A first proof of a project on the Poco No. 0 press rescued from the trash.

I can get lost in the type. Surrounded by drawers and drawers of letterpress type, metal, wood, very large to very small. It feels comforting to be around, like visiting long lost friends. And I get to spend some time nearly every day just hanging out with my type friends getting to know them better.

It feels comforting to be around, like visiting long lost friends.

My thoughts wander as I look at the individual letters that once made up a story. It’s like they’re destined to be reborn, found again to make a new story. But for now, the pile of type is pied, jumbled. And I wonder about that word – pied. Did that mean that the Pied Piper of Hamelin was “jumbled” too? Turns out “no,” not exactly.

In the story, however, the Pied Piper wore a very colorful costume and pied was referring to the multiple colors. But I like the idea that perhaps he was a bit “colorful” in his thinking, too. As in the stories lost in the pile of pied, aka jumbled, type. And here I was, playing the role of the Printer’s Devil, sorting through the pile of tiny pieces of type, first by size, and then by typefaces, with some of the metal type tossed into the hell box for melting if too rough a condition to use. Once the second round of sorting is done, then finding a home for the more complete sets of type will be necessary. And that job usually comes with having to clean and probably restore the warped bottom of one of the last drawers still available to fill.

Could they have been the whispered prayers of a grieving soul? Might the words they make be the silent voice of strength in the face of adversity?

What some may see as tedium, I find meditative. As each tiny letter appears before me, I admire the details, the design decisions made in their creation, the changes from one letter to the next in different typefaces, even among the same size. This afternoon it was 6 point to 18 point type. The majority was at the smallest size and fascinated me with the differing heights and widths of the capital letters from different typefaces even as they measured the same physical size.

I wondered… what could have been written with these tiny letters? Was it the fine print of a contract? Could they have been the whispered prayers of a grieving soul? Might the words they make be the silent voice of strength in the face of adversity? These thoughts wander through my mind like wisps of smoke as I pick up small handfuls of the pied type, blowing off the dusty fragments of nesting material from mice who’d made their way into the typecases in an abandoned printshop long before the cases made their way here, to my little corner of letterpress heaven.

A small batch of pied type ready to be sorted. Previously, I had sorted through bags of new type that had fallen from their original boxes.

The letterpress studio has been a longtime coming. I think about how it has been a whirlwind of activity ever since early May when my younger daughter told me she was thinking about selling her Charles Brand etching press, the one that I bought her the Spring after her dad passed away. The seller was an old professor of hers in Ann Arbor and we’d settled on a price. But then a few days later he came back asking for more, apparently having gotten a higher offer. It was a poor business practice but I wanted her to have the press that would allow her to do what she’d been thriving with in college, and in her work for mentor Endi Paskovic, with woodcut printing.

The letterpress studio has been a longtime coming. I think about how it has been a whirlwind of activity ever since early May when my younger daughter told me she was thinking about selling her Charles Brand etching press, the one that I bought her the Spring after her dad passed away.

When we finally settled on a price and went to pick it up, with Steve’s help and that of several of my daughter’s friends, I stood with the seller and was chatting about printing and letterpress since we had printed my older daughter’s wedding invitations on our own little Kelsey 6×10. He pointed out the pieces to a printing press scattered across his garage floor, a very large 12×18 Chandler & Price platen press that he had brought from California long ago and now was doing a full restoration after his divorce. Do you want it? he asked. For free… since you were buying the other press, he said.

The 2500 lb. press made its way home, with lots of help and an extra trip to Ann Arbor since the combined weight with the Charles Brand would have been too much for the box trailer we were using. That was nearly 8 years ago. The C&P is still here… and so is my now husband, Steve who is more determined then ever to finish assembling the press, especially now that it has an honored place in the newly reorganized studio. Once the Charles Brand was set to sell, and my daughter’s flat files removed from precious floor space in the studio, things changed quickly.

A Vandercook #4 proofing press was in an estate sale south of us, an unusual opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. But a weekend before the sale started I called the estate sale manager to ask questions. After a little back and forth, he asked me to come down to look over the printing stuff to give him some advice since his own knowledge of it was far more limited than even my own.

We drove down in the pouring rain in the Tesla on Monday, driving dirt roads when I’d mistakenly thought it would be safer to stay off the highways. By the time we got there, nearly 2 hours later, we spent time going through everything, putting items that belonged together, describing the purpose of some of the items, and generally noting the condition of many of the pieces. I asked about the Vandercook’s sale price, and he said he’d asked an expert to provide an valuation. He said he was told it would be worth around $9-12,000. I laughed nervously saying that was too rich for my blood. But I left him with a lower offer I thought I could manage. Still he said no, that he was going to auction it off. We drove back in the rain, this time taking the highways and got home in less than an hour.

The next morning, after all the rain, Steve discovered quite a mess in the basement of the Gallery House, a building we renovated next door to use as an extra studio/gallery space. The sump pump had failed and there was now at least two inches of water throughout the basement. It was quite a chore to get a pump running in order to drain as much water as possible. Mopping up the mess that was left took care of most of the rest of the water.

After some reflection on needs vs dreams, I convinced myself that spending thousands on a printing press was just not going to happen and the money would be better spent cleaning out the mess at home.

Then there was the chore of emptying as much of the soaking wet boxes that had not been set up off the floor. There was also the stack of uprights for the custom cherry library from Dad’s office in Florida that my late husband Keith had made. In a rush to get them out of the garage, they had been put directly in the plastic that covered the pea rock of the Michigan basement. That meant the first three or four pieces – 12-15” wide by as much as 10’ high – were soaked, warped and water stained. As I looked around the mess, not knowing if it would dry out before getting moldy, I began to think I was going to have to spend a lot of money to hire someone to unload the mess from the basement. We were finding it too painful for two old people with bad backs working in the 4’10” Michigan basement. After some reflection on needs vs dreams, I convinced myself that spending thousands on a printing press was just not going to happen and the money would be better spent cleaning out the mess at home.

The following Sunday was the last day of the estate sale so I weakened and called to see what was left. The Vandercook was still there. But so was an 8×12 Chandler & Price platen press, almost identical to another one we had bought very cheap at an auction a couple years before. The one we had, however, was missing a gear and Steve was willing to make one. But here was a press we could strip for parts since we believed it was no good as a press, having become rusty from sitting under a leak in the basement under the front porch of the house.

Thinking we were going for parts, we headed down there with some tools to buy the press and take the gear with us, and perhaps buy a few other goodies that we might be able to use that were now selling cheap on the last day. Having failed at selling the Vandercook, the estate sale manager asked me if I was still interested and I explained that things had changed at home due to the basement flood and I could no longer afford my original offer. While we were disassembling the C&P, I overheard him talking to the family representative on the phone, telling her that “she wasn’t interested in the press anymore” which I took to believe that he had been depending on selling it to me to make up for the lack of a higher priced sale.

We headed home in the Tesla with a full carload of iron and various letterpress pieces parts and began making plans to come back later for the last pieces of the C&P.

As it turned out, Steve had forgotten to bring a Johnson pry bar to get apart the last pieces of the C&P. And the C&P itself turned out to be in much better condition than we’d thought, the rust turning out to be only superficial.

We were still there after 3 pm when the sale was supposed to end but weren’t able to get it apart. So I asked the estate sale manager if we could come back the following weekend to get it. “No problem. They’re not selling this place anytime soon.” And the Vandercook, along with everything that was still left, would be sold at auction using an app for the estate sales. So we headed home in the Tesla with a full carload of iron and various letterpress pieces parts and began making plans to come back later for the last pieces of the C&P.

A couple days later I got a text: “When you’re ready to pick up the rest of the press, text Janet” along with her number. I thought maybe Janet was his employee, but soon learned that she was the family member, and that she’d fired the estate sales guy. I called her the next day and also learned that he’d never told her we had already bought and paid for the C&P. She had started getting estimates for getting it removed (the platen alone weighed over 400 lbs.) by a guy who was going to torch it to cut it apart! In a room dripping with leaked oil and solvents!

Janet also told me that the Vandercook was still available and I could have it for a price that was far less than my original offer to the estate sales guy! Another Vandercook #4 had been in an online auction I was following that same week and my mind was blown as the price of that one soared to a final price of over $15,000.

Even so, I told her my concerns about having to pay a fortune for movers get it out of the basement. I knew, at over 1140 lbs, this was something far too big for the two of us to do on our own. We set a date to come back for the C&P and I said I’d let her know then. We went yet again, this time bringing the truck to pick up what was left of the C&P.

Our trip yielded many more items, and a new negotiation for the Vandercook, finally settling for a total price of under $1000 that included a bunch of other items big and small. Once again, we made plans for a return trip, this time with my favorite mover.

In the end, we brought home far more than I’d ever guessed. But the one thing was certain: Norman – the original owner of the press and builder of that home where it lived in its basement – wanted the press to go home with us. It cost me $1500 including a generous tip for the movers for the day. But they carried up the those basement stairs a lot more than that press, including the 400 lb. platen and frame for the C&P, a Hammond Glider Saw, another letterpress-specialty saw, a giant composing cabinet that had to be disassembled, several hundred pounds of metal “furniture” and leads, and miscellaneous stuff too numerous to remember.

It needs rollers and a bit more cleaning and adjusting, but the Vandercook No. 4 is settling into its new home very nicely.

I reflect upon these events as I sort through the bags of pied type, the case of dusty mouse-ridden type from earlier acquisitions, and the newly rearranged shop around me, light streaming in as the presses stand like soldiers waiting for orders.

  • The original restored Kelsey 6×10 – purchased by Keith to print wedding invitations for our oldest daughter. This one started it all.
  • The 12×18 C&P that was given to us when buying the etching press.
  • The Potter proofing press I bought at auction.
  • The Poco proofing press Steve found on FaceBook Marketplace that someone was going to throw away… picked up at the end of the driveway.
  • The 5×7 Kelsey that Steve bought me from a local auction as a present.
  • The 8×12 Oldstyle C&P that we bought at a small town auction which also came with a second much larger 12×18 C&P that we’ve since decided sell for parts.
  • The Vandercook #0 that was buried among piles of other stuff the guy with the two C&Ps was trying to sell.
  • The 8×12 New style C&P we bought at the May sale for $50 just to get the gear we needed.
  • The Vandercook #4 that I’d walked away from, at least twice. And yet it still managed to find its way to our home.

These presses are my creative army preparing for the work ahead, telling stories, sharing typographic expressions, and maybe open up new voices, new thoughts expressed in printed form.

These presses are my creative army preparing for the work ahead, telling stories, sharing typographic expressions, and maybe open up new voices, new thoughts expressed in printed form.

I think that maybe we’re a bit of a pied bunch ourselves: me, Steve and the presses. A bit mixed up. We’re all a bit colorful in our own histories. Whatever it turns out to be, I understand now that all of these presses have found their way home to the pied piper of printing. And together we’ll see what colorful stories we’ll print in the future.

I’m lost in my thoughts, sorting tiny pieces of metal type, cleaning the typecases, as sunlight brightens the room from the three walls of windows that filter it into it as I work.

Blessed. That’s how I’m feeling. Surrounded by antique type, printing presses and cabinets, I’m in my happy place, dreaming of the poetry, creative typography, and other items I’d print in this room. Imagining artist friends, old and new, also working in the space, as our creative spirits feed each other.

My mind drifts to conversations, recent events. Mercury and Jupiter in retrograde and I seem immune. But others in the family haven’t been so lucky. Challenges posed by one thing after another keep coming, some more serious than other. They weigh on my mind as each new issue flows through my thoughts like heavy clouds.

From one side of the family, Steve was managing an upset with one of his grown children who seemed to be having a bit of an emotional breakdown on a sad journey. An offer to come help with a project the following day led to an angry response that his help was needed “now” and a meltdown of personal attacks that were more of a cry of someone feeling like their world was out of control and the lashing out was a sign of despair.

Like the virus that has been plaguing the globe, the anger spread, inflicted on siblings. And then it continued to spread. Swirling from one family member to another, feeding on insecurities and bottled up pain.

But it didn’t end there. Like the virus that has been plaguing the globe, the anger spread, inflicted on siblings. And then it continued to spread. Swirling from one family member to another, feeding on insecurities and bottled up pain. Another who had not yet been vaccinated, flatly refusing to be, siting some Q-Anon type conspiracy misinformation, texted another to “mind his own damn business.”

The storm

All of these things were swirling through my head as I quietly sorted type and cleaned the cases in the studio. A dangerous thunderstorm had hit just last Tuesday afternoon… It came up so fast and I had an impending sense of urgency so I went out and told Steve he needed to send our teenage helper home, having just gotten his license. The helper had left barely 5 minutes and the storm came up too fast. Rain blew horizontally, swirling around corners, winds whipping the trees large and small like a forest of rag dolls. The world looked like layers of grey, accented by the whips of rain-soaked brushes between the fields and forests.

I took a short video as the rains and winds came across the fields and slammed the world around me. But I took cover when it came across the upper covered deck sideways. The time stamp on the video was 1:49 pm. And then it was over.

A video of the storm just as it started, trees whipped around violently as the rain slashed across sideways. It was over in ten minutes.

At 1:59 pm, the time stamp on the first photos I took, we saw the destruction. A huge box elder tree with a gaping yawning mouth lined in red where the smaller trunk split from the main one, had fallen across our fence on the east side, and much of it also landed alongside the house, missing a newly installed exterior lamp post by inches – and the house – by only a few feet.

On the west side, a huge maple on the neighbor’s side of the fence had lost a major limb hit by lightning with many extending branches landed across that fence. It also missed the shop windows by only inches. I’d seen the lightning flash and had immediately begun to count. But I didn’t get to “1” before the thunderous crash. Now we knew what it was based on the blackened trunk where the large limb had been severed and veins of burnt bark ran up the tree trunk.

In the backyard, several trees, already weakened from the water that formed a pond whenever it rained, had been blown over, propped up by neighboring trees. Branches and debris were all over, leaves plastered to the house, cottonwood leaves and branches from a tree in the far backyard were found in the front yard.

And yet, as I looked at it all, and as Steve and I walked through the mess, figuring out what we needed to do to keep the dogs safe until the fence could be repaired, once the trees were removed… I felt blessed.

And yet, as I looked at it all, and as Steve and I walked through the mess, figuring out what we needed to do to keep the dogs safe until the fence could be repaired, once the trees were removed… I felt blessed.

It could have been so much worse. The one tree could have hit the house, it certainly could have reached it if blown in a slightly more northerly direction. The maple could have hit the shop more directly, smashing windows and poking holes into the letterpress studio holding our precious type and printing presses. But none of that had happened. I felt like we were in a protected bubble that had kept us and our home safe.

Now we wait for the tree guys to come in the next week or two to cut and clear the downed trees. Another blessing. I told Steve that he should not have to deal with this giant mess. That we had the funds to cover it. I’d spoken to our insurance advisor who told me what the break-even point was for filing a claim, or not. Based on that information we decided to cover it ourselves. Now we wait. And it doesn’t bother me at all. The broken limbs and leaves all around my view are a real reminder of how well we’d faired. We didn’t lose power – at least not long enough for the generator to even kick on.

Meditating on anger

As I rearranged some of the funny advertising cuts, illustrations, and halftones in the cases – ones I’d like to play with in my own art vs. ones I’d likely never use – other thoughts went rolling through my hive mind. Anger and stress, depression and flaring tempers have been fed by more than divorce and is fed as much by the pain of pandemic politics and fear for the health of those we love. Yet, how could someone send a text to their grown offspring saying “your stuff is on the porch, taco dinners at 6, don’t bother showing up.” There is so much to dissect from this statement, especially within the already divisive pain caused by misinformation about the veracity and threat of COVID19.

My mind went to how one handles anger, revenge and spite. Maybe it’s because I’ve matured. Or maybe I’ve found that responding in anger or spite is a no-win game. There is nothing to be gained by it. Have I gotten angry, lost my temper? Yes. And it wasn’t something that served me. I didn’t feel better about it. Just the opposite. I felt awful. It didn’t bring me peace. It took a lot of painful work to try and heal the rifts it caused.

I’ve been wronged terribly and in very painful and even expensive ways. Yet I see no point in being spiteful, or seeking revenge. …Each person’s spirit will face their own path, their own hard lessons.

And it’s been awhile. I’ve been wronged terribly and in very painful and even expensive ways. Yet I see no point in being spiteful, or seeking revenge. I believe that each person’s spirit will face their own path, their own hard lessons. All I can do is attempt to do my part to support growth, not harm. And to separate myself from those who only offer selfish toxicity rather than love.

As I gathered the metal type borders to move to their new location in another typecase, I tried to also gather my thoughts on how someone could so intentionally hurt a person they loved. I couldn’t do that. As angry as I might be with someone who I thought had hurt me through their actions or words, if we had love between us, I couldn’t hurt them back.

I’ve since learned to try and listen – and think – about what and why they were saying and doing what they were. Was I missing something? Were they also hurt? Were they trying to help me with something? Perhaps I needed to understand more from their perspective and not just be caught up with my own hurt feelings and ego. This is how my brain works these days. I live by the Four Agreements (Don Miguel Ruiz) and it has been instrumental in how I’ve addressed conflicts for many years.

A story from before times

It wasn’t always that way. I remember a time not long after we were first married that my dear first husband Keith had done something to upset me. I don’t even remember what it was. But I was really upset as I washed a glass Pyrex lasagna pan in the sink. He kept at it, picking at the wound that I felt was being inflicted. I held the pan up as if I was going to smash it against the edge of the sink and stopped. I didn’t want the glass to hit him. I didn’t want to hurt him. I just wanted him to know how upset I was. I looked down and saw the rag rug I was standing on and, with both hands, I threw the pan down flat onto it hard.

The glass flew off in all directions and I stood there dumbfounded. I’d forgotten it was a concrete floor underneath the rug at my feet. Keith was shocked as well. But he quick regained his composure, taking me by the elbow and walking me into the living room to sit on the sofa. “I’ll clean this up,” I remember him saying. And he did, as I sat there with tears streaming down my cheeks. I’d ruined a perfectly good lasagna pan, and now there was glass everywhere, even three feet up in the pots of the hanging houseplants in front of the far window of the kitchen.

Keith knew how to push my buttons. There was a bit of a cruel streak in him. But I soon learned that I could push back. That he loved me. I just needed to not push with cruelty but with love. And sometimes he just needed space. It took many years for us to find balance. And it seemed like we were just starting to really find our groove after nearly 30 years of marriage.

He’d learned that bravado and machismo can have consequences for the one you love and I paid the price.

He cared for me when I broke my back and wrist. Guilt played a role. He’d learned that bravado and machismo can have consequences for the one you love and I paid the price.

He was so proud of me when I was accepted into the doctoral program. “My wife’s gonna be Doctor Fulmer,” he’d tell everyone.

We danced at our oldest daughter’s wedding, and I knew dancing was not something he liked to do. Yet he did it. For me. And for our daughter. I will forever treasure that moment, captured in a photo, where we were looking into each other’s eyes and saying “How did we get here?” How did we get old enough to have a married daughter? We did well!

All the heartaches of the past had been just bumps in the road on the way to our next chapter in life as true empty nesters. Just one more year to get the youngest graduated from college and we were on our own again. Blessings were upon us, for sure. And then… and then…

Worry when life’s good

Is it no wonder that I now look at Steve with worry and occasional bouts of melancholy, worried that our time together will be unexpectedly brief? I worry for his health. I worry for his strength. I hear him say such and such an activity “takes the life out of ya” and I think – “not too soon, I hope.” Sometimes I think we’re on borrowed time. Perhaps it’s the blessings I feel, their abundance and good fortune. I worry that, like those days over ten years ago, that within a year or two it’ll all be crushed and my heart will be broken once again.

And in a most prescient way, I feel it, that doom. And I try and chase it away. Thankful of the sounds of the antique riding lawnmower he drives by my studio as I continue my sorting. He smiles in a cheerful shy way as if to say “I’m just having fun with my old toys.” And I smile back at him, not wanting to ruin his fun by mentioning the exhaust that pulls into my studio from the fans I have running. So I go and open a few extra windows to help air it out.

It is also the silence that brings me a feeling of dread. A feeling that I have imagined my life with him, and that I am actually living alone in this giant house. It’s a feeling that I must be out of my mind for having imagined this whole life with this sweet man who brought me love when I needed it most. Together we healed each other and I wonder sometimes if my sanity is undermined and that I have dreamed it all up.

Sometimes I think we’re on borrowed time. … I worry that, like those days over ten years ago, that within a year or two it’ll all be crushed and my heart will be broken once again.

And then he smiles and gives me a hug. And I wonder… if this is my reality, who am I to question it. I just cannot wrap my head around inflicting pain on those you love. There’s enough pain in the world… and in life… already. Count your blessings, spread love, not pain.

I go back to my typecases and admire the mix of order and disorder. There are stories here, yet to be uncovered.


Revised from a diary entry dated July 3, 2021.

mara-denmark-soldier

Me at age 16, traveling Denmark with a good friend.

(Originally written Friday, September 28, 2018 and then edited through October 1, 2018)

My 13-year-old self didn’t even know how to spell his name correctly as I wrote about him in my diary all of 44 years ago. Yet I called him my “boyfriend” in those diary entries from Fall 1974. He was 3 or 4 years older than me and, as I bloomed into adolescence earlier than my classmates, I found myself teased, belittled, and humiliated incessantly for having breasts, my period, and other characteristics of a grown woman. On the academic side, I was fairly advanced and by graduation I was in the top 20 in my class of over 700. I played violin in both the school orchestra and a competitive youth orchestra and studied privately with respected instructors. In these things – academically and musically – I knew the rules, to study, to practice, to revise, to work hard. Yet in retrospect, I was so insecure about my changing body that I didn’t know how to handle the kind of attention it would attract, for good or bad. My rebellious nature grew as I struggled with the attention I received, which often wasn’t in my best interest, especially from certain boys attempting to play men.

From that early experience, I’ve come to some conclusions about bad behavior. I no longer buy into the “boys will be boys” mantra often used to excuse inexcusable behavior by aggressive angry young men. Sorry. Not sorry. Not buying it. Because when you buy into that, you accept that women, girls, “ask” for rape. They don’t. They dress nicely because they like to feel good about themselves. Not because they want to be sexually assaulted. They say “no” because they don’t want to be raped. Not because they want to sound like a bitch. They smile not because they want to be attacked. They smile because they feel good and want others to, as well. We just want kindness, respect, and humane consideration, not deep shame, verbal or physical abuse, and sexual attack.

#MeToo and My Sisters, Too

The #metoo movement that busted into the limelight last year as women began to stand up and be counted as survivors of sexual harassment, assault, and rape, dredged up memories that I’d put behind me long ago. But like many of my sisters in heart who have experienced that same reignited pain, the poor excuse of a man who currently occupies the White House, and whose name I cannot write here, displayed such openly misogynistic attitudes and behaviors as to declare open season on women, our civil rights, and our dignity. He has empowered other men to also be openly misogynistic who had previously felt stifled by the “political correctness” of civility. In response, a growing chorus of female voices has risen, creating a backlash against the older white male generation’s status quo that said women had to stay in their “place” and men would be the only arbiters of power.

Angry, bitter, outraged… these feelings welled up inside me as I felt betrayed by the openly hostile expressions against women perpetuated and endorsed by this old white male guard that I saw on television. Then there were the younger sexually entitled“incels,” men who were “involuntarily celibate,” celebrating a more violent level of misogyny against women as they openly blamed women for their unwanted celibacy, punishing women for turning down their sexual advances.

I felt betrayed because I thought this was a fight that had already been won and done, and that we’d moved far beyond this level of vitriolic and violent misogyny to achieve some levels of success in championing women as equals – or at least the potential to be equals to men, to be treated with respect, dignity, and valued beyond procreation and superficially pretty looks. That betrayal ignited something inside me that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

It was the 70s

Born in 1961, I came of age in the midst of the burgeoning women’s rights movement. Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. The sexual revolution. The Equal Rights Amendment.  Although originally introduced by Alice Paul in 1923 on the heals of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, the ERA was finally passed by 2/3rds of both houses of congress in 1972. However, it failed to meet the next hurdle to achieve ratification in 3/4ths of the states by the extended deadline of June 30, 1982. Only two states have ratified it after the deadline, Nevada in 2017, and Illinois 2018.

As I reached adolescence in the early 1970s, the Watergate hearings, the ERA’s passage by congress, and the gasoline crisis served as a backdrop to the experiments of my generation with sexuality, with feminism, and female assertiveness. After getting my driver’s license as a teen in 1977, I bought a car, but discovered only later that during my time growing up women couldn’t have their own credit card (until 1974, Equal Credit Opportunity Act), or even get contraception (until 1972, Eisenstadt v. Baird) if you were unmarried, or legally get an abortion (until 1973, Roe v. Wade). Heck, it wasn’t until 1981 that the US Supreme Court declared a Louisiana law unconstitutional which had given sole control of marital property to the husband. That attitude of the woman being subordinate to a man was endemic even in the decades that followed the wins of the 1960s and 70s.

Buying a House

So it was no wonder that I found myself indignant when my new husband, Keith, and I purchased our first home, mostly using funds from a trust my grandparents had created for me for college, but which I spent very little having gone to a state university (back when tuition was still quite low for state schools). At the house closing in Fall 1982, the deed was written up as “Keith Fulmer and his wife, Mara,” as if I were an appendage of Keith’s rather than the primary purchaser of the property. I expressed to those present that I found this very demeaning and wanted the wording changed. But I was told “it’s the way it is always done.” My feminist assertiveness later led to a confrontation that same year with a town tax assessor when Keith and I went to file our objections to the increase in taxes after the sale. I was the first to speak for us to the grey-haired older gentleman sitting across the table. His reply “Now, why don’t you not worry your pretty little head about this?” He continued, “You’re just going to stay home and make babies, sweetheart. Let your husband worry about this.” I believe I could feel Keith’s hand on my arm as I must have begun to rise from my seat to mentally slap the man. After all, my income was our primary source, and the one upon which our small mortgage had been based.

The indignities continued long after it became “illegal” to discriminate against a woman. Yet the system is basically rigged against women from the onset. Support systems necessary for staying on par with men in various career choices don’t exist in this country, though lip-service is paid to it, even as women are not. The costs are unsustainable for young people trying to start families while paying the bills, buying a home, and trying to get ahead. Even with the Family Medical Leave Act, employers are not required to pay for leave to stay home with a new child, only to allow you time off – unpaid. Childcare is not supported through any kind of reliable social safety net. And women who choose to stay home through the early childhood years (and whose spouse has the income to manage) often pay an enormous price both economically and in their job status as they try to play catch-up upon re-entry to the job market.

The Kavanaugh Hearings

The same white male old guard that I saw laughing during breaks at the Kavanaugh hearing when Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford had been testifying yesterday of Brent Kavanaugh’s attempted rape, when she was 15 and he was 17, are the same men who make legislature that keeps women down, or block other legislation that is meant to provide some measure of support. And here they were…laughing during a break after hearing her testimony.

Screenshot from C-Span

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during a break in the Q&A for Brett Kavanaugh, Supreme Court nominee.

Then Kavanaugh got his chance. He hadn’t even bothered to hear her speak earlier, so focused was he on writing his bullying speech on how “not guilty” he was in a vitriolic conspiracy-laced temper tantrum. His anger was frightening, his entitlement astonishing, his indignation unbelievable. What I saw right there was a bullying self-entitled white male who felt he could and SHOULD by all birth right be able to get away with doing anything he wanted because. “I went to Yale!” he shouted. And, “I’ve worked for so and so,” the name dropping and resume rapping all just reinforcing his self-entitled ass. He came off as overly defensive, the kind of man who was used to being able to have his way, but angry that he no longer controlled the narrative, someone who was watching his right to power crumble in front of him, a guilty conscience stomping his feet like a belligerent toddler who knows they did wrong but won’t accept it.

I had been prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, figuring maybe it was a case of mistaken identity. But his behavior spoke otherwise. I’ve been the subject of the self-righteous defense of an alcoholic’s rage before, accusing everyone else for their pain in order to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. I’ve cried in response to this heated verbal abuse from someone who called my late husband “friend” and who somehow felt it was okay to belittle and attack the widow and bring her grown daughter to tears to cover for his guilt of his own behavior. It was that same out-of-control tantrum that I saw and heard in the voice of Brent Kavanaugh. Someone who was finally forced to confront the demons they’d tried to hide beneath a facade of virtue. In the end, I felt that regardless of whether he actually did attempt to rape Ford when they were teens, or not, he demonstrated that he was a complete emotional train wreck who was unfit to serve on the highest court in the land. I, like many of my sisters in heart, empathized deeply with Dr. Blasey-Ford.

I was 13, he was 16 or 17.

As I stated at the beginning, I was only 13. I did.not.know. I didn’t understand enough about sex to fully comprehend what I was getting myself into. Marshall was older and I felt flattered that someone older seemed to “like” me. But in reality, he only wanted to have sex. And he would boast about it to my friends afterwards. It got back to me in some of the worst ways. “Slut” was probably the nicest thing they said. But one boy who I called friend, even after occasionally slipping into the role of humiliating me on occasions, would sit down and ask me my side. We later would share a lifelong friendship. I recall telling him that I would commit suicide, when one time he asked if Marshall had “screwed” me and what would I do if I became pregnant. I had just confirmed to him what Marshall had been boasting about. Funny thing, though. I kept a diary back in those days. And I really didn’t know what “screw” meant. I hadn’t felt anything – no penetration, no wetness. It was, in retrospect, some heavy petting. But when asked at the time, I thought I must have been mistaken and been “screwed.” So, after that conversation, I went back into my diary in 1974 and wrote over top of the original entry “screwed me.”

It was four years later when I had begun dating Keith that I discovered I had been wrong earlier. Boy oh boy was I relieved… a bit embarrassed by my naïveté, and chuckling a little about it. I remember thinking, “well, if Marshall really DID screw me, it must have been with the smallest dick possible, because I didn’t feel a thing!” Silly, I know. But it did make me feel better.

That’s because there was one instance when it got scary with Marshall. From my diary when I was 13 years old (names have been changed):

diaryTuesday, Oct. 15, 1974

School was okay today. I talked to Mr. L and I told him about game night. [Note: a chaperoned party where the kids teased the parents about dancing.] We kidded especially about when I was escorted home by 3 boys. During 7th period he told Jay: “I heard about you and what what’s-his-name did to Mara, Friday night.” Jay: “We didn’t do anything.” Mr. L: “But you were thinking about it, and it’s the thought that counts.” Jay told me this as we were standing at Mickey’s locker. Jay walked home with us today. When we reached Mickey’s house, Mickey & everyone else went home. Jay walked home with me. We talked & joked about nothing in particular. When I got home my brother was sitting on the front porch. As it turned out we were locked out of the house. I put my books on the porch and started walking to Mickey’s house. Mickey was riding his bike and so he told me to get on. The bike tipped over so when Joe came out with his bike, I rode on his. We got to the corner of Reed and Wheeler when we met Jay. I got off Joe’s bike and started walkin’ back to Mickey’s.

We went to look at the new house they were building on the Wheeler extension. Then around 5:15 pm, I went home. Jay rode along beside me and offered 2 or 3 times I ride on his bike. I turned him down because was afraid I’d fall off. While I was making potatoes for dinner Mickey came to the door. He had seen my mother drive off and he wanted to know, I guess, if I was available. We talked and he asked if I wanted to come over while he was babysitting around 7:10 pm tonight.

Well after dinner I did go, using the excuse that I had to help Mickey with his homework. While I was walking though, Marshall and Roy [Note: Marshall’s younger brother] rode up behind me on their bikes. They followed me to where Mickey was babysitting and, when I rang the bell, Mickey signaled me to come back in 10 min, (and that) maybe Marshall and Roy would leave. Well I walked around the block once and Roy rode alongside me. When I got back Roy rode off and Marshall followed me back to the door where I convinced Mickey to let us in. Mickey sat in an armchair while Marshall and I sat on the couch. Marshall had his arm around me and so Mickey put a blanket over his head and pretended he wouldn’t look so Marshall could go farther. Every time Mickey left the room, Marshall would try to kiss me. I didn’t want him to because I felt it was neither the time nor the place. But he kept right at it. At 20 of 9 (pm), Mickey said we had to go.

We went outside & Marshall took me by the hand and said “Come here, I’ve got to get my bike.” He got me in the corner of the house next door and wouldn’t let me go. I kissed him twice and then tried to get away. I wanted to get home and I didn’t feel like “makin out”. As I said before it was neither the time nor the place. He wouldn’t let me go & he pinned me against the brick of the chimney where I couldn’t move. He whispered that it was too bad my parents were home… I tried to get away and I struggled. He held me tight so my wrists ached. I wanted to get home. Then he started sticking his hand down my pants. He took my hand and stuck it down his. For a moment there was no struggle. Then I took my hand out and grabbed his to get it out but he held.

Finally he let go and in a mocking voice said “I got to get home, I got to get home.” He left on his bike and went home. I walked down towards Mickey’s house then turned around and went back to where he was babysitting. I asked if I could talk to him & so I told him the whole story. He let me in and we waited till the parents came home. I sneaked out the back door and waited for Mickey. Mickey kept saying what a creep and a jerk Marshall was…I walked home with Mickey who lent me his sweater to keep warm…

Although I think I must have been numb at first, my 13-year-old self finally came to the realization that Marshall was destroying what self-respect I had left, that being with him was untenable. I went through the phases of feeling guilty, ashamed, irresponsible, fearful of disappointing my parents and then ashamed again. Like many young girls, I didn’t respect myself enough, didn’t value myself, though sometimes was good at hiding it. I blamed myself for what nearly happened. I was insecure about myself, my body, my prettiness. It’s not that I wasn’t smart. But, like many book-smart girls, I was very insecure in other ways. And there were always those “mean” girls who seemed to make sure you knew how much better they were by belittling and humiliating you (me) in front of others. Over the next few years, my body shifted back and forth weight-wise and by the time I was 16, I could pass for 22, with a hour-glass figure and long curly auburn hair. I still was insecure about my looks. Oddly enough, Keith was the first one to help me change that.Closed Diary

Looking Back/Looking Forward

In the decades that have since passed, I have reflected on that experience with Marshall* and its impact on me in the short and long term. Perhaps in the short-term, and with the help of people I still count as friends more than 43 years later, I was able to move on, and even come away a bit stronger for it. Certainly, I never let myself get close to anyone who was like him ever again. I used his behavior as a model for whom to avoid. I realized I needed to practice self-preservation. My empathy for others, my need to feel needed and loved would sometimes lead to great personal pain. It took awhile to start to figure out how to harness my “powers” while preserving my sanity.

In the long term, as a grandmother now, I look back at that 13-year-old girl and I am sad. Not just for having to remember her/my experience, but to be confronted by the naïveté of a young girl who so dearly wanted to be grown up, who tried to be and act grown up. But who just wasn’t as mature as she led herself to believe, and who blamed herself and didn’t trust enough to be taken seriously if she were to report the experience.

But no longer do I feel the need to apologize for who I am, and for my experiences I have lived. No longer do I feel “deserving” of the way I was treated by Marshall or anyone else. I have come to understand that their behavior was the result of their own experiences, their own anger and pain. Unfortunately, I was the one who got in their way of their acting out. The fact that I could not trust others to believe me or my side of it, well, I guess I felt that it would only result in more public shaming and blaming of me, and nothing good would come of reporting it. After witnessing the attacks on those who’ve come forward regarding Brett Kavanaugh, I guess I’m not too far off.

Still, I’m rather proud of how that 13-year-old girl – how I – turned out. I know what my powers are now. Such is the result of decades of life experiences, of learning to trust in my intuitiveness, my empathy, my inner and outer “beauty”, and my voice…and of becoming a responsible member of my female tribe. These are among my strengths.

Even so, the behavior on display these last couple of years, culminating in last week’s hearings for the Supreme Court nominee has reminded me of my responsibilities. Beware to those gentlemen who dare to challenge my rights as a woman in the 21st Century. Beware to those who try to demean and diminish the needs and value of women everywhere. I, like my sisters in heart, have harnessed my powers and I know how to use them.

*I’ve chosen not to reveal his real name here because there isn’t any point. Unless he was in the running for Supreme Court Justice, I’d just as soon leave him to Karma. Hopefully, he grew up. I need not waste any energy on punishing him. That fate is in his own hands.

PS: I know that members of my family will have read this and will have their own emotional response to the sexual assault and the other indignities described above. Do something positive. Channel any pain you may feel into making sure the next generation of young women never have to feel “less than” _____ ever again.

Written on Tuesday, 7/31/18

I try to focus on the work at hand as we prepare the old house for sale. Even though lots of memories are evoked as we go, and Steven tackles the difficult challenges of finishing Keith’s unfinished house projects, going through collections of “stuff” inside the house, the workshop, the basement, and all around outside, I feel incredibly blessed. Although it’s taken longer, Steve’s workmanship shows and I know it’s a matter of pride – and love – in his mind, and I am forever grateful to this wonderful man who has taken on so much. To live in the shadow of Keith’s spirit can be a challenge. But today I think I found a sign that Keith was pleased.

Dane and I moved a very large 10-drawer flat file into the garage today. Drawer by drawer. Most were empty already but several were full and it was kind of a pain. But we got all the drawers moved and prepared to move the cabinet that held them. I looked back to the empty steel cabinet and there was some stuff still there, curled up against the back. A few pieces of Stassia’s, a few pieces of mine. But there was this one big piece still curled up against the back wall. I pulled it out and there it was – an impromptu angel made from overspray from a project Keith did many years ago. And in the corner, he’d painted his initials “KF” to ensure there was no doubt. Among the last pieces of family “art” to get moved out of the house. Finding it today felt like a special sign, a message of love from the spirit of Keith.

 

f6rUcQ99RTSByz2MwmWiag

Spraypaint art made by Keith when he was working with Stassia on a costume. He liked the angel he recognized and signed it in the corner. I’d completely forgotten about this until my daughter reminded me.

Friday, 7/27/18

Woke up at 4:52 am to a blazing light shining upon me. It was a huge full moon low on the horizon so that its light reached inside my bedroom. I smiled and said Happy 60th Birthday, Keith! We miss you here on this life’s plane. Hope you’re enjoying all our shenanigans from your view on the other side. ❤️

Keith taking his solo pilot flight test, upstate NY. Instructor decided we should all go to dinner in Keene, NH.

Postscript: When I awoke later in the morning daylight, I looked out the window and saw the trees and wondered how I could have seen the moon so clearly earlier. And yet, there it had been! When he passed, it was a huge blue moon (a second full moon in the month) and I always associate the strong light of the full moon as his embrace from beyond.