Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Tribute to the late Wendy Davidson of Goddard College - 1945 - 2015

Several years ago on Facebook a rumor began to circulate that Wendy Davidson had passed away. It was not true, but I contacted her for the first time in nearly 50 years.

We spoke and exchanged a few letters. I did write a little story about her which is printed below.

Writing has always helped me process whatever is going on in my life.


          We sat side by side on the steps of our dorm. I was smitten. She was tiny, had long brown hair, spoke in rapid staccato bursts, and was nothing like the classmates I left behind at Shaker Heights High School where all people cared about were wearing the right clothes and carrying the right pocketbook from My Darling Daughter.
          The sun shone that September of 1964 as the green grass of Vermont spread out like a golf green before us. I was never so happy in my life. Away from home. At Camp Cardinal, I had cried like a baby. Now I was free. And freedom, I discovered, is what I had been seeking my whole life.
          Freedom, mostly, from conformity, a word that until I came to Goddard College, had meant nothing to me. I was free to kiss whomever I wanted – red-haired Felix was the first boy I kissed – and there were a succession of others. I was a pretty girl back then, unafflicted with a variety of ailments that would bedraggle me after I turned fifty or sixty.
          How good it is not to know what to expect when you’re young and beautiful and sitting next to Wendy Davidson on the front steps of Kilpatrick Dorm.
          Unlike me, Wendy was an adventuress. Oh, hadn’t I ridden my bike back home?  My sisters and I, when small, would see firesmoke in the distance, and ride our bikes to wherever the fire soared.
          “Move back!” the police would yell at us. We stood behind the imaginary line and gleefully watched the shiny red fire engines spew an awesome spray of water onto the fire. We were unaware at the time that such hoses would be used to disperse demonstrators during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
          I was in my dorm room at Kilpatrick. I had brought a set of cowbells from home which I attached to the door of my room. Someone was knocking. It was Wendy, who came in and sat on my neatly-made bed.
          “Oh, I’m such a mess,” she said. “Lenny pays no attention to me.”
          “Lenny? That cute boy who looks like Mick Jagger?”
          “Yeah. I think he’s gay.”
          I tried not to let on that I was shocked to hear that word. But I was. As a kid, I’d asked my dad how it could possibly happen that men or women were attracted to their own sex. He patiently explained it to me. And told me that one time, a gay man named Marcus had come to dinner. He worked at my dad’s office and had given me a book of poetry by William Wordsworth. I’ve kept it to this very day, its cover scotch-taped to the slim green volume.
          “Forget Lenny Marin,” I said. “Let’s do something fun.” I put down the book I was reading for English class, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” by James Joyce. I kept reading the first page over and over again, it was so beautiful.
          Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo...

          Wendy explained she had found a beautiful meadow. I tied on my sneakers and we began our walk. Plainfield, Vermont, was cow country. We passed the little village with its grocery-post office – 05667, the zip code I wrote on my letters home – and crossed the little bridge over the Winooski River.
          “Wait a sec,” I said. “Let’s stop and watch the river flow.”
          Imagine! Our very own river right in this town. Rivers were unknown back in Shaker. I cocked my head and listened to the sound of the waves hitting rocks that jutted out of the water. The bright sunshine added to the display and the joy in my heart.
          I was free! I was free!
I was eighteen years old.
          Wendy’s long brown hair was set atop her head in a bun. She led the way to her meadow, up in the grassy hills. She spread out a blanket and then began to disrobe.
          “Wendy! I can’t do this!”
          “Why not? It’s fun to sunbathe in the nude.”
          I dropped my blouse, my 34-A Playtex bra, panties, and shorts onto the grass, and lay on the blanket she had brought.
          Staring up at the cloudless blue sky, I felt the warmth of Father Sun caress my body. I ran my hands lightly over my nearly-flat breasts, then lay on my flat and muscled belly. I’d been the sit-up champ in our gym class. One-hundred-and-fifty.
          Wendy lay on her belly, head turned to the side. She was beautifully proportioned and even tinier than I was. Her buttocks was dimpled. And a tiny beauty mark rested on the small of her back.
          As we lay, each with our own reveries, a male voice interrupted us.
          “This here is my property, dammit!” it said. “I want you off. Now!”
          The farmer wore overalls, just like in the books. He was fat with a straw hat clamped down on his head.
          “I seen you here before,” said the farmer. “Don’t want you back again, them damn Goddard students. Ruining our town.”
          I waited for Wendy to do the talking.
          “Sir, I’m so sorry,” she said with a laugh, leaning her head toward him. “We won’t come back. I promise.”
          He marched away, indignant, while we dressed and walked down the hill.
          Even now, fifty years later, I can hear that musical voice of Wendy’s. Musical, even though her family hadn’t much to sing about. They had been destroyed in the McCarthy hearings. Her father lost his job as a Baltimore judge and had no choice but to work mopping floors in a synagogue and churches in Baltimore.
          Now, fifty years later, I receive emails asking me, “Is Wendy Davidson dead?”
          I had last spoken with her five years before. She had stayed in Vermont but moved to the college town of Burlington. Going to my desk in the living room, where I checked myself in the mirror – not particularly liking what age had done to me, my round face was rounder and my thick brown hair, which now hung lifeless as dead winter leaves, I colored burgundy right upstairs in my bathroom.  I reached into my desk drawer and pulled out my green address book.
          “Can she be dead?” I kept thinking, as I opened the book with its soft green fabric and found her phone number.
          A man answered. “Wendy doesn’t live here,” he said. “But you’re not the first person to call this number.”
          It would have cost me money to find her phone number online, so I called the local library, receiving an 802-area phone number. Clearing my throat, I dialed it immediately.
          That awful robotic voice answered, telling me to leave my name and phone number. But, then, a woman answered.
          “Hello?” she said.
          “Wendy! It’s Ruth, Ruth Deming.”
          “Ruth! It doesn’t sound like you,” she said.
          “Really! It is me, though.”
          “You don’t have that Ohio twang anymore.”
          Though I said nothing, I felt sad about that. It was part of my identity. Although I’d lived in many places – Ossining, New York; San Francisco; Houston and Austin, Texas – I needed that twang as proof of who I am.
          I told her about rumors of her death on Facebook. She was shocked, dismayed, I could hear it in her voice. Perhaps I should have kept it to myself and just pretended that I was calling to say hello.
          Wendy, whose birthday I always remembered, had turned 68 on May 29. I was younger by seven months. She began to complain about her miserable life. “I don’t mean to complain, but….”
          Her car was old and it cost too much to fix, so she got rid of it. She took the senior bus everywhere - “Can you frigging believe it, Ruth?  - she lived in an apartment for seniors – “Can you frigging believe it, Ruth?” – she had no friends, she told me, and stayed in her apartment for weeks at a time. “I’m isolating myself, Ruth, it’s terrible!”
          The final straw was when she brought up Ellen Pansen. Ellen had been my roommate but hadn’t liked me so she transferred rooms. One day she was found – hanging from a rope in the shower. The Bible was turned to a page in Ecclesiastes on the toilet tank.
          I moaned inside and changed the subject.
          “Wendy, why don’t you go for a walk?” I suggested.
          No, the neighborhood wasn’t nice enough.
“What do you see out your window?” I asked.
          “Trees, just trees,” she said.
          “Trees,” I exclaimed. “Beautiful trees!”
          How we loved the trees on the Goddard campus. We all had our favorites. Autumn was magnificent in Vermont, the fabled New England autumns where tourists arrive in sleek buses for the golden views. And, now, as we spoke, it was autumn, sending glorious overcoats of leaves onto the dying grass.
          The horrible words, “help-rejecting complainer,” came to my mind as Wendy continued her litany of despair. Trained as a psychotherapist in my forties, these clever words came from Irv Yalom’s classic text “Group Psychotherapy.”
          Wendy heard me putting away my dishes in my sunlit kitchen, where a cup of peppermint tea was cooling on the table.
          “What are you making for dinner?” she asked me. I explained that I was putting away the dishes – multi-tasking is second-nature to me – and told her I’d eat some cabbage soup I made the day before.
          “Oh, I’m a horrible cook,” she said.  
          Desperate to end the conversation on a positive note, I suggested perhaps she should get a cat for companionship. I should’ve known. She was allergic to cats, so there was no happy ending.
          Only for me, there was. The knowledge that I’d found Wendy Golden Davidson, that she was alive, alive and living miserably in Burlington, Vermont.
          The next day I ordered a box of Thin Mints on to be delivered directly to her apartment. Certainly, eating must be a way to cheer her up. I sure wished I could fix her. 

Ruth Z Deming
204 Cowbell Road
Willow Grove PA 19090
July 16, 2015

Wendy Golden Davidson
214 North Prospect
Apt. 203
Burlington VT  05401

Dear Wendy—

Just in from Goddard College….

Join us for an Award Ceremony at the Fall 2015 Psychology & Counseling Program Commencement to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates and to recognize the life and work of Jonathan Katz (BA RUP '71).

Katz will give the commencement speech and receive the 2015 Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Goddard College President Robert Kenny at 2pm on Sunday, September 6th in the Haybarn Theatre.

Can you imagine! Our own Jonathan Katz will become an honorary Doctor! AND give a commencement speech.

I think we all give little speeches, don’t you, every day of our lives. When my mom wakes up in her own bed, she says to herself, “I’m still alive.” She’ll be 93 in August. The eighth, to be exact, should we wish to send a card.

Today I woke up in Scott’s bed. He’s my boyfriend of 9 years. “Is it that long?” he asked me. Women remember these things. Scott was at work. He works in the dark of the night fixing trains for the City of Philadelphia. I slept over b/c my air-conditioning doesn’t work right. I watched a fantastic YouTube video of the film My Cousin Rachel, by the same Daphne duMaurier who wrote Rebecca. This film starred the young gorgeous curly-haired deep-throated Richard Burton who was obsessed with Cousin Rachel, played by Olivia deHaviland, who was part-evil! Are we all?

And all dead now, sadly.

But not the two of us. You have your Winooski River – or at least, Goddard does – and we of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have our Pennypack Creek which dumps into the Delaware River.

Look how we kill the Injuns and keep the beautiful place names they invented. As Peter Paul and Mary sang, “When will we ever learn?”

The Twelfth of Never! Well, WGD, that’s it for now. Twould be nice to get a note from you. That lovely penmanship I can still see in me mind’s eye.

Love always, 


Ruth Z Deming
204 Cowbell Road
Willow Grove PA 19090
July 16, 2015

Wendy Golden Davidson
214 North Prospect
Apt. 203
Burlington VT  05401

Dear Wendy—

Here I am sipping my one-dollar cup of McDonald’s black coffee at my upstairs computer. “What size would you like,” asked the tall young man this morning. He told me all sizes cost one dollar.

I got the tallest cup, a lovely deep brown, with gold flecks. I love drinking coffee when I write. Am working on a short story called “The Gatekeeper” about a 13-year-old autistic girl who cannot speak. My bro had autism, dead at 29. We just lit Yahrzeit candles for him. Or, should I say, thought about doing it but did not.

Enclosed is a poem I wrote about you, plus an old photo when I had red hair. As we said o’er the phone, you and I both stopped coloring our various heads of hair, mine as thin as a skull cap.

Jonathan Katz emailed me yesterday. He told me you were dying “and on a lighter note,” he said, “What about those Mets?”

How did he know? Did you call him? He invited me up for the commencement speech at Goddard. At my age, 69, I can only drive around the block. Perhaps there will be a miracle and I’ll wake up and be young and bold again, sit like a lady in the audience at the Haybarn, see a few people we know – and wildly applaud, my upper arms shaking like vanilla pudding.

Ding! Ding! Ding! My library sent me an email that a good book awaits me at the desk. Such nice people work there. Margie Peters, the director, fought cancer and she won. Who cares if you’re in your late fifties and your boobs have been sliced off like baloney meat? 

Mine grow huger all the time. I’ll send you a poem about that, if I may.

It’s in the 90s today. I refuse to turn on my A/C since it’s too expensive. I sit a few feet away from large fans, which blow what little hair I have and send cool kisses to my legs residing under my blue dress – “Oh!” says Scott – “you’re wearing one of your sexy dresses.”

Your ‘umble servant,

Ruth Z Deming, MGPGP (master, group process and group psychotherapy)
215 659 2142
Here's the poem I mailed her


Breasts grow bigger with age
we agree, one of many things
we talk about at the kitchen
table with the faux chicken liver
nearly gone. No one can guess
that cashews and green beans
account for the taste. Mom,
nearing ninety-three, is it? has
forced her shutting-down
body to make it. The woman
has everything – family, friends,
Ron and Hildegunde, servants
like Ellen who do her bidding –
everything but her legs which
used to gallop across the tennis court.

We don’t cry over the past. Miles
eyes framed in black glasses and
Veronica in a purple sundress will
travel to her country of Columbia
over Christmas. Her family hails
from a modern city, too civilized,
she says, for El Chapo to hide there.
He’s running his drug empire from
the hills.

Ah mescaline! Mom’s antibiotics
made her see patterns. Hands went
up around the table over who used
it. There wasn’t time to describe the
trip I had in the rolling hills of Goddard
College, the three of us walked into the
unlocked library, with its red carpet. I
stole a book, then mailed it back later
that year.

Would it be a lie – or my imagination –
if I told you El Chapo Joaquin Guzman
has tunneled his way into my house?
At sixty, we are almost compatriots. He
sleeps on the husband’s side of the bed
in his black Hanes briefs, tapping me
when I begin to snore. We love the
same TV shows – Mad Men and X-Files.

I won’t let him smoke in the house
so he goes on the screened in back porch
and lights up the night with his
Spanish Galleon cigars. He has a
loving heart and sends me to
the mall to buy gifts for his
mother, a few former lovers,
and tells me: Someday, Amor Mio,
I will buy you a ring.

He is not to know, but I will turn
him in before then, the everlovin’
I will miss him, certainly, the
sweat from his body, those
little black underpants, and the way
his gold teeth shone in the dark.  
I wrote this poem and mailed it to her


Flowers by wire on their way
A selection of violets
which will live long after you
my dying friend from Goddard
College in Vermont

The trickle of blood
your own Winooski River
went unnoticed until
too late. The cancer
has spread through your
insides like blue plum jam.

Who knew your third floor
pad in Burlington would be
your final home. “I should have
stayed in Maryland,” you sighed
over the phone, as memories
of your parents fill you with
longing, longing now that the world
grows small as a mattress
with a morphine pump
on the side. 

You beat me to age seventy
We were risk-taking teenagers
when we met, sun-bathing nude
in the cow pasture, wishing our
great unrequited loves could
ride over the hill to caress us, Lenny for
you, Frank for me.

I will ride the wild stallion when
you’re gone, galloping to the
high hill on Terwood Road
to tell you who came after Obama
and if they’re advancing in
Alzheimer’ and dementia

Your shoulder-length hair
is gray. Like me, you stopped
coloring it. A slow concession
to time. I still remember your
articulate sentences you spoke
at Kilpatrick Dorm, while people
were screwing in their rooms.

What must that be like, I wondered.

Sip on that licorice tea I sent you
it might have healing properties
Who decided to kill you off
Who planted that curare flask
in your womb that never bore

As we speak on the phone
you from your bed
me on the red couch
a cardinal appears at your
window. “He is there on
account of me,” I say.

“For sure,” you say in that
voice I can summon at will.
The two of us lying beneath
the stars awaiting the blackness
that will come when it will. 


Some things I remember from speaking with her on the phone:
- Her incredulity that she had cancer. 
- Numerous regrets - why hadn't she stayed in Maryland where she was born
- We reminisced about people we remembered at Goddard
- I told her to call me and I would write an obituary notice for her. This surprised her. Why? That I cared about her? That she thought she was important enough to be remembered? 
- She was unduly modest. Or shall I say in psychiatric terms - she had terribly low self-esteem. 
If any reader wishes to contribute to this eulogy of sorts, please email me at RuthDeming at
I await your response or phone call - 215-659-2142.  


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