For my friend Walter Straus 2008 was a very good year & 2009 promises to be even better. Walt, who turned 90 in December, has an athletic background. Born & raised in Bristol, PA, he swam across the Delaware River as a teenager from the Bristol shore to the Burlington, NJ shore. I had written a poem about doing so in my first year as a therapist in Bristol when I used to go down to the rocky shore on my lunch hour to think and straighten out my head from all the clients I saw.
Walt's sister Charlotte who died 3 years ago had a brief romantic fling with famed folksinger Woody Guthrie. They never actually slept together. Woody's then-wife called Charlotte to remind her Woody was a married man & that he had a childlike self that knew no boundaries and Charlotte did the wife's bidding.
Charlotte herself had one child from the town's merry tippler who came into possession of all the material that Woody had mailed Charlotte during their brief romantic correspondence which fanned the flames of Woody's creativity as can be seen in all the memorabilia that went up for auction last week at Philly's oldest auction house, Freeman's Auction at 18th and Chestnut.
I've been a fan of Guthrie ever since I discovered his records issued by the Library of Congress at the Southampton Library & took out every record he ever made. When I visited Walter last year he placed all the memorabilia on his dining room table and I carefully looked thru it all. Walt had carefully encased each precious typewritten letter - or handwritten letter - in plastic. They were preserved remarkably well.
Walt is proud that he did research on what to do w/them by telephone and not computer. First he took them up to a place in NJ, a reputable place that charged him about $150 per hour for advice, and then he ended up dealing with Freeman's Auction in Philly. The auction was scheduled nearly an entire year away. "I hope I'm still alive when it goes to auction," said Walter.
He's got more to live for at 90 than most people do at 50. He met the woman of his life Amy who drove him several days ago to the Auction. Click here for more details on this Philly Inquirer auction preview.
Asking price was between 8 and 12 grand. The Woody Guthrie Collection owned orig. by Charlotte Straus which passed into the hands of her daughter & then of Walter reeled in $34,000.
He has already bought Amy some nice gifts with the moolah.
Walter lives 5 minutes away in the tallest apartment tower in the neighborhood. He walks several miles a day around his complex without a hat. He's a sharp dresser and his mind is kept sharp by the endless Scrabble games he plays with his many friends.
He was at the nearby Staples copying the newest Scrabble words accepted for the game when I met him. We stood side by side and he explained what he was doing. I looked agog at all the words now accepted including 'dumbshit.' Look, who am I to argue with the gaming experts but somehow it doesn't seem right.
After that, Walt & I became friends. His second wife had manic depression.
Here's my poem:
THE INTAKE WORKER
one by one
to the intake worker's office,
and places they will never see.
And they answer the tough intake questions:
So how old were you when it happened?
How frequent are the dreams?
What made you take the pills?
Sometimes they cry.
The intake worker
has a box of Kleenex
and a nice way about her
so that after the tears
I'm glad I got that out.
They ask when they will see the doctor.
Soon, please? It's no good.
I can't go on like this.
I haven't touched my wife
in over a year. She'll leave.
The intake worker bites her lip
and flips through the schedule
that has no spaces.
she lays her cheek across a pile of papers
that stand for
all the people who've come and gone
but never really left.
She begins to picture
sharp rocks rising
from the blue-green sea,
a spit of land
where she and James would go.
I'll bet I could swim the length of it,
she'd brag. You couldn't, he'd. say. You're an amateur.
But she could.
She'd pick a fine day.
The water would be cool and fresh.
She'd begin with breaststrokes,
rippling the water with wide swirling arcs.
Why, I can probably clear it in less than an hour,
They might come looking for her.
But she'd fool them all
pulling out to sea
with firm strokes
parting the waters with cupped hands
as she puts the sea
behind her, and hearing what sounds like
faint cheers on the other side,
she shakes the sea from her hair
and touches shore.