"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Ever the Best of Friends

Or, A Little Fortnightly in the Park With George -- and Celine!
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884 - 86)
Georges Seurat, French Post-Impressionist Painter (1859 – 91)
@ Art Institute of Chicago
Echoing Seurat's masterpiece is this related painting, which Gerry and I were lucky enough to see while we were living in Philadelphia and able to attend some Barnes exhibits:
Les Poseuses (The Models) (1888)
Seurat's Companion Painting
@ Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia

In connection with last fortnightly's post on the birthday of my kindred spirit Celine Carrigan (August 29, 1942 - April 24, 1997), here are a few stories of her endearing and enduring friendship, and some fun times that we shared while in grad school and beyond. We did our best to observe all feasts and seasons and acknowledge all holidays and festivals, through the mail if not in person. The last Valentine Celine sent, in February 1997 when she knew she was very ill, was printed with the simple verse:
Heaven knows each heart, each name
Heaven sees us as the same

and Celine had added in her own elegant handwriting:

Whether we're
happy or sad
sick or well
near or far.
One happy time we loved to recall was the day we rode the South Shore Line from South Bend to Chicago to visit the Art Institute, stand before Seurat's magnificent depiction of A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte (scroll up), and then see the Sondheim musical that was all the rage at the time, Sunday in the Park with George:

". . . staring at the water
As you're posing for a picture

After sleeping on the ferry
After getting up at seven
To come over to an island
In the middle of a river
Half an hour from the city
On a Sunday
On a Sunday in the park with...
George . . .

People strolling through the trees
Of a small suburban park

On an island in the river
On an ordinary Sunday

~ Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

We weren't using the greatest camera in those days,
but I treasure this fuzzy photographic keepsake of the day:

~ Kitti & Celine ~ Labor Day Weekend 1987 ~

The following semester, Spring 1988, Celine completed her Ph.D. and returned to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas. I was two years behind Celine, and didn't finish until August 1990. As scheduling conflicts would have it, we were unable to attend each other's ceremonies, despite having been through so much together. Instead, we celebrated over the phone and through the mail. Celine sent me two beautiful cloisonne bracelets from the Smithsonian and told me that they represented all the hoops that we had jumped through. You can see that -- like Emily Dickinson (whom she greatly admired) -- Celine was a master of the dash:
Dearest Kitti -

Am wanting today to have something very special to mark your graduation day, something which reminds me of the hoops one must jump through for the degree. I would lavish gifts on you, but most of all -- dear friend -- I send armloads of love. How I wish I could be there for you and with you! When I think of all this degree entails -- you deserve Congratulations Unending!

I'll be calling soon, and I look forward to seeing you, Gerry, and Ben whenever you come this way.

Peace, blessings, and always love, Celine

P.S. My Congratulations with a reminder that -- there are no more hoops -- only love that -- in the end -- lasts. Yours -- ever gratefully -- Celine
I had only rented, not purchased, my robe and doctoral tam o' shanter for the ceremony. Even so, I was allowed to keep the souvenir tassel at the end of day. But, alas, in all the excitement of traipsing around campus, picking things up and turning things in, I surrendered my tassel quite by accident and did not even think of it until late that night after a long drive home, as Gerry and I had already relocated from Notre Dame to Purdue -- and were the new parents of two - month - old Baby Benedict.

I called Celine the next day to share all the graduation details, including my disappointment about the forgotten tassel. We talked about the possibility of contacting someone in some office at Notre Dame and figuring out how to order a replacement, coming to the conclusion that, in time, this small crisis would sort itself out; though with tiny Ben to take care of, it might take me awhile to work through the red tape.

Celine, however, did not miss a beat. Although she didn't mention it to me on the phone that day, she had come up with a plan, even as we were speaking. She too cherished her graduation tassel but generously, and without dropping the slightest hint to me, slipped it in the mail the next day so that I would not have to be without. Imagine my surprise a few days later, finding a package from Celine in my mailbox, and inside such an unexpected and treasured memento!

That's just the kind of thing you do when you're "ever the best of friends" (our favorite phrase from Great Expectations) -- and when you are as kind - hearted as Celine. Somehow, in the end, we procured the duplicate, so we each ended up with our coveted tassels (for those who collect such things). In the grander scheme of an entire degree program, the tassel was only a small thing, yet the selflessness of Celine's gesture was huge. Reminiscing in 1993, she wrote to me:
Can you believe that it is 10 years since I began the Ph.D. at N.D.? How grateful I remain for you and your being there in those "good old days."
In Our Academic Regalia
Celine & Her Parents ~ Spring 1988 / Kitti ~ Summer 1990

October 1990
Taking Baby Benedict to visit Sister Celine
Benedictine College, Atchison, Kansas

The following year, we had another adventure at the Chicago Art Institute. We had seen each other every year or so in various locals since our departure from Notre Dame, but it had been four years since our South Shore Ride to Chicago to see Sunday in the Park, and we determined to meet once again in our favorite city.

This time, I was riding the train up from West Lafayette just for the day, and Celine was flying in from Kansas City with some colleagues to attend the M/MLA, held in Chicago in November 1991. Before her meetings began, we were going to enjoy the art museum. I arrived first and browsed the gift shop for awhile, then took a seat on a bench in the lobby. As I was opening my book to read, a receptionist approached and asked -- was I Kitti Carriker, waiting for Celine Carrigan? Remember, these were the days before cell phones or texting, but from a payphone at the airport, Celine had called the museum and asked them to convey a message, to someone of my description, that her plane was delayed. As often happens in these situations, one delay led to another; but Celine kept phoning in updates, all of which were delivered to me by the kindly folks at the front desk.

Not to worry. I knew Celine was safe and on her way. I had plenty of reading to do -- and some Christmas shopping:

At last Celine arrived, somewhat frazzled by a trip that should have been much simpler than it turned out, but ever her faithful and optimistic self. The ticket takers embraced us and said they were waiving our Art Institute admission that day, as a reward for being such loyal friends and so determined to enjoy our day together at the museum, despite gloomy weather and traffic jams. Whatever hours of quantity time we may have lost that morning, we made up for in quality time that afternoon, revisiting the Seurat, as well as Caillebotte, Cassatt, Chagall, Hopper, and O'Keeffe. Another unforgettable day in legendary Chicago.

After a cup of tea together, I scurried to catch my return train, and Celine hailed a cab to her conference hotel. Ever the best of friends.

1988 ~ "Ever the best of friends; ain't us, Pip?" ~ 1995

More Pics

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday September 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

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