Tuesday, June 29, 2010

making connections

My Dad, Wallace, was recently visiting in the kitchen at Cleveland Place and reached up to pull down and turn on the light fixture in the kitchen ceiling.  He had purchased it at least a dozen years ago at the auction of a long-time friend, Rod  MacKay.  Rod is an accomplished Maritime artist who we met over thirty years ago in Sussex, New Brunswick, but currently lives in Nova Scotia. We have a large collection of Rod's work that represent several periods in his life which feature New Brunswick scenes and people.

                     (Unished Rod MacKay--Woman on the Knightville Road)

I remarked to dad that another friend, Karin Bach, who lives just a few kilometers away, had bid on one of Rod's large floor easels at that same auction but she insisted that Rod autograph the easel before she finalized the transaction.  Dad wasn't aware of that even though he had spent the entire day at the auction assisting Rod and the auctioneers.  Karin currently uses that easel in her studio; she is an exceptionally talented sculpture artist and painter.
 (Three birds representing Wallace, Patricia, Jane at Cleveland Place.  Artist: Karin Bach, New Horton, New Brunswick, Canada)

Dad returned his gaze to the unusual antique light fixture and described how he'd engaged in a bidding war with another Bed and Breakfast owner from Saint John who ran an establishment called Home Port.  Dad refused to relent in the bidding, and eventually won the bid, at a much higher price than he'd intended to pay.  The fixture was ideal for the Cleveland Place kitchen, both because it was a unique antique and its style fit the era of the home.

(unlit light fixture, before the connection)

After the auction, Dad explained to the operator of Home Port why he was such stubborn competition for the fixture and they shook hands.  Later, Dad sent the fellow a copy of a book titled Home Port that is from our private collection of Olive Higgins Prouty books which includes her self-published memoir. For Home Port, Mrs. Prouty consulted my grand-father (Dad's Dad), Allyn West I, for information to help her accurately and authentically describe the events of an overturned canoe in the water as part of the plot.  Allyn and Wallace had built a few boats between them, and Allyn was an authority in all wood and water craft.

(Allyn S. West II, Shirley Campbell, unknown-, WestCraft (tm) Watercraft, Massachusetts)

A story of a man who becomes a fugitive from his own identity.

                                       Fronts piece autographed to Allyn West I by Prouty

Our nephew, Allyn West III, and his bride, Sara have just left Cleveland Place.  They spent a week with us after their road trip from Houston, Texas.  Allyn is a doctoral candidate (journalism/literature), writer, poet, thinker.  Both Sara and Allyn remarked on the unfinished MacKay painting in their guest-room.  Of the over 30 paintings in the MacKay collection, I think that particular one is the most haunting and evocative, (Rod was working on that canvas when his first wife, Anne, was terminally ill with cancer; when she died, it remained unfinished.) and I admired that they remarked on it.  It didn't occur to me to ask Allyn if he was aware of these details until this afternoon.  We'd spent some time during his visit sharing a variety of little-known family histories---several of them significant and local in New Brunswick, and anecdotes and photographs; most of them happy ones, a few were depressing, but important to remember.

      (Allyn Stuart West I, August 1953 at the estate of Olive Higgins Prouty, Brookline, Massachusetts)

    (Allyn Stuart West II, location unknown ca. 1981)
(Jane West Chrysostom, Allyn Stuart West III, Sara (Cooper) West, March 13, 2010, Phoenix, Arizona)

Sylvia Plath was depressed.  She may have been bi-polar.  She benefited from the generosity of Mrs. Prouty who, as a fellow author and Bostonian, became a benefactor to Plath both for her tuition expenses through a scholarship and cost of her treatments for depression.  I imagine that by today's standards and practices of medicine, those treatments must seem barbaric.  Plath modeled one of the characters in her book The Bell Jar after Mrs. Prouty.  Sylvia committed suicide a short time after that book went to print.

Mrs. Prouty was a member of the Unitarian Church across the street from her estate in Brookline, Massachusetts.  As a high-school student, Dad mowed the estate lawns of Lewis and Olive Prouty for twenty-five cents an hour.  He also took one of her many cars luxury cars without her permission on at least one occasion which resulted in some serious punishment from his dad.

(Young Wallace at the Higgins Estate, Brookline, Massachusetts)

My mother's father, Ernest Henry Carritt, was a Unitarian minister. (Not at the Brookline church--but at parishes in Ohio, Illinois, and New Hampshire). I don't know much about Ernest's career, except that he was relieved of one of his appointments at a parish in the midwest in the 40's when he invited an African-American family in the town to join his congregation.  Also an accomplished wood-worker, Ernest built an altar for the chapel at the Joliet Prison in Illinois. The prison has been closed for several years, now, and I wonder what ever happened to his altar.  After he retired--with no pension from the church-- everything that Ernest built in and for his home, hand-crafted, wrote (sermons, lettters, etc.) and all the books he'd collected were destroyed in a fire by arson at their home in New Hampshire in the 60's.  His only daughter, (Ernest had a son, Dayton, with his first wife who died.) Patricia, had few mementos of his life and career which have been left to our family archives.

(Ernest Henry Carritt, Doctorate of Divinity; Tufts University)

(Altar crafted by Ernest Henry Carritt)

Stephen and I were married in the Unitarian Church in Worcester, Massachusetts where Stephen's family had been members for years.  The minister, Chris Raible, married us in 1981.  Chris is now living in Toronto,  Ontario, Canada.  I came across his name and e-mail address (for the first time since we were married) last Summer in an outdated Canadian History magazine called The Beaver that I found in a waiting-room. I contacted him to see if it was the same person.  It was, and we exchanged a few notes.  I was surprised he'd moved from Massachusetts to Ontario.

(Airman First Class; USAF Stephen Chrysostom, Jane (West) Chrysostom, Christopher Gist Raible, First Unitarian Church, Worcester Massachusetts, October 24, 1981)

Karin Bach who is originally from Ontario was raised in the Unitarian Church. I'm pleased that Karin met Allyn and Sara this past week.  Karin has been operating a unique lodging establishment called An Artist's Garden set in the woods of Albert County along scenic Route 915.  She has three self-contained efficiency suites that she designed, built, furnished, and decorated with her uniquely talented eye for taste, color, nature and quality.  She recently felled several large trees to give way for the spectacular views of Shepody Bay and Two Rivers Inlet that her secluded property overlooks.  My mother would be delighted; Pat frequently advised Karin about the potential of that obstructed view whenever she visited there, but during those earlier years when Karin was getting established with her pottery studio and building a home from the ground up a family was blooming--not easy years, I'd expect, and trees were probably not a priority unless they were already cut down and providing fuel for heat.  Karin is an especially hard worker and generous--two qualities my mother highly admired.

(Karin Bach, Patricia Carritt West, Hebron, New Brunswick, Canada)

My mother died in 2002.  We remember her in many ways, of course, but Stephen and I established a scholarship in her memory that recalls her good character, dedicated work ethic, and sense of humor through the qualifications of the scholarship recipient.  We've awarded six in as many years.  I try to imagine my mother reading and selecting qualified applicants, --she was a tough judge of character, and did not suffer fools gladly.  I can picture her Dollar-Rama (tm) readers perched on the end of her nose, wearing several layers of wool, lips pursed in concentration, with that light fixture pulled down close to the papers in an otherwise dark house.

Funny how we get to thinking about people, sometimes.


  1. I see what you did there. Nice.

  2. That was really nice, Jane. I love how you tied all the little stings together. Gosh, this makes me want to visit again soon.

  3. I wondered where the lamp would fit in...

    You're a gifted writer. Your mom would be proud of you.