An amazing woman died recently, died quietly in the early morning hours of November 19th in New York City. She had been so many things in her life: radio producer and writer for the early FM radio show Children's Circle, editor for textbook companies like McGraw-Hill and Macmillan, associate editor of the journal Curator published by the American Museum of Natural History, just to name a few of her accomplishments. She had been a single mother and breadwinner decades before this became even remotely acceptable. She was the very model of a hardworking professional, attacking each job with determination and commitment to excellence, but at the same time remaining a warm and generous person, perpetually compassionate to those who had the good fortune to cross her path. Physically, Nancy Creshkoff was striking to look at: she wore bold colors, knotted scarves and dramatic jewelry, she had a mane of hair pushed back from her forehead, she had a style all her own.
I'm partial, of course: she was my mother.
An extremely busy mother who still involved herself in the lives of her children: Mary, John, Maggie and Rebekah, and was supportive of my father, Larry, throughout hard times as well as good during their 54 years of marriage. She took the time to make extraordinary birthday parties for her children; parties that school friends (now more than middle-aged) remember to this day; a mother who truly listened to what was being said and understood what was not being said; a mother who became my partner in clay more than 25 years ago, supporting and encouraging me in a quixotic endeavor even though she never really enjoyed the muddy stuff herself.
She had been ill so long, her body failing to the degree that each day she seemed to lose more autonomy, more control. Isn't this what we all fear in the end, this helplessness? At the end Nancy Hartshorne Freeman Creshkoff faced those extreme limitations with remarkable grace and dignity, exhibiting the same grit and courage she had shown throughout her entire life. And so I ask you all to remember my mother; a truly remarkable woman. Please hold her in your thoughts for a moment, and grant her a small measure of the immortality she deserves.
first published in Cecil Soil Magazine, January 2008
Lawrence Creshkoff: 1924-2009
He left us far too soon.
Oh, I know that 84 years is a long life; longer than many, and it was far better than most.
And I suppose that is right and natural that a child should bury the parent, should see the life that gave life draw down to nothing, become an absence where always before there had been presence.
So let me start again.
Lawrence Creshkoff was a big man with a barrel chest; just over 6 feet, not quite 200 lbs and with a tan that he made sure went all over. He was an eloquent man in the debate club, on stage and at the dinner table; he spoke five languages, told agonizingly elaborate jokes and sang libretti from Gilbert and Sullivan.
He came from a poor neighborhood in Philadelphia, and made his way through Harvard with a wartime stint in the Navy. He married my mother Nancy, took on raising her two children, Mary and John, and soon had my sister Rebekah and me to support as well. By the mid-1960’s he had put his own dreams of a career in radio and television on permanent hold so he could be a responsible man, husband and father.
I marvel at this photograph taken during their first year of marriage, when Larry was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to work in France, at this young father feeding the London pigeons: handsome, relaxed and with a wide, easy smile. I never knew that man. I wish I had.
As a child, my father was in charge of the bedside rituals. We recited an eclectic mix of songs, prayers and poetry; following the Lord’s Prayer with parts of the Declaration of Independence, for so many years that I thought it was one of books of the Old Testament. And then he went to Rebekah’s bedroom and did it all again. As I grew older he taught me to swim, to play piano, and to drive a car, the last causing him by turns to grind his teeth and laugh hysterically as we spun around the empty parking lot.
I thought I knew all about Larry, but I was very wrong. You learn so much afterwards about someone you thought you knew by heart. People give back little pieces of them, strangers tell stories, and memories come to the surface to make you smile and shake your head.
Our family found that out in 1999 when we celebrated his birthday with Project 75, a compilation of nearly 100 pages (as well as two annotated appendices) of pictures, stories, legends and myths about my dad. With donations from over 50 friends and family members it became an archive of Creshkoviana, a treasure trove of sometimes-ribald reminiscences and faded photographs, and it was a gratifying way in which to discover his many kindnesses to strangers.
Project 75 was one of the last really good parties I can remember at my parent’s home, a casual, elegant space in the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My mother was losing her sight and growing frailer each day; my father would devote himself to caring for her until she died in late 2007.
Late last summer, I asked him how he was. “Lonely,” was his response. This was before we knew of his diagnosis, before the cancer stole color from his face and stripped flesh from his bones. Chemotherapy was useless against the disease and soon he could no longer stand or walk, reduced within weeks to a state of helplessness he had not experienced since infancy.
Larry was jocular with his neighbors, telling one “I’ve just had my medicine, so please don’t mind if I drift off…it’s not that I don’t find you endlessly fascinating!” He was stoic in front of his children, protecting us from his own anguish. Time in a sickroom goes so fast even as it seems to crawl; how can you wish for more time if more time surely means more pain for the one you love?
But I miss him very much.
first published in Cecil Soil Magazine, July 2009. For more pictures included in this article, please go to page 50 after getting to the Contents page at http://www.bluetoad.com/publication/?m=2899&l=1
This is what I heard:
That you had been wandering the streets of your college town And were hit by a car. Your neighbor went to the hospital to see you. You didn't know her. Back in your room she found strange messages and half-eaten food. She sent you home.
This is what I remember:
You, sitting at the table. Smiling, nodding, laughing --- not to anyone present but to the company you kept inside you. My father would talk, plead, scream at you insist that you join us. You would swim up, out of wherever you were, from whichever past it was that held you, to speak to us in our foreign tongue.
This is what I read:
That a hundred years ago, doctors observed that a high fever calmed the lunatics. So doctors induced fevers and infected madmen with cholera
It kept them quiet
It was later discovered that seizures worked as well, and so they injected insulin Sometimes the patients would shake so hard their spines would snap. And so electric current shot through the brain was seen as a major therapeutic advance. The tranquility came from amnesia the amnesia included the treatment. So the doctors said.
This is what I know:
You were different. You smiled only when you thought we couldn't see you. you left the house, you moved to the city. You would not speak to us.
I thought I saw you once, in a darkened movie theater. You (if it was you) sat five rows ahead. You nodded and laughed at different places than I did. The actors in the film seemed more real to me than you did. And that was twenty years ago.
This is what I think:
You must have been happy, once. I have a photograph where you are holding our youngest sister. I stand beside you, with flowers in my hand. The sky is clear. My father lifts the camera.
There is such beauty all around us...