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Friday, July 1, 2016

Gray Matter: Interesting new acquaintances

Monday, April 9, 2007

Here are two more stories of fascinating people I met at Charter House, the Mayo-connected special care facility.  I hope you enjoy them.

The first concerns a Jewish lady, a retired attorney from New York City. She told us that New York University  was the first to admit women in their Law School.  Ivy League institutions and others did so later.  She applied, and was the only female admitted to NYU's very first such class.  Her stories of how  she was treated in the "males-only" establishment and how she managed to succeed, were incredible.  She also regaled us with tales of growing up in Manhattan and of her impressions of the rest of the U.S, of which she'd seen very little until much later in life.  Ellie Kurz was an amazing woman whom I will never forget.

Equally fascinating was Jean, tall and robust, who suffered from painful knee repair, necessitated by another hospital's foul-up.  She spoke with an absolutely charming Scottish accent.  I once told her that I couldn't always understand what she said, but I loved hearing her say it.  She laughingly assured me that was the story of her life !

She spoke of traveling widely in the U. S. but I couldn't figure out what she did.  I speculated that she might be a university instructor who had taught at various institutions around the country.  When asked where her home was, she had said, " I guess I should say Scotland, because that is the only place where I own property."  Finally, one morning when she and I were alone at the  table, I made some further inquiries and she told me her last name was Redpath.  A light went on ! Jean Redpath, the charming Scottish singer, often heard on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, alive and in person, was sitting there beside me. I was overwhelmed!

She travels the world with her own  presentation of unique Scottish lore and humor combined with those gorgeous songs.  When I recovered from my surprise, I asked when we might be hearing her again.  She replied that she had recently seen Keillor and he'd asked when she was coming back to sing with them. She'd answered, "Whenever you ask me."  As she had heard nothing further, she suggested I write and ask when he was going to have Jean Redpath once more. That I plan to do!  

From Rochester she left for Champaign, IL where caring friends were to help her recuperate for a time.  Then she hoped to go home to Scotland for additional rest.   Her house there is on a little spit of land projecting out into the North Sea from a small fishing village.  She described it as, "No place to be in the winter when sand and salt freeze over everything, windows included, because there's just  the sea wall  between my house and the water. But in summer it's true paradise, and I want to be there; to do nothing for days on end but watch the tides come in and let the tides go out!"

Unhappily, we never got to hear her sing.  As professionals often will, she refused to perform when not at her best.  "The voice is like any other muscle, without practice, it gets out of shape. Others might think it was OK, but I'd know it wasn't," she insisted, much to our disappointment.

One final delightful story -- Jean told us that when she goes home she always visits an elderly family friend, a contemporary of her deceased parents. He inevitably asks what she is doing now.  Each time, he admonishes her to "quit singing and get a real job."  As she pointed out, making a living singing is hard for most people to understand.  

I am so glad I was privileged to meet this charming Scottish woman who does just that!