It is inescapable that the people of
your childhood and adolescence are so often larger than life, both
foundation and firmament in your imagination forever.
Here is something of a Dramatis Personae from then of those souls, some
particularly bright, some especially deep or kind.... and all veritable
in remembrance. Louisville, Kentucky in the 50's and 60's really
was a brave new world of the best
sort. The town may have had far to go, but these people were of a
light and temprement that would transform it. It was time! The
dreadful, hideous war that had blighted so much life
was over. America bestrode the world, was rich and powerful and
everything seemed possible. These people were part of an
incredibly vivacious yeast and intelligensia of Louisville....a small
group that were recreating Louisville and the world. They had won WWII
and licked the Depression and a greater, more humane, more decent,
more just world seemed within their grasp.
Attend. See these souls. I hope to make them
real in your mind as they are in mine;
for in the realm of matter, they live now only in memory.
(Free paraphrade of the words of Lois McMasters Bujold,
from her Paladin of Souls)
My God, the parties. Dad had a hat collection
and there would be goofball fancy dress parties and anything but
anything, here a cheap plastic wig would end up as a prop used in utter
tomfoolery. Here Dad and Bill Furnish (AKA Madam Zorinki of the
Siberian String Quartet) perform a Partita for Air Instruments.
Lordy, how could they be gone?
Now let us praise famous men......
Dr.John and Nancy Bell and their kids, in age, Jane, John,
Jr.(my age), Walter ('Flip' for his middle name of Phillip) and David and Victor. John was an ugly
handsome (like Richard Boone of Have Gun) raw-boned man who reminded me
of Lincoln: an immensely kind, quiet, good, perceptive man who was a
superb, gifted psychiatrist. Nancy was an outrageous gusty
country woman ( a Ballantine, a family of local note) of great good
cheer and decency...as I think back, she was much after the fashion of
Molly Ivins. Then as now, I talked too much, and Nancy would say loudly
and with love, "Stewart, be still!'. Their kids were a
galloping horde and the house was always a mess and a disaster where
chaos and outrageous fun reigned. It was through the back yard and
across Spring Drive from my house. Oh my, the Bell kids were so
involved and socially on top of things as I, odd duck, was not.
Alas, the family had their share of grief: John Jr. was at Williams
when I was at Amherst...and ran off the road into a bridge abutment. John, Sr. was gone in '08, Nancy in '16.
Both Bill and Mary were M.D.s but neither ever practiced
that I knew of. Bill was the Dean of the University of Louisville
Medical School (an institution of some justifiable pride and reputation
as the first such west of the Appalachians), Mary kept house and
reigned over the chaos (with rather more order than the Bells) of
another mob of some four or more chilren (I remember Mike and Mark) and
a three story house with a 6'x10' handbuilt slot car track in the
basement and an attic completely taken over with an eeeeeenormous
HO-gauge model train setup. I was always welcome. Mary
offered ice-cream to everyone. Oh my, did I wish to be a Furnish.
They had a Chevy Suburban (the predecessor of all SUVs, a sort of truck
station wagon) in the '50's, and the whole family would pack up for long trips out west
or up to Canada. At one stop, they even left one of their many
kids behind and no one noticed for 15 minutes. I remember Mike
furbishing up a fire-engine red Austin Healey bug-eyed Sprite....adding
a Judson supercharger and giving it a walnut dash...while doing it, he
had the steering wheel off and drove it around with a pair of
Vise-Grips pliers clamped onto the splines of the shaft. I was
terribly impressed and envious...though my father had gotten the Bugattis.
Bill could play foolish dimwit but had a dry, dry, slow but
utterly devastating wit. The stories of it were legend and
legion. One winter he was teaching a med school class on the top floor of an
old building at UofL that had long iciciles hanging down from the
roof. On the chemistry bench at the front of the class he had an
enormous test tube along with a big honking bunsen burner and a huge
Ehrlenmeyer flask. Every so often during the class, he would
stop, slide down one of double hung windows, lean out and snap off an
icicle and put it in the test tube over the roaring Bunsen
burner. When the icicle had melted, he'd stop, pour the melt
water into the flask, go to the window and snap off another
icicle. After some 45 minutes of this, a student could resist no
longer and burst out with the question, "Dr. Furnish, whatever
are you doing?". Bill fastened his gaze on the questioner,
blinked owlishly and then drawled, "Why, I'm uh...uh...making
anyone whoever took Bill for a fool got his ass handed to him, as did
the mayor of Louisville when he tried to make fun of Bill's model train
Milton and Miriam Metz
...here goofing with another of Dad's hat collection. Milton Metz
ran a call-in talk show at the local radio station (party of
the wonderful, legendary and Pulitzer Prize winning Louisville Bingham
publishing empire) back in the innocent days before the sort of
raw-meat and lies of Fox and the like. Nonetheless, Louisville
being in Kentucky and somewhat Southern, he would get iggnorat, bigoted
pin-headed redneck callers that would leave a reek of
nastiness....whereupon Milt would call Dad. Dad would call up and
assume a creaky soprano voice and the character of Gwendolyn, a dotty,
sweet old maid who just couldn't understand why people couldn't get
along and be nice to each other..."Why Mister Metz, I heard that
unhappy fellow who just called. It was sad! Why I know
the people he was talking about and they're just as nice as could
be....I don't what he could be thinking or why it he would
say..Ooooops, I hear the teakettle whistling, gotta go <click>.
Milton was with Dad the co-owner of a genuwine Met Opera Viking helmet (seen here with my uncle mugging in it).
Dr Harold and Rosalie and their sons, Andy (one year older) and Robert
(one younger) and daughter Jean (much younger, whom I never knew
well). Jews in the South were then utterly unlike those I
encountered in the Northeast/New York area. Much
quieter, much more in the background. Harold was one of the
sweetest, gentlest, surpassingly good men I've ever met. Rosalie
was much more forward (her line: Growing old is not for the faint of
heart) as were her sons. Dear me. In 1968, when the Yellow
Submarine came out, my older and gay brother Bill (AIDS and Valley
Fever took him in '84), Robert and I all went to see it, quite stoned.
You should understand that it was a unique time in that the older you
were, the less experience you were likely to have had. Bill had
just begun to try grass, I had done it for two years lightly and was
just beginning to try the hallucingens, but Bob, youngest of all, was
quite expereienced in it all. So, we dropped off Bob at his
parents...and the next day there was Hell to pay. Bob had come
bouncing in to the kitchen, humming the music and joyously higher than
a kite. Rosalie, in a dread flash of mother's intuition, saw it all
and said with a horrified gasp, "Bob, you haven't
been.....smoking.....GRASS??". Bob looked at her with an beaming
grin and said, "Well.....Well...YEAH!". My brother and I were blamed
because we were older and must have drawn Bob into reefer
madness...when the opposite was pretty much the case.
Molly Clowes and J. Willy Walsh
Molly Clowes was the
unprepossessing but incandescently bright Brit ex-pat woman editorial
page editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal...and
perhaps the first woman at that level at an major metro daily. Molly
was this dumpy little woman with frizzy hair and that flawless
porcelain English complexion. Easily overlooked and seeming
harmless, she had mind like a steel trap...that closed on many in
ground breaking exposes. She cut her teeth in reporting by
doing such on corruption in the Eastern Kentucky coal fields; no
one there had taken her seriously, but she got the goods on them and
blew the roof off. She was married to....
Willy Walsh, a quiet, tall, thin
scarred French aristocrat with a whispery voice. In this picture,
he's alas back to the camera, but had the winning hand of a royal
flush. Willy grew up in substantial wealth in Frances of the
early 1900s; one of his friends was given a Bleriot (the first
production monoplane) for his birthday....the bunch of kids would take
turns taxiing it around the pasture while awaiting the day that the
aviator instructor was to come....but before that day, Willy got going
too fast and found himself in the air...and having to figure out how to
fly all by hisself. He flew in the French air force in WWI, had
been shot down in flames and
bailed out without a parachute.....it was deep winter and he felling
through a pine tree into a snow bank and walked away (after a
Willy taught French and history at U of L.
IIRC, She was the head librarian at the Main Louisville Free Public
Library and would, once a week, have a stack of four to 15 books, serious literature,
fiction, non-fiction, biography for pickup that my mother would plow
through in a week. May God bless her: she made my mother's life
tolerable with the escape into the world of literature, mind and
spirit. My mother couldn't do much, but Lordy, did she
read....and then would go on the local TV station (another Bingham arm)
and do book review once every 3-4 months...and I got to tag along at
age 12 and see the workings of a TV station studio.
Sam (and wife Becky, IIRC) was a craggy, booming, immensely
stong Swiss who had settled
in Kentucky as an agent for a Swiss tobacco firm. He was made out
of granite and indeed, built his house in the country out of stone
with his own hands. He would go back to Switzerland occasionally and
uncut, pure alcohol (190 proof...he would cut it with water once back
here, thus doubling what he could bring through customs) liquors like
Pear Willums eau de vie and Ancien, an incredibly vile health liquor
perhaps made of golden seal and other herbs. Sam smoked, smoked
El Lupos, a Whelling stogie-like twig of a cigar that must of been 50%
tar and nicotine. Once in a visit, I (about 10-12) asked if I
might try one. Sam glinted at my father, who said, "Sure,
kid". I managed to get down about a quarter of it and turned
green and nauseous. That was my one and only experience with
tobacco. Alas, the cigars killed him, and being a rock of a man,
he did not go easy. A titan.
Martin and Nell Wagner and their daughter Martha (here waltzing with Dad). Brilliant
lovely people. Martin knew Dad from a ways back, never knew that
story. But occasionally they would visit from Urbana Illinois,
where Martin would buy wine by the case, load his car down and split
the haul with Dad and his wine cellart that took up the far wall of the
tool room. It was Martin from his work in labor relations and
negotiation who gave me this dictum: "If you can't explain something,
you don't understand it". I wa 13...Martha stunned me.
On left is Jack dancing with Mary Furnish.
He was a wiry, small man of immense strength. Once, at one of my parents' parties
he was dancing with Mary Furnish (taller than he) and he jumped the Two
Of Them Onto The Top Of The Coffee Table without missing a step.
As we learn when we age, our greatest strengths and abilities can
cruelly desert us: Dr Wolf developed Parkinsonism and died immobile,
bereft of body and mind.
Dr. Jack Wolf and his wife Jill were some of those people you I
remember for the kindnesses shown to a smart, awkward, misfitting child
(me). He was a plastic and oral-maxillary surgeon and had been a
mission doctor in post-war, pre Communist China. In the days
before motorcycle helmets, he devoted a fair bit of his practice to
restoring the faces of motorcyclists who had bled off their kinetic
energy on pavement....and the reason my father wouldn't let have a
motorcyle ("Kid, when you are 21, you can do as you please, but until
then..."). He had a small farm and home out in the countryside
beyond Louisville, just reachable by bicycle....and, oh joy, a Farmall Cub
mini farm tractor that he would let me drive and mow with.
Claire Grey and her children
Oh my God, Claire (here vamping wildly with Jack Radow)!
Who passed at age 100 in the early days of April 2014.
A gamine pixie, here vamping madly with Mr. Radow....
Who was the sparkling life of the party everywhere she went, because it was
party if she was there. Bubbling with life and a rolling laugh always
but a few words away.
Who had a "difficult" husband, Judd, a soul of darkness and passive aggression,
had danced exhibition English Country Dance at a
(Sand Diego?) World's Fair in '32.
Who came from an free-spirit and
communal family (in the 20's & 30's, part of it in Fairhope,
Alabama, which was a Single Tax “Colony” based on Henry George’s
Who had 4 talented, gorgeous
kids, Chris & Parker & Nancy & Ben. Parker and I went
exploring through rural Kentucky in the family's oh-so-bizarre Citroen
DS; we would take an overall compass bearing and then slant off
the world, taking the 'roads diverged' by lookinhg at the compass.
Later, in college summers and after, I was made family in
the wonderful Yelping Hill summer colony (originally an intentional
Yale/Vassar/Harvard faculty summer colony) and introduced to the world
Cornwall, CT. So much effervescent life, including the wonderful
community soccer games with everyone from 5 to 80, from hot Europeans
with real soccer chops, to gutsy little kids, to Earl Brecker a
humorist writer (who would dribble the ball up to you then start a
funny patter that have you laughing so hard that he'd go right by you)
to William Sloan Coffin. Which gave entre
that led to staff photography for the Lakeville Journal and a winter
spent in a log cabin on the edge of Yelping Hill, a mile from the
Appalachian Trail. Claire had shadows in her soul, but the true
courage to bring sunshine and laughter to everyone around her. I
feel incredibly privileged to have known her and have been blessed with
her attention, care, wisdom, laughter and love. There are some people
who don't "do" much in life, no Pulitzer Prize, no public office, or
whatever, but the very mention of their name makes people light
up. People who are treasures; Claire was one. It doesn't
seem like she could ever be gone from the world.
Jack and Jean Radow
- Here Jean is vamping with Jack and Dad. Whew, was she hot...and a
flaming red head. Our help referred to here as Miss Radar..
The Radows left for the Northwest when I was 12 or 13; I felt a
spark had gone and always asked after them, they had personified joie de vivre.
I never did see much of him, but he had a full race Gran Prix Bugatti (like this) and the all-up Type 50 shown at left; he got Dad interested in Bugattis which led to the cars I grew up with. He also had a gun collection that included an Honest-To-Pete antique fully functional Gatling Gun
John Ed was the quintessential soft-spoken Kentucky gentleman
and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. I believe he was involved in
getting us to Sanibel in the early '60's long before it was
discovered. He was a man who appreciated women but perhaps had
trouble living with them. At one point, he llived a while in our
guest room during a divorce. A quote: “Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to” and "I'm not a good husband, but I'm a pretty good Saturday night date."
Not so much a close friend, but part of the circle of political and
artistic intelligentsia of Louisville. Lusky had clerked at
SCOTUS for Harlan Fiske Stone and when the police harassment of a black
man who did occasional handyman work for the family became altogether
outrageous, Dad got in touch with Louis and the KCLU, which took his case to the Supreme Court
(I was 13, but my brother, four years older, got to go to DC to watch
the case heard). The local DA had to defend, but had no case, was
handed his ass...and the police thereafter left Sam alone.
Fred Wehle moved into the neighborhood when my father was a boy shooting marbles
He became something of the neighborhood's gentle godfather. Once a
year, he write, illustrate and bind a story book out of grocery bags
and, with great ceremony, much anticipated by the neighborhood
children, would read it to them. He was still alive in my youth, a
bridge between my father's youth and mine. On left, he's
sitting in a seat dismounted from the Type 49 Bugatti and talking with
my mother. Turns out he was a nephew of the great Supreme Court Justice, Louis Brandeis/
Here in a poem of mine, Mr. Wehle takes a bow:
In my youth,
there was a neighborhood
of the best sort.
He had been young
when my father
was a youth.
By the time I came along,
he was white-haired
but still dapper,
an elf with sparkling eye,
who would play a mandolin
and sing old songs in
a high clear voice.
When I was in college,
cancer took him.
My father told me
and sent me off to visit him
in the hospital,
towards the end.
still wanting to know
if I would like a snack,
how wonderful to see me
and how was I?
Nothing of himself,
his pain, his doom.
A true gentleman.
Grace under pressure: the true courage.
quintessential man's man. Ex Marine, man of iron, sportsman.
Author of any number of books on the criminal underworld: gambling, con
men, pickpockets, moonshining. The plot for the movie, The Sting, was plagarized from his book, the Big Con;
he sued and won. Doctor of criminology (as was his wife Barbara).
Interviewed all sorts in the pen, the stir, the Big House. Brought us a
crow from one of them who'd had a fledging drop into his cell...raised
it, then passed it to Bill when it outgrew the cell. We named the
crow Sam. I was too young to remember much, but family legend had
it that it would get its jollies putting its beak in electrical
- David lived out in the country with the yahoos and some bumptious
idiots would drive along with a a pipe sticking out the window and
clear off mailboxes. After a few repeats of this fun and frolic,
David rebuild his box with an I beam sunk in concrete and hidden with
wood cladding and extending all the way up into the mailbox. The
next time, the mailbox may have dented, but It Did Not Move...and the
clowns in the car were on the wrond end of the lever. it might
have killed them, but apparently God and his angels kept that from
happening though the car was a mess.
Alas, David had a miserable end. He was returning from a day of
fishing with a boat trailering behind his truck when a yahoo passed on
the brow of a hill and hit him head on, leaving him paralyzed. He
used his gun collection to check out.
Richard Hutchins, Mouse and the hot rod gang
Oh my, I wonder how they are. I had no social skill as a
kid, no coordination, too smart, talked too much, had no
pretensions...thus I didn't fit in with my economic peers, who were
high school fraternity and cheer leaders and atheletes. I ended
up drifting into the periphery of the blue-collar lower middle class
kids who accepted me as this weird kid. And as I had messed with
cars and machinery, I first struck up friendship with Richard Hutchins,
a wry, easy-going fellow that didn't take himself seriously. He
gave me entre into the Chevy hot rod gang. Its leader was Mouse,
a laconic, wicked-witted guy, maybe 120 pounds, 5'1"...and the guy who
knew how to build the hottest engines around. His driveway always
had some project going or someone had dropped by for advice....Mouse
would perch in a squat on top of the fender and point out where and
what had to be done. The gang had one of those Harley Davidson tricycle
motorcycles with the big trunk...which they had insulated, would pack
with ice and keg for their picnics.
Richard's famous motorcycle progression started with a little putt-putt
Sears-Roebuck moped. Eastern Parkway was 4 lane highway built
long ago with a 40' treed grass sward in the middle, wide concrete
gutters and lined with big trees. One day he was zipping along
the gutter with his moped and the proverbial little old lady holding a
bag of groceries stepped out from behind one of those trees...then
seeing Richard zipping towards her, she screamed, dropped the
groceries, froze and covered her eyes. Richard, with cars to his
left, managed to pull the Moped up over the curb and ran into the tree
to avoid the LOL. The Moped was totalled, and Richard had the
most impressive set of bruises, though nothing was broken.
Fast forward to Christmas. One of the rich kids at my high school
had a Triumph 650, then a monster machine, that he had disassembled to
cleanup and soup up. His parents had an attack of sanity and
enough money that they bought him a brand-new Corvette, likely to save
his life....and the rich kid sold Richard the 650 for a song all apart:
the frame and some bushel baskets of parts. Sometime in a bright sunny
late winter day, Richard had it all back together and the hot rod crowd
gather for the startup. Now when you start a rebuild for the
first time, the timing is off, the spark's off, the carb isn't right
and you're lucky if the silly thing fires at all (a big help since then
you know you're more or less in the ball park on all the
settings). So Richard kicked the starter, and hot damn, it fired!
Or back fired through the carbuerettor, which given that it had be
primed liberally with gas, caught fire. In the crowd was Moose, a
varsity linebacker of marginal wit, who thought quickly and, taadah!,
pulled the gas line off the carb to starve the carb fire! Of
course, the contents of the fuel tank then ran out the hose onto the
ground and made a merry fire that pretty much torched the bike.
The carb ended up as a sad little pancake of melted pot metal. It
was another 2-3 months before Richard finally got it on the road.