thought it enchanting and masterful – a wonderful fairy-tale for adults.

            I look forward to seeing you. 

Fondly,
Ruth

 UL-8-5207 (home)
CO-5-8971 (studio)

       As in other notes from the 1950’s, Ruth mentions how to reach her at the Feher studio, just as if it were a second home.

       While I spent two years studying for my M.A. in English (1957-59) and six years for my Ph.D. (1959-1965),  Ruth moved ardently along in a new spiritual path—Zen Buddhism. After her retirement in 1962, she could devote a great deal of time to the roles she assumed in the Zen community.  Yet Ruth’s devotion to the Sangha (Buddhist Community) never alters her concern for her loyal students.  She keeps up with some longtime interests.  When she writes to me in the 1960’s, she still reports what she’s reading, and how she’s enjoying both nature and city scenes; she speaks of frequent movie-going with Charles and, as always, tells about their travels. 

       Ruth’s long letter of July 15, 1962, is the only one she ever typed when writing to me.  She squeezes eight paragraphs on the page, and touches on more than eight topics, opening with an enthusiastic review of J. D. Salinger’s short stories.

            Dear Carolyn,

            How can I tell you enough thanks for the Salinger stories! [Nine Stories Except for my impatience with the short story form, I cannot understand how, after reading Catcher in the Rye, HOW I could have closed my windows to even a squiggle written by him.  What a superlative talent.  I’m subjugated.  I begrudged the turning of each page toward the finish and made many living, admiring noises.  Although the very story I’m reading is apt to be my favorite, I think that out of sight of them all, my most beloved one is Teddy, and second , The Dinghy, and third De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period.  Uncle Wiggily I find too painful to bring forward.  Franny and Zooey will be one of my summer desserts.

            Naturally I was glad that my gift pleased her so much that she tells how she felt about  many stories. Not since her critiques of books I chose for my college term papers has she spoken of her reading in such detail.  She is more likely to recommend books by naming the author and title, adding little comment. 

       Ruth devotes her next two paragraphs to family news I had sent.  When Richard took the part of the newspaper boy in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, I mailed her both the program and a review.  For good measure I also forwarded some of his schoolwork.

            I thank you too, for the theatre program which pleased me mightily.  Does it vex Richard to have his name scrabbled into Meyer and Myers?  I am very impressed with his science notebook.  Was that a representative example of his recording habits?

       And in one of my earlier letters I enclosed my syllabus for the English Composition courses I had started to teach.

            As for you Carolyn Hodgson Meyers, you’re giving first-rate, cracker-jack, eye-opening courses—and I wish I were taking them.  Do you keep yourself up during the small hours, to finish work? (You used to.)

            You will receive this year’s ARGUS which is, in my opinion, not one of the best issues.  Lynn Visson and Carola Dibbell are uncommonly gifted, and  will be at Radcliffe in the fall.  The English Department thinks that Carola is the most creative individual we’ve ever had.  The piece I liked best was Nikki Raymond’s No Hard Feelings.  She’s an astonishingly brilliant ninth year student!   She speaks only with breathless excitement, like you.

       I found it touching that she recalled me pleasantly, especially as she hadn’t forgotten my problems with sleeping. Ruth still clearly delights in noticing the memorable students of this 1960’s generation.  Next as she describes Manhattan scenes, she grades some A and some F, but concludes with an affirmation of humanity’s best works.

          New York is a Summer Festival again, the placards say.  At measured intervals along Fifty-Seventh Street, are mammoth jardinières of ivy, geraniums, glaucous-leaved begonias and assorted twaddle of candy and cigarette wrappings.  The litter in the streets and subways are evidence of a mass conscience being no conscience at all.  Then I walk through Donnell Library, or the Sculpture Court of the Museum of Modern Art, and I feel fine again about H.sapiens.

       She speaks rather wittily about the serious matter of Charles’ confinement in a hospital.

          Scarbelly, my surgery-prone spouse, was hospitalized for three weeks in May, and was delivered of a renal calculus and a thousand dollars. . . During convalescence he supported the weights of Citizen Hearst and of Youngblood Hawke, with enthusiasm for neither.

       In her last long paragraph, Ruth lists many pleasures she’s indulging in, calling the season a lark because she’s free of the strains she has been feeling at Hunter. And she can sleep until the noble light wakes her up , read as she pleases, keep up with her regimen at the Feher Studio, and see wonderful movies like Whistle Down the Wind (for the children, too) and Purple Noon (not for the children, too) und so weiter.

       Best of all she foresees travel in 1963.  .  .  .  next year, NEXT YEAR is a sabbatical one for me!   She and Charles are selecting destinations and considering visits to friends in the Southwest and mayhap Lexington.

       As it turned out, they did stop by Tucson before taking their cruise from the west coast to go around the world.  They never did get to Kentucky.

       Early in 1963 Ruth sends a postcard from San Francisco.  The picture on one side shows famous city scenes: Chinatown and Cable Car, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate Bridge.  On the other side are crowded comments as well as the itinerary for their long voyage. After the date 1/20/63, she adds facts about the weather:  30 degrees AM – 55 degrees PM.

Carolyn dear,

            Thank you for the newsphoto of the beautiful children. Good luck with your very interesting and elusive project.  You may hear from one of my erstwhile pupils on it.

            We can hardly believe that our dream has begun to work.  Tomorrow we embark for L.A., Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand, Ceylon, Bombay, Suez Canal, Turkey, Europe!

love, ruth

Letter from Ruth, 1/20/1963

       These hasty, happy lines highlight one of the diverging paths we are taking. Absorbed in research for my dissertation, I move toward a new career at just the same time when she gladly gives up teaching at Hunter.

       My very interesting and elusive project (the one that she described to her former student) officially began  with a notice I put in the N.Y. Times and The London Times I asked readers to alert me to novels which depict fictional psychologists and their roles in imaginary societies, utopias or dystopias.  From 1963 to 1965 I completed the last courses for my Ph.D. while continuing to teach English 101, composition for freshmen. During those years I was reading countless novels set in the future to discover how the authors depicted the powers of psychologists  to control social and personal behavior.

       Evidently in choosing this subject I needed to make one last gesture toward psychology, even as I turned to focus on studying and teaching literature.

       By the end of 1962, Ruth effectively retires, and the Lilienthals are ready for those far-ranging travels noted on her January 1963 postcard.  At the same time, although she is not yet telling me about it, her attraction to Zen philosophy grows.  Ruth first mentions Zen to me in 1964, her Christmas letter.

 In teaching coordination on Saturdays and two evenings, I make obeisance to my destiny. Otherwise  I have a fairly happy time pursuing my programs of osteo-arthritic control and inquiries into Zen and Tao doctrines.

       She bows to her fate serenely, she says, and accepts the Feher programs as her destiny.  At this time, at least when writing to me, she doesn't emphasize her explorations of Zen and Tao enough for me to realize that she is already attending the New York Zendo. Then Ruth teases me about my love of Keats, which encompasses every word he wrote.

I am reluctant, I am ashamed, to say that I do not share your enthusiasm regarding the Letters of John Keats.  The glints of mica are sparse, the matrix of trivia.  Equal to his poetry?  MAIS NON.  (Can we still be friends?) 

       Ruth’s lighthearted question now reminds me that in retrospect I wonder about the limits we place on friendship when we tell each other more about incidents than feelings and conflicts.  In this letter, for example, Ruth describes ardent movie-going more clearly than her acquiescence to “destiny.”

         There is time too, for the cinema.  Charles loves the Big Historical Spectacular Pageant.  After slowly expiring through Ben Hur, Le Cid and Spartacus, I gasped my final despair at Cleopatra. What an overstuffed, underdone phoney! --- except for Rex Harrison who can do no wrong.  We are addle-pated about Peter O’Toole,  Marcello Mastroianni and Peter Sellers; we go to see their work at the glimpse of a marquee.

       By 1964, I had gathered varied examples of psychological techniques in fiction to analyze for my dissertation. Other hurdles came along: qualifying examinations in German and passing the final comprehensive written examinations covering English and American Literature.

       By spring 1965, I had leaped enough academic hurdles, or gotten over them somehow, to qualify for a faculty position as soon as my dissertation was approved.  In the summer of 1965, a faculty committee assembled to judge my 311- page dissertation PSYCHOTECHNOLOGY IN FICTION ABOUT IMAGINARY SOCIETIES 1923-1962.   After the committee certified this last requirement and congratulated me, I walked out of the building to discover a surprise:  a new car waited for me.  Ernest Meyers’ family had sent it as a gift. Ruth knew of the surprise and notes it in her letter of congratulation. Then and now I treasure her thoughts as she thanks me for naming her as the earliest of my best teachers.

September 21, 1965

Wonderful Carolyn!

            What a beautiful summer harvest:  fruit of the Ph.D., and a red breasted Corvair! The hard work was yours, the enjoyment is ours.  I give you loving thanks for your generous acknowledgment—which I long to see.  You will know the same deep pleasure yourself one day.

       I sent her a copy of my dissertation as soon as the pages were bound.  Her name comes first among the teachers whose influence did most to foster my interests in literature and psychology:  after Mrs. Ruth S. Lilienthal I thank three professors at the University of Alabama, one from Columbia University, and two from the University of Kentucky.

       Although she promises to read it soon, I doubt that she did.  She has become fascinated by Zen readings and practices.

          I shall lay every thing aside to read your book---Everything at the present moment being R. H. Blyth’s Zen in English Literature and Oriental Classics, a labor-loving study encrusted with gems. Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Robert Louis Stevenson come off with highest honors.                                  

“A butterfly,

Asleep, perched upon

The temple bell.” 

            Three Zen sesshins this summer were a travail and a fascination.  The physical benefits of intense, prolonged (meditation) (concentration) are astonishing.  Although I do not expect to achieve a full satori, I’ve had a few minor experiences which make further work tantalizing.  Cornelia says that I will spend the last of my days in a hut on a mountain top.

       Decades later I would learn that Zen sesshins feature hours of sitting meditation.  They include rituals unlike any that I associated with sessions I had attended in non-sectarian settings.  The different spellings carry quite different meanings. When I read Ruth’s letter, however, I simply wondered how any activity in some sort of retreat could appeal to her. I was awed and puzzled, but too uneasy to ask for further explanations.

       Then she speaks of my family and our move to Norfolk, VA.

         Thank you for the lovely photos of the young ones.  How vivid the chemistry of the genes.

         I hope that the uprooting and transplanting went as smooth as can be.  I shall ask Linda about your northward plans.      

Ruth

       Our move from Lexington to Norfolk was hectic—selling the house we had lived in for a decade, choosing what to keep, and packing it, saying good-byes. My teenagers, Babette at 14 and Richard at nearly 16, left their Kentucky friends reluctantly.  They understood how vital it was to our future for me to have better earnings and opportunities.  Yet they could barely grasp what it meant to me to become an assistant professor on tenure track, ready to teach far more varied and complex courses than Freshman Composition. We three did agree on one exciting prospect of our new home: a drive to the seaside at Virginia Beach, less than 20 miles away, took us to the Atlantic Ocean.

       Predictably our first year in Norfolk had it ups and downs as we all adjusted to new schools, new friends, new responsibilities.  For me the challenges were so exciting that I probably didn’t take seriously enough the children’s feelings of displacement. 

       By the summer of 1966, when I taught no classes, I invited many friends to come to Norfolk and visit the nearby attractions.  At last the Lilienthals could accept, and in June Ruth suggested some August dates.

            It’s great copy you write for the Chamber of Commerce!  A furnished apartment “just right for two people,” a Dismal Swamp Canal Road!  Can you establish residence for us, August 2 or 3 until 6, 7 or 8?  (The alternatives depend on my mother’s eightieth birthday party).

       Ever the optimist, I expected their stay to last at least five days and I inundated  them with nearly every flyer and pamphlet available at the AAA.  Ruth’s reply firmly rejects visiting the MacArthur Memorial and probably confuses Norfolk with Williamsburg as The Cradle of the Nation.  And she explains why she must shorten their stay to only three full days.

Saturday A.M.  [July 20, 1966]

Mrs. Ruth S. Lilienthal
115 Ashland Place,
Brooklyn, New York 11201

Norfolk, Va. Chamber of Commerce,

Mme.  Chairman,

           This is the present situation:  Whereas, I shall be returning from Craryyille on Sunday night, July 31, and whereas, mother’s birthday party is set for Sat. Aug. 6 (which says cannot to your lovely idea of the group meeting of academicians, my favorite idealists), it follows that:

         1) We’ll be leaving Brooklyn, Monday morning August 1 and Norfolk, Friday morning August 5.  We shall take U.S. 13 as you and the AAA suggest.   Regarding the alternative --- Charles says it will be the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel.  So I give you those words in exchange for the map and telephone number you will send.

           2)Thus we shall have no more than but also no less than three days and 4ish  nights in “The Cradle of the Nation.”  You’re a rare and lovely organizer! --- Indeed we are very interested in both the Cavalier and the Barksdale Dinner Theatres and we thank you if you will attend to tickets. (Charles sounds a dolorous note: perhaps we should get tickets when we get there?)

       I think I’d love a whole morning or afternoon in your Municipal Gardens.  (And I think I detest War Memorials).

      So! --- We’ll be confronting you late Monday night, certainly after dinner.           

Affectionately, Ruth 

       Filed away with her letter I discover a rough draft of my reply on July 26th, eagerly listing the whirl of activities I plan for those three days.  I squeeze in a time for the Lilienthals to meet my Norfolk friends, and confirm two theatrical evenings.

Dear Ruth,

                Very well, you may laugh all you please, but in how many places you visit does your hostess greet you with a full moon on the night of your arrival as I have arranged !   Barring a storm (I can’t manage everything) the mimosas will have a few tired blooms, and the crepe myrtles will be at their peak.  Also two high tides and two low tides every day – and the rest I’ll keep for surprises.

               Here’s your schedule.  I hate to be a managing woman (but not enough to quit, however) and so I will be very gracious about changes and omissions (some of my friends say I try to fit in too much-- I can’t imagine why).  But if you come for such a smidgen of time you must expect a certain breathlessness.

               Monday evening.  See map [with directions to my apartment] 

               Tuesday—at the beach until 4:30 pm.  Home 5:30 pm for shower

Supper 6:30 pm—practically your only chance to try my
cooking.  Sunset on bay 8:07.  Crowd to meet you
9p
m until all hours.  Mostly faculty (some practical idealists,
some disillusioned ones) Perhaps some newspaper people—also idealists.

                Wednesday—Botanical Gardens.  Other sightseeing if desired.

Free time 3:30 to 5 (while I get my hair set).  Evening, Cavalier
Dinner Theater, with raucous party.

                Thursday—Late start to Virginia Beach again—perhaps crab soup enroute. 

Evening—Barksdale Dinner Theater.  Babette will join us.

              About Friday. See what your travel time down adds up to. Perhaps you’ll want to start early and visit Chincoteague on the way back up the peninsula—wild ponies, deer, birds, turtles, snakes, all unreliable about being viewed.   (Personally, I’d go to Virginia Beach till noon.)

Sure wish you could stay longer!   As Always,

       During the Lilienthal’s few days in Norfolk we followed through most of my plans.  Yet we took no photographs, or have lost them.

       The rest of the 1966 went well for me on campus and for Babette with her new circle of friends, but not for Richard.  He hated high school and dropped out halfway through his senior year.  Early in 1967 he announced that he was heading to New York City “to live in filth and poverty.”  As good as his word, he was soon crashing in the East Village.  At least he stayed in touch, found jobs (one after the other) and occasionally dropped by Grandma Linda’s apartment on Barrow Street.  Once he accepted the Lilienthals’ invitation to supper.  Ruth reports that evening:

            Richard appeared at Ratner’s---on time---very agreeable--- but with no eating faculty at all.  The fish lay there, almost intact.  He (Richard) had claimed sick leave for the day, and spent the time writing and nibbling.  He talked about Villa, LSD, Village friends, chanting, and a Norfolk weekend.(4/2/67)

       Moods of her own, as she notes them in this April letter, range from savoring the springtime to uncertainty about the summer. Even here --- at last! --- The snow has vanished.  The crocuses have emerged, and the green birds are busting from the bushes.   Even I feel a fine heave-ho. Does that “Even I” hint that her jolly feelings are rare? Of summer plans I still know naught.  Charles’ mother holds center arena.

       Finally, she comments on a recent picture of me, saying You’re looking beautiful, you know.

       During that summer, Babette and I drove back to Lexington for a festival of re-visiting old friends. Whatever went on in Ruth’s world across that summer and fall seems to have wearied her, or perhaps she simply feels holiday strains as she writes her 1967 Christmas card.

Carolyn dear, I’m too tired to unravel the words---I don’t have your adrenal-thyroid harmony.  But ‘tis the season to be jolly, and for wishing a plethora of all good things on your lovely head.  Art flowing north? Affectionately, Ruth

         (Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern is the giant this year)

       Even her postscript on Tom Stoppard’s play seems disengaged. She names no play she has seen.

       By midsummer 1968 the Lilienthals have again traveled in Europe, this time to the northern countries and Russia.  And in my life as well, there have been many excitements, beginning with my new status as an Associate Professor, thereby qualified—and eager—to direct a student starting to do research on her Master’s degree. 

Carolyn dear,

What a letter-full of fine Events!  Your raise, promotion, M.A. student, poem, --- Ernie’s article --- Richard’s project!  Of the whole scramble, do you know what gave me the most pleasure?  Your poem!  How good good good it is to see a fine line and hear a clear melody.  More, more. (7/27/68)

       What poem did I send her?  Since I had half-a-dozen ready to share, written between 1958 and 1966, I can’t be certain which one I sent.

       Richard too was making literary efforts. He was founding a little magazine he called Genesis/Grasp. That I could appreciate. His ventures into rock music, I could not follow.

Ernie fishing for minnows
Ernie Fishing for Minnows

       Ernie—Ernest Rhodes—a colleague at Old Dominion University—has become a significant other in my life. In the scholarly article Ruth mentions, he explains some actions on the Elizabethan stage.  I had sent Ruth his picture, and she asks: What’s he collecting? From the background, I deduce the possibility of crayfish; from the foreground could be billiard balls.   Actually he is trying to catch minnows.             

 WA-9-4914 [Linda’s phone] keeps ringing back at me, so I have not yet learned Richard’s address. (Carolyn, wouldn’t he rather be left to be?  Doesn’t he consider us rather dusty?) 7/27/68 

       Obviously I continued to urge my friends to keep track of my wayward son.

       When she turns to her news, Ruth graciously regrets that she and Charles cannot visit Norfolk as I’ve asked. She says that if the apartment I can provide were nearby up or down the Hudson, it would be great.  But they feel overtired from their recent adventures.

As it is, if you’ve received our cards, you know that we’ve had it, and it was Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Russia, i.e. Bergen, Oslo, Soguefjord, Nordefjord/Stockholm, Uppsala, Skokloster/ Helsinki, Tapiola/ Copenhagen/ Leningrad and Moscow.  The summation was excitement, elation, exhaustion.

            See you, come Christmas-time!

love, ruth

       During the week after Christmas that year, Ernest and I both attended the annual conference of the Modern Language Association.  But we could not match calendars with Ruth and Charles.  Happily we went north again four months later during our spring break in 1969.   By then we were planning to marry in May.  The Meyers family made the new Ernest welcome.  We stayed for half of the week in Manhattan, and saw Linda and the Lilienthals. 

       As Ruth and I tried to match our calendars for time together in New York, I invited the Lilienthals to have supper as our guests on a free night. Linda, who had chosen our seats and held the tickets, was over 70 years,  wonderfully willing to help, but sometimes forgetful.

Carolyn dear,

            Linda is delightful.  After hiding the tickets from herself during the first phone call, she found them, and let me know that you’d be going to the theatre on Wed. Apr. 2. So ---

            We shall be seeing you; on Tuesday April 1, and I hope that’s how it will be.

            Youse will choose the place, but youse will not ‘take us’ to supper.  The gentlemen will divide the checkout, and we shall all laugh merrily.  So say I.

       That youse for you-plural makes a double joke; the Brooklyn resident plays with local usage and also offers a northern alternative to the “You all” that lingered in my speech.

       Ruth then sets our time to meet for dinner rather late because she’s in class uptown until 7 pm. I assumed then that the class was yoga.  Now I deduce that she was attending a sesshin at the New York Zendo on East 67th Street.

  (I’m in class until 7:00 on Tuesday’s, but can get to downtown Manhattan by 7:30ish.  If necessary I can forgo the class but it’s not an easy release for me.)

                        It will be good, good to see you!

love,  ruth   (3/27/1969)

       How I must have reveled to be at that dinner!  Ern and I together with Ruth and Charles!  Yet I have not even a faint recollection of it, nor does Ernest.  We went north together to Poughkeepsie for the next few days, staying with Phyllis and Dick.  Phyllis went shopping with me to help me choose a wedding dress and convinced me that a gold one was perfect.                     

       Our assembled friends took photographs of our wedding reception on May 23, 1969.  And on our honeymoon trip we ourselves photographed scene after scene on the Skyline Drive, azaleas in bloom, mountain and valley vistas—yet another album.  I surely sent prints of the best ones to Ruth, along with a travelog I dittoed for all of my correspondents.  But if she replied by letter, that one is lost.

       In August we found our dream house on the Lafayette River in Norfolk, a place with room for all of my albums and bundled letters, as well as for Ern’s tools and gardening gear. There we lived for 34 years until September 18, 2003, when Hurricane Isabel turned our lawns into lakes and surged through our house first as a storm and twice more as high tides.  We had to abandon it and sell our lot.

       Ruth’s next news arrives unexpectedly from Aruba in the Netherlands West Indies (4/21/1970).   She sends another one of those joyous postcards that mark the Lilienthals’ travels. Signing both their names, Ruth composes a few exultant lines for pleasures at sea. Then she names some ports of call—Aruba, Curacao, Caracas, Trinidad.

Postcard from Aruba, 1970

HIGH THE SKY
DEEP THE SEA
THE MOON, THE SUN
THE LIFE FOR ME

4 days of sailing, then ARUBA,
CURCACAO, CARACAS, TRINIDAD.

love, charles & ruth

       What an enviable voyage!   They travel (according to the fine print on the postcard) with only 109 other passengers, at most, not the thousands who currently take cruises.


AT HOME AND ABROAD, 1970-87   

       As we grow older and are drawn to different concerns, Ruth and I look upon each other’s lives not steadily but in glimpses, rather like the scenes of tableax vivantes.  I tend to tell her about the best of times in my life, episodes of dreams come true, like my two Fulbright appointments  when I traveled overseas to teach.  During such lengthy times away my letters to Ruth and other friends become round-robin reports—part travelogue and part anecdotes about foreign customs and the joys and demands of working and living so far away. 

       Ruth seldom comments on the feminist activities that become major concerns in my life, probably because I rarely write about those involvements.  I kept so busy with caucuses and curriculum development and mentoring and research and scholarship that my reports would have been long and wearisome for her, too detailed to be vivid for anyone not involved.

       When I did mention such projects, my news was clustered with other excitements like family events and travels; she could hardy realize how profoundly I cared about feminist endeavors.  Possibly her lack of awareness resembles my ignorance of the depth and power of Zen in her life.

       When in the spring of 1973 I write Ruth to settle a time for seeing her in New York in August, she replies from Spain, and explains why we cannot meet.  Instead, she is committed to go to the Catskills to share in the building of the Zen monastery. 

       Her current letter lists travel prospects for the summer with emphatic glee—italics and capitals abound.  The Lilienthal’s itinerary includes many cities on the Iberian Peninsula and they hope to go to Morocco as well.          

  ---LISBON--- Seville--- Rabat---Fez---Tangier--- TORREMOLINOS--- GRANADA--- MADRID--- MOROCCO--- SALAMANCA---LISBON---HOME, BUT we learned yesterday that Morocco will not admit anyone whose passport shows he has been an ISRAEL visitor.   Charles’ passport states his BIRTH in ISRAEL.             So ---- he will go with the Tour Director tomorrow morning, to the American Consulate, to discuss ways and means, if any!

            No palaces, no barracks, no fortresses, no cathedrals---- can compare with fields of glistening wheat, of red poppies, of olive trees, cork trees, Eucalyptus trees, Scottish Broom, etcetera!

            May your holiday be full of delights!

Our love:  to you and Ernest.

Charles & Ruth (5/29/73)

       Despite my disappointment to miss a chance to see her, I treasured her lyrical comments on the fields and trees that so delighted her.

from Letter, 1972

       For years while Ruth progressed toward receiving her dharma name Chigetsu, she regularly attended sesshins and shared in a number of projects connected with both the New York Zendo and the Dai Bosatsu Monastery, about 40 miles to the northwest of NYC.  The formal opening of the Monastery on July 4, 1976, fulfilled the long-held dream of the Roshi and the sangha; he has written warmly about Ruth’s part on that day.

       We correspond less often across the 1970’s, and we phone, at best, seasonally. Beyond my classroom commitments, departmental committees, and personal life, I share in the founding of Old Dominion University’s Faculty Women’s Caucus (1972-74) and serve in various offices, including President (1976-77).  Other campus feminists and I begin to develop the courses that will by 1978  form the first Women’s  Studies Program in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

       My lifetime habit of writing frequent letters must be curtailed; some years I set aside the newsletters that friends added to Christmas cards, then finally reply months later, when I find time in June. 

       In May 1978 Ruth writes to us in Athens, where we pause on our way to Egypt, to celebrate completing my year as coordinator of a trial program in Women’s Studies. After speaking of the bright blue day in Brooklyn she congratulates me and refers to an article from our campus newspaper that describes the success of the project; our program has been made permanent.

Dear Carolyn and Ernest,

            Primary purpose:  MAIL CALL in far-away places.

            On this late afternoon of May 21, the sky is blue, blue and the air clear, clear.  I look upward again and again but cannot feel that you have been swallowed by this or that flying fish.

            Congratulations, Carolyn!  You are the fairest of them all six.

       A photograph in the UNews feature article shows me and four other faculty members with our Dean.  Our travels remind her of a trip that she and Charles took years before, cruising to various Greek islands, and then to Ephesus in Turkey.    I long for the pulse of the JASON [their tour boat] that fed us and bedded us and carried us to Delos! MYKONOS!! SANTORINI!!!  EPHESUS!!!!

       As she signs off, she refers to aging.  She is now 69.

Our love to two Achievers,
                    
Charles and Ruth
                    
Very Senior Citizens (5/21/78)

       By sending their love to two Achievers she includes Ernest for his scholarship.  His book Henslowe’s Rose: The Stage & Staging had been published by The University Press of Kentucky in 1976.  My own scholarly book on women's life narratives was in progress, titled First Person Female American: a selected and annotated bibliography of the autobiographies of American women living after 1950Edited by Carolyn H. Rhodes, with Mary Louise Briscoe and Ernest L. Rhodes, Troy, N.Y. Winston Publishing Co., 1980, this reference work is a collaborative gathering of entries about more than 200 autobiographies.  As the planner and chief editor,  I designed it to help teachers of Women's Studies and their students find the works of women who tell their own life stories of strength and achievement.  At that time both fiction and popular media often depicted women as shallow, dependent, victimized, evil or crazy, "sad, bad, or mad."  After  I completed my book,  and Ernest retired from teaching, we were free to look for work overseas: any year of traveling, then teaching for two semesters, then again traveling, let us combine the joy of tourism with the deeper pleasure of getting to know faraway people and their customs and history.  Applying to the Fulbright program, I was appointed to become a lecturer in Romania for the academic year 1982-83.  In the city of Cluj-Napoca I would teach at Babes-Bolyai University, founded in the 16th century and named after professors, not donors or regions.

       Beginning with our week of orientation in Washington, DC, I relished almost every part of the Fulbright experience.  Yes, there were stresses and frustrations, but even those were curious to get through and try to understand.  Among my students and our colleagues we met many fascinating people.  Most Romanians were welcoming, and a few were forthcoming about their lives under the rule of Nicolae Ceausescu, the Communist despot.  Yet they spoke openly with great caution, and only  when we were outdoors at picnics or on rooftops where the Securitate (Romania’s secret police) could not overhear.   

       Ernest volunteered to be the librarian for the English books section of the library in the Department of Germanic Languages.  Teaching in Romania dramatized for us how recently British and American language and literature had emerged as worth studying in Eastern Europe.  

       Our letters home were carried in packets by the embassy staff to the USA and then mailed from Washington.  That system allowed us to tell friends about our experiences in full, including the political and social impacts of the communist dictatorship.

       Writing to me in Romania, Ruth acknowledges my notes; these were lengthy journal-like pages.  I wanted to convey how strange and interesting the country seemed to us, along with the loveliness of the mountains and wild settings, the streams and fields and farms of the countryside.  As I had hoped, living and working in a foreign country, even this oppressed one, brought peak experiences and many insights as well. My vague romantic expectations were fulfilled, often in unexpected ways.       

       Ruth’s letter includes a wry list of recent demands made upon her as a younger member of a very aging family—younger, yet 74 years old. 

May 21 1983   

Dear dear Carolyn,

            Belated birthday greetings to you!

            And thank you for the stimulating 1-27-83 notes from the Rhodes in Cluj.  I don’t deserve your attention, though I do have lotsa excuses;

---I am slowing down --- rapidly, 
---Aunt Jean fell down on her stairway and broke her hip.
   She’s 83.  To Philadelphia ALL SAINTS HOSPITAL.
---Uncle Henry, 91, died.  To Phila. we go again.
---Uncle Adolph, the twin of Uncle Henry is becoming
   senile.  Only he is enjoying it.  Phila. Again.
---Aunt Jenny, 66, had double by-pass surgery,
   and is feeling better than—EVER.  And again.
---Mother, 96, scolds me as soon as I arrive.  I
   indicate my impatience.  “But Ruth, you’re my child!”
   “Mother, I’m your daughter but I’m not your
     child!”  “Ruth, how can you say such a thing!” 
---Ruth’s purse snatched by skilful gaucho on
     speedy bicycle.  Policemen are mainly SCRIBES.

       Although she must deal with so many distressing events, Ruth certainly manages a light touch. Yet her need to apologize troubles me— I don’t deserve your attention.  The rest of this letter sounds more like herself-- spunky, observant. warm-hearted, and peace-loving.

            On May 24, the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge will become one hundred years old. Demonstrations of pride and affection begin today with thousands of pedestrians, dancers, painters, sculptors, historians, pickpockets, und so weiter.  Is this the same culture that buys and makes and sells missiles?

Her piercing rhetorical question about the USA’s weaponry highlights her distress over trends that contradict her vision of America, similar to earlier shocked comments about poverty and slurs against peace makers.

            Every other generation, there’s a resurgence of decalcomania.  The current form is STICKERS.  If you buy them, or trade them it’s a good way of knowing whether you’re a ten-year-old one.

            My love to you, dear Carolyn --- and to you, dear Ernest, for taking such good care of dear Carolyn!            

Ruth

       Ernest and I Ieft our home-away-from-home in Romania with bittersweet farewells—however pleasantly we reviewed the rewards and delights of living there, we remained bitter about the politics of that benighted nation.  We had grown close to a number of our Romanian colleagues, and knew how strongly some of them yearned to leave, yet could not.  We said goodbye to them in Cluj, taking picnics to the countryside as usual for privacy.  In Bucharest at the American Embassy’s magnificent partly on Independence Day, July 4th, 1983, we spent our last hours with the other Fulbrighters, now good friends. From nine universities in Romania, we Fulbright couples (Lecturers and spouses and one family with children) had gathered monthly for meetings at the Embassy; we traded a great deal of advice on coping.   All of us dealt with challenges like food rationing, money handling, the hazards of travel, and our campus beaurocracies, even more petty and obstinate than American ones.

       All of us had come through the Romanian winter, enduring unheated classrooms, crumbling sidewalks iced over, and shops with empty shelves and grumpy clerks.  How we missed the colorful open-air markets when they were closed from November to March. And we all took pride in outwitting the Communist state’s arbitrary regulations, while figuring out how to befriend colleagues without endangering them by showing too much friendship in public.

       Together for the last time, we recalled the beauty of the balmy seasons, Fall and Spring, and the visits we had made to each other and thereby to wonders like hot springs, caves, tumbling mountain-side streams, the green hill country, and flowered woodlands.

       Ruth lets me know in July that she has received my outpourings sent in March, June and July, my journals of our recent ventures.

   FULL MOON
 CLEAR SKY

7-27-83

Dearest Carolyn, Precious Peripatetic,

WHOA-GIRL! ---WHOA!  You bounce about like a coiled spring. Your song is infectious.  I enjoyed muchisimo the cornucopia of tidbits you sent, March 26 in Oradea, June 7, wrapping it up in Cluj-Napoca, July 4 in Bucharest’s USICA.

 I do not know Tillie Olsen at-all, at-all---but I am now motivated to seek her out. Do you have reservations about Anne Tyler (Homesick Restaurant)?  She has an understanding heart.  (One of the Roshis characterized the expression of intellectualization as overstanding.) 

       Textbooks provided by the US Information Service for teaching  literature classes in foreign countries included short stories by American writers.  Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing helped the students to realize that some lives in the USA are beset with poverty and fear of failure; American life is not always about freedom and opportunity.  This poignant story shows how a mother who could not shelter her daughter from suffering still hopes somehow that the troubled teenager will flourish.

       Responding to my list of cities with addresses for reaching us later that summer,  Ruth recalls places she visited fifteen years before [cities also noted in her letter of 7/27/68],

AHH--STOCKHOLM!  Suddenly there was a workman ‘a la MARISOL or George SEGAL, emerging from or descending---into a manhole.  Great POP—ART. 

AHH—UPPSALA!  I loved the University Library and the contemplative atmosphere of the whole town.

AHH—HELSINKI!  What a stunning University Campus!  First taste of venison.  Firsts are the most.

       When we arrived in Helsinki we were lucky enough to have a friend there to translate for us and guide us to famous sites.  Minna was a linguist who taught Finnish and Hungarian much of the year at Babes-Bolyai, then spent her summers at home in Finland.

       Going on to Sweden we were even more fortunate.  A graduate student we knew in Romania loaned us his apartment in Uppsala for a week.  We explored that historic city and some nearby Viking mounds during long days of early sunrise and late sunset (only four hours of darkness for July nights). Also we made day-trips comfortably by train to Stockholm.  Since many Swedes speak English fluently, we never found ourselves misunderstood and adrift. 

       Our stopovers in Norway and Denmark were short;  we saw something of Oslo and Copenhagen with only Frommer to guide us.  London came last.  There in August we found Ruth’s letter waiting at the American Express office.

       Her final comments return to the present, asking me for more observations on teaching in Romania, and revealing that Charles is again in the hospital, or has been recently.

I surely would like to know how the Romanian student relates to Authority in the home and in the school.  Charles’ roommate in Brookdale Hospital made this pronouncement: “after being here for two months, I know Who’s Who and What’s What”!

I love you and admire you,
Ruth

Dear Ernest, how about a lecture program on the college circuit?

       Settling back into Norfolk following our year in Romania, we began to travel frequently to Texas where my 80-year-old mother took center stage, as Ruth would say.  We persuaded my mother to sell her home in Sherman, Texas, and move into a residence where nursing was available when she needed it.  We bought a van so as to go down there every few months to visit and to help her with various tasks, like shopping, that her glaucoma made difficult. 

       As we made fewer Christmas and summer trips northward, I no longer saw Ruth in person as much as I wished.  Instead I phoned her. In our chats I told her about landmark events, such as Babette’s move to Boston to study photography and Richard’s plans to marry.  He brought his bride-to-be to Norfolk to meet us during Christmas holidays in 1984.  As early as 1969 he had begun to make a name for himself as a rock musician: Richard Hell.  His bride to be, Patty Smyth, sang with a band of her own—a vibrant woman with a lovely voice.

       When Ruth writes me replying to these family events, she begins with grim news: even while she is suffering from increased symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, she also must deal with her 98-year-old mother’s decline.

Ruth Lilienthal
115 Ashland Place
Brooklyn, NY 11201
Mid-May ‘85

            Dearest Carolyn,

Please forgive this Parkinsonian if she seemed churlish and other- than-delighted to hear your voice.  Since your Romanian adventure are you more exuberant than ever?

Department of gloom and woes:  My mother is wailing her way toward a 99th birthday.  Osteoporosis—falls—fractures. She is currently in St Lukes’ Hospital, giving no respect to Doctors and Nurses.  She greets me with “what’s happening to me? I don’t know myself!”

       In April 1985 Ern became 70 years old and in May I became 60.  He also began to master the computer and would take a laptop along on our next Fulbright.

May Ernest enjoy his seventh decade, and you your sixth.  For his comprehension of a word processor, BRAVO!  My response to such matters is EEK!

I keep looking for Richard Hell and Patty Smyth—but they are not there, I’ll pursue Newsweek of 3/4.

       Newsweek did a feature article about a number of all-female bands performing in 1985, including Patty’s group, bringing a feminist trend to popular music.  Her hit song “I Am The Warrior,” also gave voice to liberated women. 

       At the end of this letter Ruth offers two vignettes that capture moments from the passing scene on upper Broadway.

The walking population on Broadway (96th—112th) is fascinating:  Gargantuan bosom, teeshirt is inscribed 

BORED
of
education

“See that little old lady? She’s a thief. I see her lifting in the back, in the supermarket, in the fish store” “THAT little old lady?” “Yes THAT little old lady.”

With love,
Ruth

       In the summer of 1985 we did pass near New York, but could not schedule time in the city with Ruth. Our destination was Montauk Point on Long Island.  We visited Patty and Richard at their rented bungalow where they were on holiday and awaiting their baby.  Patty lived up to my mother’s notion that a woman is most beautiful when she is pregnant.  After their daughter Ruby was born on September 15th, I managed to find colleagues to take over a few classes, then rushed north to Manhattan to meet my granddaughter.

       Ruth came to the parents’ apartment one day to share in our admiration of the 2-week-old darling.  I introduced her to Patty and reintroduced her to Richard.  She hadn’t seen him since he was a teenager adrift in New York in 1967.

       The glow of sentimental happiness I felt then was shadowed when I saw Ruth’s tremors from her illness. Eventually, I recognized deeper darkness; I looked up more about Parkinson’s and learned of its inevitable worsening.  As I could not know then, that day was the last time when Ruth could come to join me anywhere.  Subsequently, I always went to see her at the Williams Residence.

       During Christmas week of 1985, Patty and Richard brought 3-month-old Ruby to Norfolk.  Babette came down from Boston as well.   Our photographer, she made a great series of pictures. Although she preferred to work in black-and-white, still she indulged us by putting a roll of color film in her camera and making the picture that I sent to Ruth.

Carolyn with Ruby, 1985
Ruby visits Norfolk, December 1985

July 13, 1986

Dear Carolyn, 

What a hearty, heartening letter!  Thank you for the clip of you and wee baby Ruby --- I share your delight.  AND ANOTHER FULBRIGHT!    “My grandmother the international plenipotentiary.”  Did it all begin with your group of Indonesian students?

       Yes, that first experience of teaching foreign students made me yearn for more chances to combine teaching with travel.  I had wanted to go to the Far East even as a child, a notion connected with my father’s work in the import-export business.  He collected a few oriental objects, and spoke of wishing that he had gone overseas, although he never did.

       A Fulbright rule requires Lecturers to wait three years between assignments.  Losing not a minute, I applied again, this time for Asia.  I would have gone anywhere across the Pacific Ocean, but was glad to hear of positions available in the People’s Republic of China.  Requesting Shanghai or Hong Kong, I was offered Beijing instead. That was fine.  We were told that winters would be colder, but the students at Beijing Dasue were among the very best in the country.  Traditionally named Peking University, it was usually called Beida, combining the first syllables of its official name Beijing Dasue. Later I would discover that the Beida committee reviewing applicants' resumes wanted a visiting professor who was accredited to teach Women’s Studies as well as American Literature. Lucky for me!

       Our flight from Norfolk connected in New York with one to Seattle, then others to Tokyo and Beijing.  I let Ruth know that I hoped to reach her by phone during the few hours we waited between flights in the International wing at JFK.

            So I hope to hear your lilting voice sometime between 7/25 and 8/5 as you “pass by” NYC.  1-718-858-5207. And another yes, thank you, for your report-to-friends if you have time for such.

My love to you,
Ruth

       Those reports to friends and relatives became easier—and longer—because Ernest could churn them out on his laptop. We found China enthralling, and took full advantage of an unforeseen benefit: foreign lecturers in the PRC were given the opportunity to tour many historic places with arrangements made by each university’s travel services.  Using long weekends and Beida’s holidays, we went to more than a dozen distant cities and historic sites during our ten months in China.

       In Ruth’s airletter to us in December l986, she first congratulates us for our holiday trip to Xian, one of the longest we made.  Best known for its acres of clay soldiers preserved underground for centuries, Xian also has notable anthropological diggings with a museum, colorful ethnic sections in town, and plenty of handcrafts to see and buy.

       Other travels that I described to Ruth happened in the previous fall.  We went to Guilin, then northward along the Li River and back.  On the river we passed amazing landscapes, alternating farmers’ fields with high cliffs carved out for centuries; these palisades were etched with wonderful natural designs as well as some inscriptions.

       At the point where the ferry turned back because the river became too shallow for large ships, we stayed over in the rural town of Yangshao and hired a boat and a boatman to take us further upriver.  With one other couple, young backpackers, we made a day’s excursion through those less-traveled countrysides.  Up and down the river, I took over 72 pictures, a lifetime record for me.  Ruth’s response to my letter with snapshots shows how she shared my enthusiasm.

  [Dec. 25, 1986]    

XMAS DAY --- You are on your way to XIAN

Dearest Carolyn,

Your letter was a delight – pretty stamps, authentic tourist photos, the Unnamed Lake, and the sprightly thoughts of my favorite river-talker.  I feel guilty that you dispensed so much of your time to me.  (I look back at three lines of Parkinsonian micrographia and think how effectively I can lose friends and alienate people.  I can do nothing about it—apologies.)

       I found it heart-breaking that she tucked in those parenthetical apologies.  How could she fear that people would shun her because her tremors worsened her handwriting?   My first reaction, of course, was to send reassurances.  Yet I felt sad that I too could do nothing – obviously nothing about her symptoms and not enough about my empathy, except to express my steadfast love.

       The rest of her letter comforts me as she writes of familiar topics. She takes interest in public events, social trends, sports and especially skillful writing.

           The NYT has been giving much space to the student demonstrations in Shanghai and Beijing.  Two friends who have returned from two weeks in China are very critical of the jostling crowds and the lack of privacy.  They are also very depressed by the exaggerated attention given to “the single child,” and forecast troubles when these children will become adults. 

            Can you obtain anything so exotic as The New Yorker magazine?  In the December 8 issue Roger Angell’s article on the World Series game between the N.Y. Mets and the Boston Red Sox, is a superb piece of sport writing.  There are stretches of mundane reporting but much of it is of engaging literary merit and American flavor.  Are your pupils baseball enthusiasts?

            Tell Me a Riddle I do not know.  But I shall scurry after it.

       In China, for my graduate students, I assigned that brilliant novella by Tillie Olsen.  An aging couple bitterly disagree about where and how to spend the remaining years of their lives.  The wife’s recollections trace their history and her yearnings with great poignancy. Olsen’s themes and her treatment of psychological conflict would appeal to Ruth, I knew.  Also I wanted her to be surprised by one stylistic touch that would charm and touch her, bits of verbal play with naming; phrases that the characters use remind me of Ruth’s device of calling me Miss Alabama or naming Charles Mr. Scarbelly. But I think she never got around to reading Olsen.  Surely if she had, she would have told me about it.

       Finally Ruth reports the mystery of the gong stolen from her monastery in the Catskills.  She speaks of the most intensive retreat of the year and the theft occurring while forty people slept.  Implicitly, she was among the sleepers.

            In my Zen monastery, secluded on a Catskill Mountaintop, was a huge bowl-shaped gong whose voice was very important in Zen training.  It was fashioned 300 yrs. ago in Daitakuji, Japan, and we bought it twenty years ago at Gump’s in San Francisco.  During the most intensive retreat of the year, somewhere between 2 and 4 A.M., while forty people slept, the gong was STOLEN!  Whodunnit?!

May your days be free of vexations!    

Love,
ruth

The Ashers tell me that Charles died sometime in 1986.  I do not know the specific date or any details.  I assume she chose not to report that sorrow while I was so far away, but to tell me eventually in person.

       Early in 1987, Ruth moved to Apartment 1107 in The Williams Residence at 720 West End Avenue, uptown in Manhattan, near 96th street. Her June airletter to me in Beijing shows that she keeps up with news about the P.R.C., and includes a quotation from her grand-nephew, Daniel.

                   It’s a bleak day in June 1987       [July 8, 1987 postmark]

Dearest Carolyn,

            That all of China is running on Daylight Saving Time, pleases and astonishes me.  Also that parents are rebelling against the one-child restriction.  Both of these facts I culled from the New York Times. This is my five years old grand-nephew’s contribution to clarity: “When God makes a rain, that’s like a shower.  When God makes a flood, that’s like taking a bath."

Ruth and Daniel
Ruth at play with Daniel several years earlier,
when he was a toddler

She brings me up to date on two students from my Hunter class of 1943:

            Do you remember Estelle Merians and/or Beatrice Shapanka?  The three of you have reached the sexagenarian level.  HCHS has begun to invite a notable graduate to speak at commencement each year and for 1987 Beatrice Shapanka Fitzgerald has been chosen for this honor;  she’s led the Head Start Program in NYC schools, has received an honorary Ph.D., [and]  is presently training women to manage their own businesses.

       I had sent Ruth our itinerary for the summer of 1987.  By going westward after leaving Beijing in July, we would complete our trip around the world. Taking the Trans-Siberian Railway for five days through Mongolia to Siberia we would pass by various Russia cities.  After stopping in Moscow with a Fulbright couple who had shared our Great Big Red Train Ride, we moved on to explore Leningrad then fly to London and eventually Dulles.

The long way home certainly caps a wonderful year for you.  I will bombard you with questions.

With much love and admiration,  Ruth


THE WILLIAMS RESIDENCE 1987-1997

       In 1988, Ruth welcomed the coming of spring with another short poem, and then surprised me with a fervent description of an evening that delighted her.

The gingkoes patiently
Wait their future to
Exhale green buds— 

Dearest Carolyn, 

       What an exciting event!  The audience (all seats taken) gave itself to Tillie Olsen with loving abandonment, and then yelled and stamped its devotion to Linda Lavin and Mary Jane Moffat.  The air rocked with the most powerful vibrations that healthy humans can evoke!  (April 1988)

       As of course Ruth realizes, it delights me to hear that she has at last had an opportunity to savor Tillie Olsen’s memorable fiction, and perhaps her criticism.  The other two presenters are also feminists of distinction, Linda Lavin as an actor, and Mary Jane Moffat as an author and editor.  She co-edited Revelations, a superb anthology of women’s diaries that was chosen as a textbook in countless Women’s Studies courses, including mine.

       Ruth asks if I can get to New York to attend later events in this series.  I cannot, but surely hope that she did.

Ruth in the late 1980s
Ruth in about 1988

       In May of 1989 I went back to China, then on to Japan in June, taking part in a seminar in East Asian Studies.  The seminar group of professors, a dozen in all, spent the previous year preparing for our projects overseas, including opportunities to consult with scholars at Chinese and Japanese universities.  During that year in advance, each of us began designing a relevant course to teach in our various disciplines.  My proposed class would survey 20th century Chinese women writers through works available in translation.

       We would need to enrich our courses with knowledge of the cultural backgrounds of whatever topics we taught.  While we attended formal sessions with our peer professors at schools in Beijing, Xian, Hangzhou and Shanghai, those cities and others were undergoing the turmoil of student demonstrations.  Our translators during meetings were young graduate students; they were receiving e-mail from other campuses, telling of protests that never were mentioned on TV or in the newspapers.  During our stay in Beijing we went to Tiananmen square on May 16th to see the crowd gathered there.  In both Xian and Hangzhou there were Pro-democracy marches and  posters calling for change.  In Xian, groups of workers joined the student demonstrations.  On June 4th, two days after our seminar members flew to Tokyo, the Chinese government cracked down, putting a stop to all such activism

       Our three weeks in Japan went smoothly.  We progressed as planned to stopovers for academic contacts in Kyoto and Kitakyushu as well as Tokyo, and also made excursions to historic sites.  For me the most memorable place was a Zen monastery near Kyoto.  Its name, Ryoan-ji, means Temple of the Peaceful Dragon.  Among its extraordinary features, the best known is the rock garden.  Mossy boulders rise dramatically from a ground of white pebbles spread over an oblong space as big as a tennis court.  The effect of this scene seems indescribable, yet viewers across five centuries have tried to describe it.  For some, the dry landscape of raked pebbles with sand and gnarled stones suggests islands in a serene sea or mountain tops rising above clouds; for the more imaginative, galaxies float in the cosmos.  However mysterious its meanings, the prospect calls for meditation. 

Rock Garden of Ryoan
Rock Garden

Water basin
Water Basin

       In the last week of June, back in Norfolk, I called Ruth to tell her some of the joys and alarms of my travels.  Soon I sent her a bundle of postcards and brochures from places that might interest her, including Chinese temples with statues of the sleeping Buddha and picture postcards from Ryoan-ji,  not only the rock garden but also a moss garden, a Chinese-style gate, and a stone basin etched with a Zen message.  Four characters make a statement that can be translated “I learn only contentment,” the message of the still stone always receiving a small steady stream of water.

       In September I sent her my syllabus for the class on Chinese women writers, and some annotated articles about China.  When I phoned her just after her birthday in December, she asked for more teaching handouts.  With them I included a column from the New Yorker (5/22/89 pp. 28-29) titled  Livelihood, guessing that she knew  Bernard Glassman and his wife Helen.  The article tells hows how these two Zen adepts have made their bakery in Yonkers a center for Zazen as well as a flourishing business, harmonizing “meditation and livelihood and social action.”

       In the spring of 1990, I sent Ruth a clipping from the campus paper; it featured my retirement, noting some landmarks of my 25 years at Old Dominion University.   She replied not with a letter but with a salutation and a poem addressed to:

Dear Carolyn Hodgson Meyers Rhodes

IN THE VINEYARD
OF THOUGHTFUL HEADS
AND LOVING HEARTS

I SIT CROSS-LEGGED
TO CELEBRATEYOUR PRESENCE 

Ruth
April 1990

        I imagined her smile as she traced the lifelong sequence of my names.  She has known me well for more than 50 years, and has addressed her letters first to Miss Hodgson, then Mrs. Meyers, then Mrs. Rhodes.  Starting in 1965 she could have written to Dr. Meyers, then in 1969 changed to Dr. Rhodes.  Since about 1968 I had begun to invite my classes to use Ms, wanting them to be aware of this usage. As simple as Mr, it replaces both Miss and Mrs and allowing women to be as silent as men about their marital status. Ruth never adopted the use of Ms.  Nor did I ask her to do so.  As far as l know, she was unaware of the need rather than hostile to the practice. 

        By 1991 simply putting pen to paper seemed to exhaust Ruth. She no longer wrote at length; indeed she no longer communicated in writing unless I sent her blank stamped postcards, addressed to me.  By the mid-90’s she often found it tiring even to talk on the phone for very long.  Sometimes she would let me chatter on, but at other times after a few minutes she would explain that she was too tired to keep talking.  Fortunately, I began to return to New York more frequently after I retired, sometimes to meet with my children.  Richard lived on East 12th street and Babette gladly came down from Boston to stay in Manhattan with friends.  It was easy for me to take the IRT to Broadway and 96th, the station closest to the Williams Residence. 

        Once while I was with her, she passed on to me a tiny inkwell that Peter Matthiessen had given her many years before.  This inch-and-one-half cube of glass encloses a thimble-sized inkwell and has a hinged cover made of ornate silver.  When she asked whether I had read Matthiessen’s books, I could say only that I knew of his fame as a nature writer. 

        An exhibit of Babette’s photography drew me to Manhattan on July 27,  1990.  Naturally, I gave Ruth a full report on the opening when I went to see her early in August.  Later I sent her a flyer about IN THE MIRROR as well as a photograph of the star with her mother and brother, taken at the opening.

Babette, Carolyn, Richard 1990
Babette           Carolyn          Richard 
At the Reception for IN THE MIRROR  July 27, 1990  

       Sending another bundle of artifacts from our activities during 1990, I enclosed a stamped self-addressed postcard so she could reply. I recycled it so that Ruth could see the picture on the other side, a loon swimming along with her chick aboard her back.

       Also I included a snapshot of 5-year-old Ruby playing tirelessly on the bank of the Lafayette river at the foot of our backyard, turning flotsam into art. Ruth's comments in reply are written entirely in capitals, showing her efforts to cope with her Parkinsonian tremors.

Postcard from Ruth, 11/10/1990

THANK YOU FOR THE PICTURES
AND THE MISCELLANY.  I AM
MOST CAPTURED BY RUBY’ S
ROMANTIC FIGURE LEFT BY THE
TIDE TO THE TREES AND GRASSES.
I’M EXHILARATED BY YOUR
ARRIVALS AND DEPARTURES
AND BY ALL YOUR ACCOMPLISH-
MENTS IN SITU AND ON THE
ROAD.
 

       Across the rest of 1990, I sent notes, updating family news and announcing our plans for a trip to Costa Rica early in 1991.  She seemed glad for my annual call soon after her birthday, yet she made it clear that adding years no longer added joy.

       When I called Ruth in February 1991, after returning from our trip to Costa Rica, she told me about her failing vision.  She did find the Library of Congress services helpful in providing her with large print books.  But she could not decipher hand-writing, including mine. I promptly sent her a postcard with samples of enlarged print so that in the future she could read my writing.

       In reply she approves the line I wrote with a felt pen, adding a reminder not to crowd the letters, but use what she calls p r a i r i e  s p a c i n g.  (25 Feb. 1991)

Card from Ruth, 2/23/91

       In Spring 1991 when next I went to New York, Ruth allotted only one hour--11 am to noon --for me to spend with her on May 2nd.  Again she had a gift for me, a coffee table book by Peter Matthiessen.  She was feeling no better. Our conversation dwindled into my family’s news and travels.

       During September 1991, my phone calls were not getting through to Ruth, which naturally made me uneasy.  In October when I was able to reach her, I made sure that she gave me the number at the Williams Residence desk downstairs.

       When my mother died at Easter in 1992, I did not immediately send Ruth my sad news. Ernest and I had gone to Texas for her 89th birthday two weeks before, along with Babette, to celebrate just the way she wanted, giving a large dinner party at The Renaissance (her oddly- named retirement home).

       Before I could tell Ruth about that week of entertaining and being entertained in Sherman, we had to go South again in sorrow.  After my mother’s funeral in Alabama we returned to Texas to dismantle her apartment then deal with my tasks as her only child and executor.

       Somehow I never did get around to reviewing for Ruth either the celebration for my mother at the end of March or her death in April.

       During the last years of Ruth’s life, she always assured me she was glad I had called, but she kept our conversations short.  I tried to think of cheerful things to say. Once in a while, I found something to send her that might hold her interest.   Late in 1992, I saw a charming Canadian movie called Strangers in Good Company.  The plot centers on a group of elderly women who take a day trip by bus, only to be stranded unexpectedly in the woods near a lake. All day long they wait in an abandoned shack, not knowing when help will come.  Two by two or in small groups  they begin to sympathize with each other as they speak of episodes from their long lives.  By the time they are rescued, they are no longer strangers.  Ruth assured me that someone would play the cassette for her, but I later guessed that she was just indulging my wish to be of use.  She never commented on the film. 

       After 1993, our talks fell into a pattern; I tried to tell good news and she probably tried to avoid sounding dismal.  My visits came less than yearly.  The last time I saw her, meals were being brought to her room.  She was too weak and unsteady to go down to the dining area.  By then she needed a caregiver to assist her with most activities of daily life.  A short notice in the New York Times recorded her death on July 13, 1997.

       Her nephew, Sanford Asher, serving as her lawyer and executor, immediately sent letters to friends, people identified by Ruth before she died. That fall Mr. Asher let us know about the memorial ceremony to be held on October 4, 1997.  As Ruth wished, her ashes were interred in the Sangha Meadow near Dai Bosatsu Zendo.  At the time I could not make the trip north from Norfolk, but Richard and Sheelagh drove up from New York City to attend. Three generations of Ruth’s family were there.  Eido Roshi led the ceremony. Other Roshis also came and more than a dozen Renzai Zen communicants  (monks, nuns, robed students). Later Ruth’s burial place was marked with the engraved stone that shows the sutra she had chosen. 

       After my interview with the Roshi in 2006, the children and I went to the meadow. We admired the serene setting, a grassy space surrounded by vistas of trees and hillsides.  While we paused to study the gravestone with its lines of poetry, a warbler flew into a nearby sapling and began to sing.


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