For the first time in months, the tour is on pause. In January it picks up again at the Palm Springs Air Museum, Palm Springs CA. Now is a good time to reflect on the last, almost three years since this project started and the many conversations with WW II veterans.
Last month at the Collings Foundation WW II weekend event in Stow MA I met a wonderful man, Basil LeBlanc. WW II Canadian veteran. As usual, traveling with my easel, the work opened up a conversation. The pain of the war was front and center for him. That day he was surrounded by everything WW II including a loud re-enactment going on outside the hanger where we talked. “Not a day goes by without thinking of that awful war,” he said. We started a correspondence when I mentioned to his sons wanting to include him in my exhibit. Basil wrote me a two page letter with the photos of himself I’d requested. “I divulged more of my innermost feelings to you than I have to anybody including my wife, and I found it to be a relief knowing that was not unique to me.” That line has meant the most to me and is comforting when I feel frustration about the future of the tour.
I had also met Ellen Moore, born in Barre VT, a granite quarry town noted for the marble it’s contributed to Arlington National Cemetery. She had moved to Boerne to be closer to her daughter after her husband died. Ellen grew up in a less than ideal household, family issues and a lack of love pushed her into adulthood faster than most kids. By WW II she was living in Hartford CT working as a “Rosie”, her photo making the Hartford Courant newspaper showing her grinding off burrs on a rifle bolt. Our second visit she shared her photo album, many showing a pixie of a redhead (she translated the b/w photos). Her style was sophisticated and by the number of photos of her kissing a sailor, GI and airman, it was obvious she didn’t hurt for dates. Joking with her about the “hot” photos, Ellen’s response was, “I was kissing the uniform, not the man”. I didn’t believe it. The irony was no one, not even her first husband, ever told her how pretty she was. The fact that I remarked on her beauty may have prompted her to ask my dating status. “If I was twenty some years younger,” Ellen began.”I’d chase you and it wouldn’t be about the uniform.” So cute.
Talking with Ariel, the library foundation director, I realized how close the tour was to not making it to Boerne. “It was a big risk bringing you in,” she told me.” We had to think about the staff putting up with someone who could be a freak.” That comment had been echoed in Amherst. I was shocked. Of course, once the exhibit is set up, it’s clear to all how well it works. But it explained why not a single email to another library over the last six months had been answered. This tour requires thinking outside the box. Both Ariel and I were glad she did. But I have to overcome that hurdle. My goal: the world. There are so many stories to be captured on paper and canvas. As my high school friend Cynthia May relayed to me from a friend of hers who’s been following my tour: “he’s on his life’s mission.” That is what keeps me believing in it even during down times.
Boerne Texas represented the first swing out of the northeast. Palm Springs will be home for four months. No question, more conversations will flow. As I say everyday walking into to a facility, “I have no idea what will happen”. And something always does.