Chapter 22 (Part 1): New Rochelle and Friends

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Luca at 2020 Bryn Mawr on the bed in the big bedroom

… And John who joins me in New Rochelle

I met John at a theater in Paris in January 1971. I have already told that story somewhere else, so I’ll only add that John was a physicist who was doing a three-year stint at Collège de France in Paris at that time. He had formerly worked at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, but when his first marriage ended in divorce, he applied for a couple of years’ research work at Collège de France.

In 1964, when John was a graduate student at the Florida State University in Tallahassee, he was living in a room that had been converted from a garage. One stormy night there was a knock on the door and his Cajun friend was standing outside dripping wet in his long London Fog raincoat. He pulled out a little thing from a deep pocket and the ‘thing’ turned out to be the cutest little tabby kitten with a white spot under her chin and four white paws.

That got to be Lucia who became the mother of Brünhilde and Siegfried – later on when John was married to Linda. Susanna was their fourth cat who just wandered in one day at the house they rented on Long Island. She adopted them and became one of the group to make it a foursome.

Thus began John’s passion saga with cats. He has never since then lived without one or two cats, except for his first year in France. I myself grew up with cats and dogs, and I am a total nut for animals of all kinds, but especially for cats and dogs. Already when I was a baby in Småland, we had a collie dog called Pojken, which simply means ‘the Boy’.

Before moving to Paris in the summer of 1969, John delivered three cats to his parents in Florida, after Linda had wanted to have Brünhilde. Later when John and I visited his parents in Orlando,  Florida, Lucia and I also became fast friends in no time. There is a picture of Lucia sleeping next to me on my pillow.

John was following in the footsteps of a friend and fellow physicist at Brookhaven, Wes, who later became a professor of physics at Nijmegen University in Holland and who has always remained a close friend of ours.

I first got to know him and his wife Patsy when we were driving my little Renault 4L from Sweden back to Paris in 1971. John had got to know my family and several of my friends, especially in Bergslagen, in central Sweden west of Stockholm, a dreamworld of fairy-tale beauty. We returned to  Bergslagen with friends in 1984, and more times. On our way back to Paris, we stopped by in Nijmegen to see Wes and Patsy, before they had even started a family and lived in an apartment. Patsy was the most wonderful cook (chef really) that I have ever known.

That little second-hand car served me well for the year I spent in Paris in 1970 – ’71. Also, since my English teaching job was at l’Université de Paris Sud in Orsay, it was really necessary for me to have a car. John worked in the center of Paris in rue des Ecoles and he did not need one. He walked to work in 15 minutes along the Boulevard Saint-Germain from the 6th to the 5th arrondissement.

When I first got acquainted with John’s studio in the 6th arrondissement, in rue des Saints-Pères, I was absolutely delighted to get to know adorable little Mélisande, just a few months old, named after the female lead of Debussy’s opera,” Pelléas et Mélisande”. We were going to see that opera in Vienna with John’s parents, in the summer of 1972. The program said Pelleas und Melisande, and when John received the tickets, we were a bit worried that it was going to be all in German. We needn’t have worried though. It was sung in beautiful French. But I think I have already told this story in another chapter.

Mélisande who had come over with us in the plane from Paris

Mélisande and I became close friends in no time, and of course when John and I traveled back to the United States at the end of the summer of 1972, Mélisande was with us on the plane. We had a fun time with our kitty in a cage on John’s lap and also sometimes out of the cage. On one of these occasions, Mélisande disappeared among the feet of our co-travelers, but with good help and a lot of laughing we managed to get her back to the lap where she belonged.

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The launching of Sputnik 1 in 1957 had shown the USA they were not the leaders they assumed they were in space exploration and science. In the resulting political panic, much government money was devoted to recruiting and training new young scientists.  John really was interested in science (His two major subjects were science and music.) and decided to major in physics at Duke, to eventually profit from the Sputnik fallout. When he got to graduate school, he started in nuclear physics but found it rather boring, so he switched to particle physics, at the real edge of fundamental knowledge. (He would later discover he preferred studying it to doing it, but that was later.) In fact, though, so many new scientists were created that there eventually turned out to be an excess of particle physicists.

However, during John’s last year in Paris – a year that was added to the two years he was counting on to begin with – he had been looking for jobs all over and there was not a single position in particle physics to even apply for. So for that one year in New Rochelle he ended up teaching general science as a permanent substitute in Rye High School. He was not very happy.

Pappa about 45 years old

When I look at all the programs I have amassed from that year, I get the impression that we must have gone to the City every weekend. But one weekend we didn’t go. We got down to the mailboxes and found a telegram from Sweden telling me that Pappa had just died. John right away suggested we go back and skip the City for that day. And so we did. We went back to the apartment and I had a good cry. My father was the most wonderful man I have ever known. He was honest almost to a fault, He was wonderfully loving and had a great sense of humor. His two attempts at starting his own accounting business failed, most likely because of his extreme honesty.

I was so very happy that John had got to know Pappa the previous summer, even though Pappa was very sick. He had then been suffering from leukemia for over a year.  Most of that time he spent in the hospital in Malmö where my brother-in-law Per was an oncologist and Per saw to it that Pappa got the best possible care and treatment.

After Pappa retired in 1968 he had been given some prestigious jobs as auditor for the city of Malmö. And just a couple of years later he was hit with this incurable form of cancer. It seemed so cruel that when Pappa was finally recognized for his real worth, he had to give up on everything. It was so incredibly sad.

When John and I were there, Pappa told me to come into his study and he explained to me that from the little money he was leaving behind, I would get such and such a sum, and so on. It was spooky sitting next to him on the sofa hearing him talk about what would happen after he died. He had lost so much weight that his suit was hanging loose around his shrunk body

From a lack of the right diplomas he had never had the jobs he deserved, or at least not after the divorce when he had a nervous breakdown. It seemed as if everyone did have a breakdown after that terrible divorce, Pappa, Mamma and I myself who got into a long period of anorexia. My sister Gun seems to have escaped without serious traumas, at least as far as I know. Mother changed forever after the divorce.

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Ossian about 75 years old and his niece, Siv. Ossian lived to be 104.

My dear aunt Emma-Lena, Uncle Ossian, my mother’s brother and the entire family had moved first to Chicago and, after retirement from show-business,  they had settled in the Tampa, Florida region close to the west coast of Florida.

Ossian was a man of few words and innumerable talents. but Emma-Lena and I had many many long talks about their lives and also about Mamma and Pappa and their life together. She said that their divorce had not been necessary. I quoted her on that to Gun once who said “Oh if she had heard them arguing, she would never have said that.” How terribly sad. So Gun was probably more traumatized than I had thought from hearing their violent  arguing, which I don’t even remember, except one incident which I try to forget.

Mother got back in shape, at least temporarily, because of her love for her work and especially after she also became the theater photographer and had married Arne. But when her career was interrupted, she broke down definitively and in spite of short periods of some semblance of health, her enormous energy and love of life were gone. (Magda Molins theater pictures, Best pictures)

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John and I of course very often went to shows in teh City on weekends and, coming back to New Rochelle, just off the expressway, there was a newspaper store where we picked up the Sunday Times around midnight. It was the same thing Allyn and I had done for years. We then spent most of Sunday on the floor reading it. I would put aside the Business, Finance, Sports and Real Estate sections, and maybe more, and concentrate on the rest. The Magazine alone, if you wanted to read it carefully could take the rest of the week. At that time journalism was reliable writing, not simply Washington propaganda or “government stenography” as it is now called by progressive writers and critics of the fake news media.

I remember every evening working on lesson preparations and test grading, a thing non-teachers are rarely aware of. Much later on, when my niece Kajsa wanted to switch to becoming a teacher from having been the boss’s secretary at Tetra Pak, I warned her that she must know how, as a teacher, you never feel that all your work is done. But she loves her job. She is lively and has a wonderful sense of humor and her students must love her.

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And there was my friend, Girv Milligan. Girv was a dear friend and colleague of mine from Mamaroneck High School, who subsequently became our friend. He was a special-education teacher and did a fabulous job at it. His students looked up to him as a father figure, or so it seemed to me. The year John was in Paris and I was alone in New Rochelle, I would not have been able to take care of my little 19-toot sailboat, Kijé, if it hadn’t been for the help I got from Girv – or Girvan as his English second wife Pam used to call him. In the old marina in Pelham, before John came over and we moved Kijé to New Rochelle, Girv scratched the barnacles off the bottom of the boat and I particularly remember how the keel was covered with those fiends. Also, I was not the kind of woman who would take out my boat all by myself and so having Girv, accompanied or not by Pam and even once her son Dod, having Girv be the skipper on Kijé added a lot to my otherwise lonely life.

I love sailing, but I did prefer having a male sailing buddy, especially in rough weather, which is actually the kind of sailing I like the most. Girv, the same as Allyn, liked to sail in hard winds and we did so many times. I remember with Allyn sailing across the Sound towards what we called the Great Gatsby, by which we meant approximately Great Neck on the northwestern coast of Long Island, which is the central location of the story in “The Great Gatsby” by Scott Fitzgerald. There is (or was) actually a big white estate-like house close to the waterfront just about where that story was supposed to have taken place. So we would tack towards it, or sail before the wind — whichever it was. Tacking is the most fun in sailing, I think, but sailing on a broad beam is of course the most relaxing. 

Nora, Rita and Siv ready to move Kijé from teh Pelham marina to New Rochelle. John at the camera.

The year John had come over to New Rochelle from Paris, we moved Kijé from the drab little cheap marina Allan had found in Pelham to the much nicer and closer New Rochelle marina. It was in fact just a short walk from my apartment in ‘Harbour House’ – British spelling, if you please My student and friend Nora and her friend Rita came with us that day and a couple of other times as well. I needed someone who could handle the motor to get in and out of marinas, and that’s what John was very good at after all his experience with water skiing and motor boating as a young man in Florida.

My young friends, Nora and Rita. We are on our way to New Rochelle marina

Girv, however, was much more than a good sailor. He was an artist who made everything in wood from Native-American-style face masks and wonderful precision inlaid wood boxes to furniture. He made a whole set of dinner table and chairs for a wealthy family in Westchester. I think they paid him very well.  His work was exhibited at an art gallery up the coast frolm Mamaroneck. He once gave me a cubic box with inlays of different kinds of wood that I will forever treasure as a gift from a very dear and an extremely skilled friend. After his death a couple of years ago, his daughter Betsy whom we know well, sent us one of his face masks.

An inlaid box, made by Girv, trhe rtist! He gave it to me eons ago.

We chose from photos and the mask is hanging on a wall in our living room. Girv and Pam were aging hippies with longish hair and Girv with a big mustache and a well-kept beard. They were always dressed in a bohemian and very relaxed way and Pam wore long hippy-like dresses. She also went to Buddhist Zen gatherings upstate New York.

Pam was quite a character. She came from an upper class English family and married a Persian (as she always said, never ) businessman who was probably a member of the inner circle of the Shah. I don’t know when Pam, her husband and their three sons left Iran — or Persia, as Pam said.

Here in Paris. Girv and Pam and company on their second visit in 1985

But I do know that they got Frank Lloyd Wright to design a house for them somewhere in the NewYork area, which as far as I know was never finished in their days. I guess the money ran out and Pam’s first husband finished his days on Mallorca, probably the cheapest place for him to live. However, the house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright was sold quite recently, and Pam was there to represent the original owner, so I suppose she was it. Her first husband had been dead for quite some time by then.

Continued — Chapter 22 (Part2) An Active Year with John in New Rochelle