Mt. Everest - Beginning the Climb
Anyone who knows me knows that I am afraid of heights. Very
afraid of heights. And yet, I have climbed the stairs to the
top of a tower in the medieval town of San Gimignano in Italy
in order to see the Tuscan countryside. I have taken the elevator
to the second tier of the Eiffel Tower to see the reflection
of the city lights in the serpentine Seine. I have sat on the
roof of our shed so that I could paint the peak of the garage.
I have just signed on for a long, long, long climb. Luckily,
I am not taking on the challenge alone, and so far, it is the
most inspiring journey I have ever taken.
I attended a meeting of the Worcester County Poetry Association
on March 18, 2009, which was hosted by Carol Stockmal, the owner
of the Stanley Kunitz Childhood Home in Worcester, Massachusetts.
I volunteered to work with Carol to construct a docent outline
for this extraordinary place, which houses a fascinating piece
of American literary history. Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006), Poet
Laureate of the United States, winner of Pulitzer Prize and
other honors, lived in the house from the time it was built
(circa 1915), until he left Worcester to work in New York in
The target event for 2009 would be this year's Footsteps in
History October 11-12 Open House Tour.
Tragically, Carol's husband Greg Stockmal died in December
2008. The Stanley Kunitz Childhood Home Docent Project is dedicated
to him, in honor of his buoyant spirit, sense of humor and intelligence.
For three years, Greg was the sole docent, and we have some
very big shoes to fill.
In 2006 and 2007, my husband, John Gaumond, and I were room
sitters during Open Houses at Stanley Kunitz's Childhood Home,
and in October 2008, Greg and Carol invited us to present a
duo art exhibit of John's photography and my painting/poetry
in the second floor galleries. Our friendship with Carol and
Greg had just begun when he passed away.
As I worked with Carol on the docent outline during these past
few months, I observed the richness of their story. When Carol
and Greg bought the house in 1979, they immediately began restoring
it to its former elegance.
In 1980, they happened to read an article in the Telegram &
Gazette about the renowned Worcester native, poet Stanley Kunitz,
who was in town to receive an Honorary Degree from Worcester
State College. They wondered if the childhood home on Woodford
Street described in the article could be their home.
On October 17, 1985, the four met by chance, and the meeting
is documented in Mark Rudman's essay "Thursday, October
17 , Worcester, Massachusetts." A Celebration
for Stanley Kunitz on His 80th Birthday. The Sheep Meadow
Press, Riverdale-on-Hudson, NY, 1986.
That fortuitous meeting resulted in a twenty year friendship
between two couples: Stanley Kunitz, his wife artist /poet Elise
Asher, and Greg and Carol Stockmal.
Beginning the Climb
The docent outline project has grown since that initial meeting
in March. Carol is the source of all materials and information
that make the writing of the outline for this project as rich
as it is. The best way to describe what she has done for me
as a writer: she has given me cloth made from gold. I have been
able to cut the fabric and sew the garment known as The Stanley
Kunitz Childhood Home Docent Outline. Carol, John and I will
be training docents beginning in late August. The Worcester
County Poetry Association is recruiting volunteers now (www.wcpa.homestead.com)!
To help with the writing of the outline and the training design,
Carol lent me Thematic Tours and Guide Training for Historic
Sites by Barbara A. Levy, Sandra M. Lloyd and Susan P. Schreiber
(AltaMira Press, 2001, published in cooperation with the National
Trust for Historic Preservation). The book gave me the particular
language and identified key concepts I needed to develop the
outline. Even with my experience in program design and training
(Peer Mediation: Finding a Way to Care, Stenhouse Publishers,
1996), as well as several decades in training teachers, I found
the learning curve going straight up!
Continuing the Climb
Greg Stockmal was planning to retire in May of this year. One
of his and Carol's goals was to have their property placed on
the National Register of Historic Places. Carol is determined
to see this dream become a reality which honors Greg's and Stanley's
memories. I contacted my friend, Susan Ceccacci, who is an architectural
historian. She gave us excellent advice, and we will be forever
grateful for her help. Another set of learning curves loom ahead
involving the preparation and presentation of materials for
the Worcester Historical Commission, the Massachusetts Historical
Commission, and the National Register in Washington, D.C. A
bid for National Register status must pass the local and state
offices. Hopefully, as each plateau is reached, we will work
to the next level. Carol's dream is that one day she will ask
John to attach a plaque to the house which begins, "Stanley
" and ends with "
the National Register
of Historic Places." Or is it the other way around? Carol
hopes to find out.
Continuing the Climb
While researching with Carol, she showed me correspondence,
newspaper and magazine articles, posters, programs, video and
audio materials (if the word "etc." ever stood for
something, it is necessary to insert it here). We examined the
threads in the gold cloth day by day, week by week, and month
by month. It is a bittersweet experience for Carol, who sees
her late husband in every page, in every note, in every image.
Her strength and courage during these months have been remarkable
for me to witness.
At one point, Carol asked, "What is going to happen to
all of these papers?" I spoke with my friend, Rodney Gorme-Obien,
who is an archivist. His advice was to get everything collected
(no small feat), box it, and store it in a "secure and
controlled environment." He volunteered to look at the
collection and develop a Preliminary Finding Guide. Carol and
Greg had talked about someday donating the papers to a university
in Worcester, where researchers could have access to them. The
Stanley Kunitz-Stockmal Collection! Another learning curve,
another climb as another dream will become a reality.
Continuing the Climb
Each and every aspect of this experience is new, challenging,
energizing, and on some days, exhausting. How could there be
anything more than the three piece garment sewn from the cloth
of gold: the SKCH Docent Program, the bid for the house to be
placed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Stanley
Kunitz-Stockmal Collection accepted for deposit in the archives
of a university?
It did not take me long to realize that a book needed to be
written about this extraordinary twenty year friendship between
two couples and how the relationship affected their lives and
work. Everything I have written to this day prepares me for
this biographical study, which will be a post-doctoral research
project. That means grant writing and at least one visit to
Princeton University, where Stanley Kunitz's papers include
a box marked, "Stockmal, Carol and Greg."
The next few years will be full of long hours in libraries
and at the computer, doors closing and opening, and if I am
lucky and approaching the age of 70, I will happily present
Carol with her copy of "Call It Beshert." My working
title uses the Hebrew word for "fate," and it seems
apt to describe the day in October 1985 when she and Greg came
home from shopping to find a group admiring their house from
across the street.
Carol and Greg recognized one man as the renowned poet they
read about in the newspaper. He was being celebrated across
the city for his decades of accomplishments. They got out of
their car, and Stanley's wife, Elise Asher, stepped up to them
and said, "You live here. I know you live here." And
that started a beautiful friendship.