Some of the threads: my parents and my grandmother, Nana
One of the pictures of my mother that I love is herself at the wheel of a Ford car (not sure Model A or Model T, but an early-days Ford.) She learned to drive at age 15, and later drove herself to work from Long Island to the elementary school in Queens where she taught at the very same school for 46 years. In 1927, she and Dad were engaged but not yet married, having to wait till they could afford to get married, as was the case for many during those years. They were to make a trip somewhere together, with Nana as chaperone, or something like that...I may remember this wrong, maybe not as chaperone, maybe they were just going somewhere on a trip and were bringing her there as well?? My grandfather, Papa, was a commercial artist and one of his yearly gigs was that he would once a year do the menu covers and brochures for Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz. He would be invited to come and stay and make photographs for reference in order to do the paintings and fine lettering when he got back to his home studio. I had for many years his drawing board of ancient vintage, which had a pattern of holes all over it, like a field of stars created by innumerable pins holding down drawing paper. I used it when I was at Pratt and now one of my daughters has it in her home, where it is now a veritable antique. But back to the trip: I heard this story many a time, but most importantly, it had to do with the friendship (the cementing of) between Nana and Dad: the son in law of the future. Where exactly they were driving does not stay fixed in my mind, but the road they traveled on was the Pulaski Skyway.
Hearing these words, seeing them on the page conjures up a sense of danger to me...my concept of something called a Skyway sounds like an elaborate structure curving up into the heavens, something upon which you would not like to be driving an old Ford or other car. I plan on looking at a map and seeing if possibly Mohonk was where they could have been headed on this trip. I believe it was at night, am pretty sure of that, because Dad told me (or us, I should say, around the dinner table) that he, with difficulty in the dark of night, discovered there was a leak in the gas tank...and expressed the worry that there was no way to fix it unless there was something to plug the leak, and what possibly could any of them have with them that would do it. And Nana, in the back seat, proclaimed that she did have something. In those years, apparently Listerine came in little bottles with corks in the top, not like the newfangled caps on things we have today. And the great news was the little cork saved the day, or the night, and on they went on the Pulaski Skyway, all greatly pleased!
Here are some photos...the first is one of the brochure-covers Papa did for Mohonk in 1925. The second: is Dad and Mom in a canoe on the lake; notice the characteristic little roofed look-out sheds that Mohonk had all over the trails leading up to the mountaintop. The third picture is one Papa had taken of the whole of Mohonk from a distance away, all the buildings which abutted the lake and fit into the landscape.
Another family thread, first mentioned in an earlier post, was that of Russell & Volkening, the literary agents my Aunt Connie worked for, for 30 years (see the Post: My Aunt Connie and Adventure Magazine, May 25, 2013)
I have Connie's copy of the book called Author and Agent: Eudora Welty and Diarmuid Russell, right here on my bookshelf, and think the review below says a lot about how important and wonderful a good agent (or a good anything) becomes for us, who find the most hope and encouragement in our lives via the specially good human beings we've been lucky enough to meet.
Here's the review, written by Christopher Carduff in The New Criterion, Volume 80.
Author and Agent: Eudora Welty and Diarmuid Russell
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 216 pages, $21.95
"In May 1940, when she received her first letter from Diarmuid Russell, Eudora Welty was thirty-one years old and the author of a dozen short stories that had appeared, usually without payment, in little magazines and campus quarterlies. Russell, then thirty-seven, was a former editor at Putnam's, fired for protesting a contract that exploited a young author's ignorance. His letter to Welty was one of the first he had written as a partner in Russell & Volkening, the literary agency he had founded that spring at the urging of Maxwell Perkins. "Dear Miss Welty," he began, "I write to you to see if you might need the services of an agent. I suppose you know the parasitic way an agent works taking 10% of the author's takings. He is rather a benevolent parasite because authors as a rule make more when they have an agent than they do without one."
"Yes," replied Welty, "be my agent. Just as [your] letter was given to me, I finished a story, and holding one in each hand, it seemed inevitable." What did not seem inevitable, and what indeed remains extraordinary, is the long association that was to follow. It was a shrewdly-run business venture, it was a candid critical dialogue, but it was also something more: a loyal, long-distance friendship that spanned thirty-three years —some thick, many thin—ending only with Russell's death in 1973. That this alliance between artist and agent was the great treasure of both their working lives is evident from their correspondence, which Michael Kreyling, a professor of English at Vanderbilt University, has fashioned into an appealing book. The letters tell, always with a touch of humor, the story of both the difficult rise of a dedicated, unprolific, tough-to-market writer and the degeneration of the publishing profession into the contemporary "book biz." "If Welty has survived against the odds of literary America," writes Kreyling, "Russell deserves much of the credit." It was he who first placed her in national magazines, who saw the novel in the story that became Delta Wedding, who squeezed every cent out of anthologists, adapters, and paperback re-printers in the fallow years between The Bride of the Innisfallen (1955) and Losing Battles (1970). "His terms were not uncertain," remembers Welty; "you knew how well he liked something and how well he didn't. I just can't tell you what it meant to me to have him there. His integrity, his understanding, his instincts—everything was something I trusted."
In this age of publishing by conglomerate, in which the role of the editor is an ever diminishing thing, the writer's closest ally has become his agent. Diarmuid Russell in his letters shows the best that an agent can be. One hopes that the model he provides in this book will draw to his profession a few young people whose taste for literature is matched by real business savvy. The survival of the serious writer in America—of today's young Eudora Weltys—may well depend on them."