Chapter 22 “John: Attempted Suicide; Dwight’s Letters to John”
Between John's January letter and about March 19th, 1960, we don’t know much about what happened in his life. I do know that he was usually depressed around his birthday March 10, and I remember when we turned thirty how upset he was. By age thirty-three it didn't seem to be a big deal to me!
We do know, according to his car log, that Dwight drove to Ames March 5, 8, and 12; had formed an American Art exhibition for the Iowa State FOCUS series which opened March 6; was present in the Art Shed in Ames March 8 to March 26 on Tuesdays, and again from April 19th to May 4th. The American Art Today show was an exciting collection of works by Burchfield, Dove, Heliker, Hopper, Kuhn, Marin, Marsh, Mattern, Karasz, etc., to Zorach. Dwight was to give gallery talks March 8, 10. 11, and end with a color slide presentation and lecture on March 15th in Great Hall, Memorial Union. He probably missed the lecture. In January, Dwight was commissioned by the art committee of the University Christian Church, Des Moines, to design a bulletin cover. The committee selected, from several submissions, a design featuring a cross intertwined with the letters “U.C.” The March Des Moines Register printed a photograph of the design and in their article they reported that, “Kirsch expressed an interest in the committee's effort to “provide art forms, which will further the worship of God, and gave the painting as a token of his interest and encouragement.”
“The picture was displayed at a church dinner. . along with other recent art acquisitions. Also exhibited at the dinner was a cover design for the church bulletin by Kirsch, who had been commissioned to do the work.”
“The watercolor ‘Hallett's Peak’ portrays the rugged strength and beauty of the mountains. It was made by Kirsch in 1948, from the trail to Flat-Top Mountains (above Bear Lake) at Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.”
It is ironic that Dwight had just finished his church commission, for he would soon need every trace of spiritual strength he could secure as John's world suddenly came crashing to a smashup!
It happened between March 12th and 19th in his apartment. There was a fire! He had tried to commit suicide! His paintings were burned! All had been destroyed except for those that had been purchased by various art galleries or private collections! Something within John had just snapped. He lost control. With superhuman power he had rammed his left arm against a brick wall, shattered it, and was near death when he was rescued and taken to Bellevue hospital!
Peggy Patrick said, “Maybe John didn't want to fight anymore, didn't want to swim upstream anymore. I am sure that working for a bank was certainly not to his temperament. I'm sure that his life-style in 1960 didn't add anything to it.” (It was implausible to me that he even had the bank job – the only explanation was being able to work at night and have daylight hours free for painting.)
Luckily, John was wearing his contact lenses, for Dwight told me that they saved his eyes. He was transferred to Kings County Hospital at some time, after which he was out of danger.
Thousands of miles from New York, I had been fighting off either pneumonia or bronchitis, at any rate was very ill. Dwight called me about John and I remember how helpless I felt. Wendy and Kelly's birthdays were about that time, so perhaps the preparations for those events were a welcome distraction from my extreme anxiety. My mother wrote me saying that, “We are terribly concerned about John, and Dwight, too. It is hard on him. It is terrible news but may not be a bad as you think. . Dad wrote to Dwight and told him when John recovers enough we would like to have him out here where he will have attention, good climate, his own people, etc. Warren suggested his cabin in Long Pine, too. Dad thinks John is starved for love. He was closer to Truby than Dwight, I think. In his letter, Dwight said John would hold his hand tightly. We hope the next news will be good.”
John was showered with cards and letters, but only Dwight's and a few of Peggy Patrick's were saved. Peggy sent cheery, short notes on art museum postcards, and painting reproductions by George Groz and Geroges Roualt. One special one mentioned, “Beautiful weather and guess what! Kent (her son) is anxiously awaiting ‘egg-dying night!’ Love to you both, Peggy.”
Dwight became, in Peggy's words, “sort of my family,” after he retired. “He spent Easters, went places with us, Thanksgiving with us. Easters were special because we were the only place ever, where people sumi-inked and hand-painted their Easter eggs. I have memories that will exist forever, as do Kathy, Kirk and Kent.”
Dwight's letters to John, between his frequent trips to New York are so touching and personal that even today they evoke sad emotions and bring tears to my eyes! His first, written on a plane leaving New York, “Sun. April 3rd, 1960. The timing is working out fine. I got checked in at the East Side Air Terminal in time to have a good lunch, a hot turkey sandwich and buttermilk. The flight left La Guardia on time, at 2 P.M. It is a tourist flight but very comfortable. John Carradine, the long-faced movie actor is just two seats ahead of me; in fact he was across the aisle from me on the airport bus, with 2 canes, a steamer rug, a camera case, extra camelhair coat, and carrying elegant panama hat (he is wearing a becoming black homburg hat). He is dissipated looking, but interesting and has very long dark hair; but he has a wonderful, wonderful deep voice (reminds me of you the last few days!”
“Other passengers include mamas with squally babies, sailor boys (gobs) traveling men, etc. Across the aisle are two M.D.'s with a new book on pathology illustrated profusely in color, so it is almost like being back in the hospital again. In fact, I have been with you so much the past two weeks it is easy for me to shut my eyes and think I am there, holding your hand. I hope you can imagine me there, too, anytime.”
“This plane stops at Chicago a while so I'll mail this there. If there is time I'll try to get Mary Louise (John's cousin) on the phone, and add a line or two below. With much love, your POP, DK. P.S. I got Mary Louise on the phone. They are fine & have another new house ready to sell - Cheerio & Keep Chin up! Due Wichita at 9:15 pm & will stay at the Allis Hotel.”
From the Hotel Allis, Wichita, Kansas, April 4, 1960, Dwight writes, “Dear John: The plane got me in on time last night, and I arrived at the hotel before 10 P.M. I am up high (16th floor) with a wide view of the city, and distant prairies. It is a clear breezy morning. A message was waiting for me to call Marguerite Lewis in Milford, Nebraska. She is visiting the Fahnestocks there and is going to Lincoln to see G. Moore and other friends tomorrow. So she wanted to know all about you, and I told her you were improving. Marguerite will go back to Texas before Easter.”
“I am having a pot of coffee sent to the room to help me come awake before going down to have a real breakfast and go to the museum. Someone sent me a big pot of white parrot tulips with 5 stems in bloom. It has a card that says ‘Happy to Have You in Wichita’ - but that's all! So I don't know who sent it. I'll write more later. Keep your courage up. With much love Your Pop DK.”
That same day he added, “At this moment I wish I were with you and touching your hand. But I have spent the day in intensive work, scrutinizing nearly 100 paintings, drawings and sculptures in the wonderful Murdock Collection. As the museum was closed to visitors today, I was able to concentrate and get a lot done. I feel that I have earned my fee, to come: $50 per day, plus expenses. I am going to photograph some paintings in color tomorrow and Wed. to use for lectures and also for my report to Elizabeth (Navas). As they’re such rare and well-selected paintings, that will be a good addition to my slide collection. According to letters I received today, you should be getting some notes, cards, and flowers to help keep up your courage and your gain in health. I hope the time will go zip - zip - zip with you this week. And remember, I am with you every moment, if you can always imagine it. With much love, Your Pop, DK.”
The following day he wrote, “Another day, and a good one! It was bright and sunny here. I have now gone over and written brief notes about the condition of over 160 art works in the Murdock Collection. With more to do tomorrow. I have color photographs of over 30 pictures, in duplicate so Elizabeth Navas can have one copy of each.”
“Last evening Gene Coombs, the lawyer for the Murdock Estate took me to a good prime-ribs-of-beef dinner at the Wichita Club, after showing me his new offices with pictures by Daumier and others that Elizabeth helped him get and frame.”
“At dinner, I met an old friend from Lincoln, Nebr., Max Miller, who is in business here (sells concrete products). His brother, Jiggs Miller, who used to be an announcer on KFAB radio, Lincoln and Omaha, also lives here, and took me to lunch today. He is one of my favorite people, and is rightly nicknamed ‘Jiggs’ as he looks just like the comic strip character. With all my love, Your Pop, DK.”
Peggy Patrick sent John a J. Villon reproduction with a short message telling him she was getting Dwight's house ready for his arrival. “The weather is spring-like here and welcoming. The tulips are up but not in bloom yet though the crocus are alive with their gay colors. Take care! Our best. Always, Peggy.”
From Dwight, “I got done at the museum about 3 p.m., so came back to the hotel to rest, and sort slides to show this evening. I am going to dinner with Elizabeth's friend, Gene Moore, the interior decorator, and then we'll go to the Turners (her sister) to show slides, with some other people invited in. I took 60 color photographs. . some are details of parts of paintings, such as the Coplys and Eakins oils. I hope they turn out well. I also conferred with three younger ladies about plans for next year. They want me to come back about a year from now to have me give a series of talks.”
“It is very warm here today, about 75. I have my plane ticket to DM for tomorrow morning and will get there at 1:17 P.M. Enclosed is a clipping from the DM paper about the flood. I hope the waters have gone down by the time I get there. With love, your Pop, DK.”
Dwight's house was on a hill, so there was no danger of flooding on his property, however, driving in Des Moines - having to cross the river from downtown, and with Fleur Drive under water and closed, getting to Casady Drive could be difficult. His April 7th note states, “The plane got in almost on time, so I got home by cab from the airport about 2 p.m. It certainly looks good! Peggy Patrick had Velma Coleman here to clean yesterday and she will come again next week.”
“It is cool and breezy but there are signs of spring. Delicate white hepaticas (wild) pushing up through old leaves near the front door and green leaves of narcissus and tulips coming up all over. I have picked some of them to bring back to you Sat. and have my plane ticket in my pocket. I have spent some time going over the accumulated mail and, though most of it is for throwing away, there are a few good letters and two checks along with bills.”
“Peggy Patrick was here for an hour, and I gave her some tea. She has been a jewel, doing things for us. I phoned Alice Emery and Florence Shane, both very anxious for news of you. I am going to phone Marie Maas, hoping she has seen you-after 6 p.m. Now I am going out to shop and mail this letter.”
“This morning, before checking out at the Wichita hotel, a long distance phone call came from Jim Hunt. . he had had a letter from Ken Haynes about you and was offering to help. I hope you begin to realize how many loving friends are rooting for you and praying for you. I'll see you Saturday P.M. With much love, Your Pop - DK.”
“Memorial Union, I.S.U. Ames. Friday, 4:30 PM April 8th. Though I am due to reach N.Y. (La Guardia Field) in about 24 hours, I'll use this as a test case, to see if the U.S. mails get it to you before I arrive.” (His letters were sent “Air Mail Special Delivery” an extravagance then.)
“I drove to Ames about noon, stopping for lunch at the hotel downtown. I spent nearly two hours looking over the photography show and judging it. Tonight at 8, after dinner with club officers, I give an informal talk and critique about the pictures. It is a good show this year, with more color prints than last year when I also judged it. Weather is cooler today, and windy but with more hints of spring, and very sunny. Floodwaters have gone down around these parts, and Fleur drive was reopened to traffic on Monday.”
“I talked to Marie Maas on the phone last night and she thought you had gained a lot, and said you were eating solid food. For that reason and others I am very anxious to see you. The plane is due in at 3:45 PM but I suppose it will be 6:30 or 7:00 before I can get to the hospital, as I want to check in at the St. George Hotel first. Let us hope my schedule continues to work out on time. With much love, Your Pop, DK.”
After about a week in New York with John, he wrote an amazing letter, April 17, from Chicago. “Having a handy table to write on, I'll start this here and mail it on arrival in Des Moines. In case this smells a bit beery, it is because I am having the one here that I missed getting in Brooklyn with lunch. This is a place a half-block from the airport building-with very dim lights so I can barely read the gags on the napkins, but some of them look clever enough that I'm sending it on for you to use to while away some time, and test your vision. Also, enclosed is the plane dinner menu-very good! (Of course I had chicken for lunch too.) It was a good flight, right on time, mostly flying above spectacular clouds, with sunset light on tops of thunderheads. I took some color photos that should be good.”
“It was a strange and wonderful coincidence having Al Kalenberg and his friend come along just as I was negotiating the turnstile at the St. George subway, so they helped me down with my two bags. He said he was coming to see you and would also call at times during the next few weeks.”
“The last eight days have been one of the best times of my life, since the wonderful days in June 1926 in Paris, when you were conceived. I hope these were good times for you too (both of them) - or at least memorable. I will doubtless hear you calling for me sometimes in the night; and will reach out my hand and hope you can feel my touch from afar. With much love, Your Pop. DK. Keep your courage up!”
None of the Kirsches, nor Kellys could bear maudlin conversation or syrupy, sentimental writing. Dwight's letters to John are tender and caring, yet have bits of humor or other touches of day-to-day activity that cut the sweetness. Perhaps that is a mid-western, or “puritan, pioneer-type” characteristic: to be there for a loved one, but not to the point of sticky-sweetness so that survival instincts are destroyed.
Somehow, Dwight mustered enough courage to keep on with his teaching schedule and offer John strength at the same time. He continued with a letter on April 19th, “I am getting ready to drive to Ames to start on the job again. It has been a precious day and a half at home. Spring is in the air though it is still in the budding stage. The Ames Faculty Women's Club came down by chartered bus yesterday - about 35 of them, and were here from 2:30 to 4:00 P.M. They seemed to have a fine time romping all over the place, inside and out, after I gave a short informal talk. They brought coffee and cookies to serve, and also a present for me - a de-luxe set of small garden tools, stainless steel with teakwood handles, and in a Tennessee Mountain basket. I have done a bit of scratching around outdoors, very satisfying; and gathered branches & wild flowers for 4 arrangements. Also I used special healing-tree paint on some flowering crabs, where the rabbits chewed off the bark at the end of our long winter. Maybe I should save some to use on you!!! Everyone asked anxiously about your state of health so I can assure you that you have plenty of Iowa mothers. I have been re-working income-tax figures until I am blue in the face, but it certainly paid to see that C.P.A. in Brooklyn @ $10.00. It looks now as if I'd have over $500 credit to apply on 1960 tax. I have the figures all ready to copy in Ames and mail in one day late. I should have had you write me an excuse - but anyhow I'll make the most of an attached note telling of your critical illness.”
“The outdoors is so wonderful now, I hope to spend a lot of time enjoying it, and only wish I could be home longer but will be back Sat. P.M. to Tues. A.M. I wish I could bottle some of this good spring air and smells and bird-noises up and send them to you. I am having spring salads with bits of fresh dandelion leaves, tarragon, chives, sage & mint, with the lettuce. I have rounded up a batch of paperback books to send you from Ames, as well as the other pair of glasses. Take Keer o' yer' self & enjoy the leisure while you can. With much love, as always, Your POP. DK.”
The Ames job as artist-in-residence was a godsend to Dwight, income-wise, and for distraction from concern about John. It was hard for him to drive back and forth, to leave his beautiful home and garden; doubly hard without Truby to welcome him back after each trip. From Ames he wrote, “I have been busy, in a leisurely sort of way, since I got here Tuesday P.M. Yesterday it was mostly deskwork, so I finished the income tax papers. Then I came to the ‘Art Shed’ to round up supplies and to practice painting in watercolor for a program I gave last evening. It was a demonstration of watercolor and sumi, for an honorary fraternity of Architecture & Landscape architecture students & faculty members - about 30 of them were present. We met for an informal banquet at a good eating place west of town, called ‘The Broiler’ and we had charcoal broiled steaks, baked potatoes & other good things. I gave my program there after the dinner. It is lovely spring weather here this week. This afternoon I am having the first studio workshop group meet at the Art Shed. I intend to start them doing landscapes and spring flowers (so I can do some of them as demonstrations, too). It is wonderful to be on this well-landscaped campus in spring - and I am taking walks a good bit of the time when I can. I finally got some paper-back books & your glasses packed & wrapped for mailing - in 3 separate packages, so they may reach you at different times. I am going back home right after noon Saturday & will be there until Tues. A.M. Wish you were here - and I hope you are progressing each day, and singing too. With much love. Your POP – DK.”
Two days later, April 23, Dwight was back home. “The afternoon has gone by, with leisurely puttering in the yard and woods, going through the mail (see two letters enclosed) fixing and eating lunch (mostly asparagus and salad) and napping. Now I am going out to the Super-market (the new Dahl's store on Fleur Drive) and to mail this. As it has been warm spring weather a couple of days (up to 87 in Ames yesterday) the leaves and spring flowers are popping out in a hurry, including many colors of violets on the bank by the front door.”
“I got some things to plant in the Japanese garden, at Ames nursery yesterday = 2 peonies (a tree peony that is budding already - and is supposed to have salmon pink double blossoms; and a ‘fern peony’ that has fringy leaves, and dark red flowers). Also a dwarf cherry tree, supposed to stand our hard winters.”
“George Shane phoned this P.M. and said Florence has been quite sick with a “nervous stomach” and had to go to the hospital.”
“I intend to phone Marie or Margaret H. tonight to see if I can get any news from them about you. I do miss you and hope you have been all better every day. The time is going fast for me and I hope it does for you too. With lots of love. Your POP – DK.”
Dwight’s April 25th letter to John talked about yard work. “Weather like Hawaii here, and I worked outdoors in shorts & T-shirt most of yesterday and this morning. I got a few little trees & perennials transplanted, some dry leaves and grass raked, and the herb garden is cleaned up and three short rows of annuals planted (seeds) earlier then usual, for me. Now it is raining and I am about to go out to do errands, including leaving the laundry, and going to the Art Center to see Phyllis Letts.”
“Florence Shane phoned yesterday. She is feeling better, and wanted to ask about you and sends her very best. There is a chance that Felicia and Ray may stop over in New York on their way back from Belgium about May 12th-14th.”
“Ken Hartman (Younkers' decorator) also phoned, and sent their warm regards to you. I hope Marie told you about my phone call to her Saturday night. I didn't give her much news about me, as I was so busy asking about you. It sounds as if you are coming along well, and I'm interested that you have a roommate now. I hope you got the paperback books I mailed from Ames. With much love. Your POP, DK. I have been getting about 10 hours of sleep each night at home & I hope you sleep a lot too.”
Back in Ames, Dwight held “Consultation Hours.” “Two old duffers actually came in to consult me; but mostly it was an afternoon of straightening up the place and putting clean paper on the table tops, so will be ready to start work to-morrow. It has been a nice, brisk breezy sunny day, everything looking fresh after the rain.”
“I found a couple of photos to send you, while hunting for some other things, for your tape-up gallery. I also found a few more choice paperback books that I'll try to get ready for mailing tomorrow.”
“This week I expect to get some pictures mounted for the exhibition in the Union Gallery May 5th thru the 8th. This will include the best stuff produced in the Art Shed under my direction in the past year; and some of my own things done while in residence on campus. Phyllis Letts also sends her best wishes. She is going for part of her vacation to visit her rich sister in Florida starting in about a week. With love, your POP. DK. P.S. A letter from Margaret Haynes telling all about her visit to you last Friday is interesting and encouraging to me.”
Again from Ames, “I'll dash off a few lines before ambling over to the Art Shed for this evening's workshop session. It had been a busy enough time rounding up work done in the Art Shed for a big show we have to put up next week. Also there are lots of individual criticisms to give on work that amateurs are bringing in. Yesterday, 3 P.M. I showed slides of the Murdock Collection to a small advanced group in an Aesthetics Course, taught by one of my ‘fans,’ Jim Hartman. I gave a running commentary on art values vs monetary values of art on the market. Also late yesterday I had a small group for landscape sketching. It was too cold to sit outside much, so we took a nature walk with frequent stops and did quick pencil sketches of trees to take inside and do in watercolor from memory.”
“Three ladies here from Cherokee, Iowa (friends of Frank and Glea) who were in my classes last May, are here attending a two-day intensive course in landscape planning. There is always something interesting of that kind going on here at Ames. Another week is buzzing by for me - and I'll be driving home Saturday noon for the weekend. I wish you well and better every day!! With love, Your POP. DK.”
Back again in Des Moines Dwight wrote, “..the afternoon has passed rapidly, looking over mail that came; gathering some fresh flowers for arrangements in the house; and herbs for a salad with my late lunch. It is cold but clear, after yesterday's rain, so the indoors (and furnace heat) seems good. In the mail a lovely card (with bamboo ink drawing reproduced) from Florence Byerly, who had evidently been in Cleveland. I enclose it for your ‘gallery.’”
“Also, late P.M. a telegram delivered here says that Gifford K. (my oldest brother and your uncle) just died this morning - details to follow by letter. I am sad and sorry, though in many ways he has been the same as dead (or ‘un-dead’) to me since the summer of 1937 when we saw him in Sheridan, Wyo. (In the mental hospital.)”
“Peggy Patrick is having me do a sumi-brush drawing for the cover of the Des Moines Community Playhouse production of ‘Teahouse of the August Moon’ so I have to bat out a sketch tomorrow, as well as matting a few pictures for the show at Ames.”
“I am going back Monday about 11 A.M. in order to get the show hung at Ames. People there have been helping with mounting and matting, like beavers, and the stuff done looks pretty good.” (He did not use a fancy mat-cutter, just a mat knife, and sometimes a single-edge razor blade.) Gifford's daughter, Mary, wrote me later, that when her father died, they didn't hear a word from Dwight. I am not surprised, for he was too caught up in John's illness to be able to cope with more misfortune. This follows his continuing pattern of “ignoring a problem and it will go away.”
In his May 2nd letter from Ames he wrote, “I got to the campus before noon today. After lunch we worked on getting pictures arranged and hung in the Union Gallery. Had 8 or 10 willing helpers most of the time. So we got everything up on the walls and it looks fresh and sparkly. One section has some of the best things I have done on the campus.”
“But most of it is by students, faculty members, faculty wives and townspeople who have been working with me at the Art Shed the past year. I think there has been some real progress, and there is great variety in the work. Last evening I phoned Marie Maas again and she reports you have made further progress. This afternoon a wire from your hospital came, about doing more work (surgery) on your left arm. I do hope everything comes out well, and only wish I could be there to hold your hand. However it won't be so very long now until I will be on the way. I hope to get plane reservations to come in on the night of Tues. May 10th. With much love, your POP. DK.”
Peggy Patrick said the top portions of John's arm were completely disconnected and broken. His elbow was also damaged.
Two days later from Ames, he wrote to John, “The crab-apple blossoms are coming out on Casady Drive. . I got 8 more kinds of seeds planted in short rows, herbs, salad greens, and flowers. So if it rains, as they say in the paper, maybe the stuff will come up and be nice this summer. I drove back to the campus this P.M. and had some people to see at the Art Shed. I have some interesting items to enclose - letters & photo from JoAnn & Kelly Alexander (sent first to Brooklyn and forwarded to Des Moines) (Kelly was 10 years old, then) and the new D.M.A.C. bulletin. Be sure to read ‘the fine print’ I have marked. I have your check for the 2 pictures ($225.00) and will bring it along for you to see, and endorse, and will start a new nest egg for you. I have a plane reservation for next Tuesday, May 10. They have changed plane times. . so it won't be long now. I felt as if I made contact with you last night in some good dreams. With much love. Your POP, DK.”
The following day, Dwight wrote another letter to John, “This is ‘Boy's Day’ in Japan, and I have a fish-kite flying for you in the Art Shed here as someone reminded me, who saw it this afternoon. I'm still busy putting up student work and mine, for people to see when they visit all over the campus the next few days. This annual celebration is called ‘VEISHEA’ and there will be a big parade of floats Saturday A.M. It rained in hard downpours today so everyone is getting anxious about the weather for the parade.”
“Some waggish students put a package of soap flakes into the fountain just in front of the Union Bldg., a great improvement, the 4 crouching Indian Maidens by Chris Petersen are very dull. Now they look as if they are blowing bubbles.”
“This may remind you of Aunt Ethel - with all the clippings, but there isn't much news otherwise - except that I am counting the days until I get to see you; and hope you are working hard at getting well. With much love, your POP. DK. Now to put the feedbag on at the cafeteria & then to the Art Shed for an evening session. I got a good check today for my work here up thru last Saturday.”
And, on May 7, Saturday 1960, he wrote, “Your clipping bureau reporting again – with enclosures. After a Thurs. night of cloudburst and hail storm, and cold, windy rain all day yesterday, it has become cloudy, brisk with enough sun to make the parade this A.M. an exciting bit of impressionism. I photographed some of it, and the campus, before the parade started, so maybe can show you some color slides. But I found the best and most comfortable point for viewing was in my 4th floor room on the side facing ‘Union Ave’ where the parade came by. It is a spectacle of fresh joyous youth I wish you could see, with dozens of high school bands, each with baton-twirlers and fancy leg-work, plus the floats on the general theme of ‘fairy tales & fiction’ with many Disneyish subjects such as the tortoise & and hare, the big bad wolf & the 3 little pigs, but also Robinson Crusoe, Jonah & the whale, etc.”
“Now I have an afternoon program to give at the exhibit of work done under my direction. Then home again for Sunday & 2 nights. I have to drive back Mon. late A.M. to take down exhibits and pick up some of my stuff to take home. Then by plane to N.Y. Tues. P.M. so it won't be many days now until I see you.”
The following letter was Dwight's last to John before flying to New York to bring him back to Des Moines to recuperate at Methodist Hospital. “May 9, 1960. Yesterday P.M. I got back home about 6:00. So there was still good light and time to browse the outdoors. . & continued today with some clean-up work, scratching out dead grass & leaves and pulling weeds. There was apparently little or no hail damage here last Thursday night as no damage to leaves or flowers is apparent.”
“2 fat bunnies were cavorting this morning & started approaching the herb garden, so I went out & tried to scare them away (like the old farmer who chased Peter Rabbit), but they didn't scare much, so I stopped and talked to them friendly like.”
“The wild crab apple buds and blooms are pink and ‘purty’ now, and in fact the whole thing in nature today is sheer joy. This P.M. Jean Trabold came out to see me briefly. You will remember her as the tall dark girl with very deep voice (bass, almost) who was an art major at Nebraska the last year or two we were there. She is from Omaha, and worked there some after graduation, then taught 2 years at Kenosha, Wisc., where Kady (Faulkner) is - and now teaches art in the Art Museum School at Ft. Wayne, Ind. She is in Des Moines for a personal interview, applying for a job in Drake University's Art Dept. She knows Betty, of course and so is eager to come here and I hope it works out.”
“Margaret Haynes phoned this P.M. Though she has not been to see you last week (because Ken has been laid up from a fall) she had talked to Marie and reported on you - which did me good.”
“This is Mothers Day, regardless of commercial build-up, it is one of our better institutions. I have thought a lot of Truby and of you today, and feel strongly that she is watching over you today and until I can get there to be with you again. As it will only be two days from now that I'll be getting in, this will probably be the last letter I'll send you this time. I'll bring along some little things, including some fresh blossoms and maybe some herbs. Until then, with much love, Your POP. DK.”
Peggy Patrick was contacted by Dwight when John was close to being released from the Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, and she arranged for an ambulance to pick him up from the plane and transport him to Methodist Hospital. He was never to return to New York!
John sent me a precious small, line drawing he did on a scrap of paper for my birthday, signed “J.K. May 15 1960.” A note at the bottom written by Dwight states, “A sprig of myrtle in bloom that I brought from home.” I think that was one of most welcome presents I ever received. About a week later, he had Dwight sent me, “Another drawing from the Kirsch Kings County Studio, Brooklyn.” Inside the folded paper, he had drawn a rough, wobbly-line caricature of Dwight smoking a pipe and holding a brush, titled: “DK By J. Kirsch. May 22nd 1960. With love from John.”
John started a note on the back with “Dear JoAnn:” and was completed by Dwight. “We are heading home by jet plane from here to Chicago Thursday AM May 26th. John will be in Iowa Methodist Hospital, Des Moines. C/0 Dr. John Kelley. Thanks for your last letter. DK.”
My parents drove to Des Moines that July. My mother wrote me from there: “John looks good, weighs about 120 lbs. and is on a high protein diet. His arm is out of the cast but in a sling as it needs therapy for circulation. It is swollen some & stiff. It was terrible when they removed the cast, & it has been off only two weeks. He was delighted to see us! Florence Byerly of Better Homes & Garden dropped in as we were cooking dinner (we brought trout & Dwight said they had just mentioned they wished we would). She is a world traveler, home decorator for B-H., and a noted photographer. Anyway she stayed for dinner & invited us on a tour of B.H. printing plant and for lunch at the home office. We watched the Aug. issue being printed & you will find her by-line in color. The Meridith Publishing Co. has quite a plant. Of course Dad was in his glory.”
“I wish you could see Dwight's Japanese garden! (She was an accomplished gardener in her own right.) He was glad to get the rocks but you can't imagine the beautiful rocks he has from Vermont to Calif. I met a famous B.H. flower arranger and judge, who came over to speak to Dwight. He is giving us a tour of his place. It has some poison ivy in the wooded area. He has many Japanese dishes, vases, pots & I find quite a few books & magazines on Japan, gardening and even the language. Love, Mom.”
Huge surprise! John wrote me, “Dear JoAnn: Auntie Bernice just got through twisting my arm (the good one) and talked me into writing you my once a year letter. (Once every two or three is more like it.) We were sure glad that your folks could make it over here. I guess Aunt Bernice told you about our busy day running ten miles through the Better Homes & Garden plant. You would have got a big kick out of the two-story press and room arrangements for photographing. Tonight we are having a color picture show of all the old sand hills pictures and the ones of you and Warren and me and Grandma's garden.
Don't you wish you could be here? I almost feel like a ‘hoom bean.’ It is so wonderful to get out in the air and drink beer again. (Papa used to smuggle me wine in the hospital but we were afraid the Methodists at Iowa Methodist Hospital wouldn't approve).”
“Dr. John Kelley turned out to be very likeable and is a good surgeon by reputation - the day after he performed bone surgery on me he came in and said he was glad to see I was still around, since I had stopped breathing under the anesthetic and turned a beautiful shade of purple. I'm sort of glad that he was handy with the oxygen tank. I felt fine the next day though, and wouldn't have known the difference if he hadn't mentioned it.”
“They took the cast off last week - and I guess I won't need any more surgery, hallelujah. I was lucky that the bad arm didn't come out shorter then the other one, although the humerus (if you remember your anatomy) has sort of a beautiful S curve in it and sort of a lump above the elbow. I have the nicest gal for a physical therapist. She turns on this radiant smile and says ‘this doesn't really hurt now, does it?’ while she practically dislocates my shoulder. I guess it will take about six months of hot water whirlpool baths and therapy before it will be in working condition again. Well, enough on the subject of ‘my operation.’ I sure appreciated all your nice letters while I was in the hospital. Tell Kelly I got a kick out of his note, too. We wondered if we could talk you into coming back to Atkinson the end of August to see the sandhills and soak up some rest. I sure would like to see you this summer.”
“My best to Fred and the kids. I hope we get to see you sometime soon. Love, John.”
Dwight drove John to Atkinson in late summer to see the sandhills. He had an extra good look at them that trip because his car log reads he was stuck twice on Charley Peterson's ranch south of town. I am sure my mother was in heaven cooking all sorts of wonderful food for them. She loved baking rolls, cinnamon and parker house, apple pies, cookies, etc., and that time of year the garden tomatoes, sweet corn and other fresh vegetables and fruits were in their prime. The trout my dad and Warren caught out of the cold sandhills ponds had an unsurpassable flavor, and were also a treat for the two guests.
From Atkinson, they drove out to Colorado to Jo Waddell's cabin, to Cheyenne to see us, and then back to Iowa in time for Dwight to hang an architecture show in Ames, September 15th. He wrote me, “I trust you assumed we got home O.K., though you did not hear from us. We stayed overnight Fri. at North Platte. . got home about Sundown, 6:30 P.M. Sat. It was cool driving both days, but John was on the sunny side of the car Sat. and got a little warm. The mileage was about 650 mi. from Cheyenne, less than I figured at first. We came a good way, avoiding big city traffic, via Grand Island, & south Omaha Bridge, on highway 92 after leaving U.S.30. (No interstate highways, yet.) The last day of the trip was tiring to John and he has slept and slept since. However he has roused enough to get himself some meals and help in the kitchen.”
“The little trees & plants (from Colorado) seem to have come through fine and it is cool here, now too = in fact, drizzling, today. I've been busy getting the exhibit ready for Ames and will spend tomorrow there arranging & hanging it. I did take time to repack the car, do some weeding & trimming, and to do a little more with my dye-stains - including some choke-cherries here, enough for some juice, or wine (cough syrup?) or jelly. I am discovering again how much work there is in keeping up a house, and shopping for it. I've had a man here today washing windows - guess that brought on the rain. I do thank you for your hospitality and good cookin' - and hope you made out O.K. with your family houseguests who followed us. With love and our best to all the family as ever, Dwight.”
In trying to correct a depleted bank account due to the extra expenses of medical bills, plane trips to and from New York, and dealing with the cost of day-to-day living, Dwight was forced to seek more money. In addition to the Ames job he did workshops in the towns of Marshalltown, Maxwell, Ankeny, Boone, Waterloo, Griswold, Grinnell, etc., thus John was left to his own devices.
The neighbors were good company for him, and as he gradually grew stronger, he began to draw once more. He strengthened his injured arm by hanging in their stairwell on the round, steel stair railing, and he busied himself with household chores. He was a very good cook, and did a bit of gardening, loved to read, play the piano, classical guitar (from his stay in Mexico), and sing.
With Dwight away with their only car, John was confined to the neighborhood, unless he was invited by a friend to accompany them. He led a lonely life, especially during those first months back.