Loving an Artist

Chapter 6

Before the Dunes exhibition John realized that they had never asked Archie for a consent form. He rushed to Lansing because Archie had started his freshman year at Michigan State. He happily signed the form and told John how sad he was that he couldn’t be at the exhibition. Muscle-toned Art and exquisite Bobby and two other models were able to attend. The Dune’s wood paneled walls leading from reception to the disco were adorned with thirty large romantic not erotic pictures which Richard selected and John feverishly matted in the days leading up to the exhibition.

The day before the opening Richard, C and John loaded John’s new champagne Lexus GX SUV with the photographs and drove to Saugatuck. Opening night of the exhibition was a gay social affair for Saugatuck. Local reporters and the gay press from Chicago and Detroit attended. Richard who was dressed in rakish black silk trousers and a black and gold long sleeved shirt radiantly smiled as the guests arrived. Holding a cocktail John stood to the side watching because he was exhausted.

In addition to the models Miriam was joined by one of her sons, Seth, and his partner, Max, both handsome men in their early 40’s. Seth had styled salt and pepper hair with trimmed mustache while Max was completely shaved. She, also, introduced her stepson, Jimmy who was accompanied by his teenage son. John thought the Dunes management might object because of the boy’s age but no one said anything. John spoke at length to Miriam as they sipped champagne. The guests mingled, chatted and admired Richard’s work. Each photo was priced at $100 and most sold that evening.

As they chatted Miriam and John agreed to schedule a visit to see the family pictures she mentioned earlier. With the fall at full color Richard was interested in doing some pictures around the lake with Archie and Art. Archie was in Lansing so John texted him to see if he was willing to come home for the shoot. His text response suggested Columbus Day weekend since he had an extra day out of classes. John explained that the shoot would depend on the weather. Art confirmed that the date was fine with him.

After Richard got back from a trip he and John drove to Michigan on a cloudy Friday, October 10. John was concerned that Archie would drive to Saugatuck and they couldn’t do the shoot. The forecast was for sun on Sunday and Monday. With that knowledge Richard sent a confirming text for Sunday’s shoot. Miriam invited Richard and John to stay at her house. Richard C couldn’t attend because he was busy at the gallery.

When Richard and John arrived they were surprised to be met by Seth, Miriam’s son. He greeted them with a friendly hug. He reintroduced his partner, Max, who we had met. Seth said, “I have some sad news for you. Miriam is upstairs in bed but she insisted you come for the shoot and do something else. She didn’t say what it was.”

“Is she able to have visitors?”

“Yes, she fell and bruised her hip and, thank God, she didn’t break it. She asked us to greet you. We live in Portage about forty-five minutes away.” John and Richard followed Seth upstairs where they dropped off their overnight bags in the guest room next to the room where Seth and Max were staying. At the end of the hall was a large bedroom with windows on three sides that looked into the massive oak trees that covered the property. Diminutive Miriam seemed to be swallowed up in the giant four poster bed made from dark brown wood which was in stark contrast to the downstairs décor. She warmly greeted them propped up on her pillows. She smiled,” Tomorrow, we’ll look at pictures. I assume you are going to do your shoot on Sunday or Monday. The weather is supposed to be bright and sunny.”

“That’s the plan. The shoot is only with Art and Archie.”

Max who was shorter and stockier than Seth spoke for the first time. “Any chance you could take some pictures of us?”

Richard said, “I’m sure we can. Let’s get the boys done first.”

Seth looked at his mother puzzled, “Mother, you said you are going to look at pictures. Do you mean our family pictures?”

“Yes,” Miriam said. “I told John about our pictures. He said he had an idea to discuss with us, but let Richard see the pictures first and see what he thinks.”

“So, Mother, you mean all the pictures.”

“Yes, Seth, is that OK with you?” He rumpled his forehead but didn’t say anymore as we walked down the hall away from Miriam’s bedroom.

Young boy bailing out a boat

Seth in a rowboat

Saturday morning after Seth and Max fixed breakfast they helped Miriam down the stairs in her gown and robe. She sat gingerly on a pillow at the dining room table. She directed Seth to pull a large box out of a front hall closet. He dropped it on the chair next to her. With Richard and John on one side and Seth and Max on the other she pulled out a scrap book labeled ‘1975’. We were puzzled as we looked at baby picture after baby picture. We sat quietly as she brought out album after album. Finally, she pulled out an album with ‘Special’ written prominently on the cover. The album’s contents were many pictures of her boys, herself, Ralph and later Alfred naked doing all sorts of family things. Seth said, “Mother, are you sure you want these guys to see these.”

“Seth, darling, you and your brothers are so cute.”

“You know Harry would have a fit if he knew you were showing these pictures.”

“Harry’s an old fuddy duddy. This is one of my favorites. Do you remember when your father took this picture?”

“I recognize our old row boat.”

Rear view of two nude young men sitting on a dock

Seth and Jacob

We continued to look at the pictures as the boys grew older and were developing into handsome teenagers. Richard commented that the oldest boy stopped appearing naked. Seth said that was Harry. He pointed out Jacob, his half brother, who was drop dead gorgeous. He said Jacob was killed in a motorcycle accident about five years ago. The last few pictures were of Seth and Jacob as teenagers sitting on a pier.

Seth spoke quietly, “That was my senior year. Jacob had come home from college for the weekend. That was the last time he and I were together. Alfred who took the picture was a good stepfather. He passed away shortly after Jacob was killed.”

Miriam smiled and softly said, “Broken heart.”

After a lengthy pause Richard broke the spell with, “OK, let me tell you what I’m thinking. Our friend, Richard Clarke who you know owns a gallery in Chicago, and I think the pictures that Richard has been taking all summer and fall would make an attractive coffee table book. If you agree we would juxtaposition some of your vintage pictures with Richard’s photos. We would call the book something like, ‘The Saugatuck Scrapbook.’ Your pictures were good enough and we will use them if we have your permission.”

Miriam's Son Terrence

Miriam said, “I think that would be neat. What do you think, Seth?”

“I’m fine but I’m sure Harry would never agree.”

Richard said, “There are plenty of pictures so we won’t use any picture he is in.” The discussion

continued until Miriam excused herself to return to her room for medication and rest. After lunch when the sun came out Richard and John walked around the lake scouting locations for the shoot with Art and Archie. Sunday morning was extraordinarily bright and the shoot started beautifully.

Two young men in shorts with their arms around each other

Art and Archie on the Porch

Art and Archie brought several changes of clothes. Richard took pictures near the house and in the woods surrounding the house. The shots were romantic and some of the best shots were of the two boys dressing and undressing each other. By late afternoon the light was shimmering off the water. Richard focused his camera around the dock with the boys sitting and standing; naked and clothed; kissing and fondling and smilingly romantically. Richard thanked the boys and paid each of the boys $100 before they drove off in Art’s truck.

After the boys drove off Richard came back into the house where Max and Seth were waiting. Richard acted like he had forgotten Max’s earlier request who said, “Do you want to do us now?”

Two young men kissing

Archie and Art

Acting surprised Richard smiled, “Anytime you’re ready.” And followed up with, “I suggest we first have cocktails and discuss what you want. I have lights in the car since we’d have to do the shoot inside.” Before they started the shoot the four of them trooped upstairs with drinks including a brandy old fashion for Miriam. She was alert and pleased as we sipped cocktails with her.

As we were finishing she smiled at Seth, “Can I watch the shoot?”

“Mother, we may be naked.”

“So, I’d love to see you naked. It’s been too many years.”

Max chimed in, “Seth, it won’t bother me.”

Acting exasperated Seth said, “Mother you can’t laugh.”

“Why would I laugh? You’re a handsome, sexy man.”

Seth and Max helped Miriam downstairs into the study. John set the lights up in the study where he had photographed the boys on the leather couch. The room smelled of ancient cigars. John proceeded to clip errant hairs from both Max and Seth’s heads to clean up their look. They remained fully dressed without shoes and socks until Richard said, “Seth, I want you to slowly undress Max to his underwear.” He was shooting and shooting and suddenly stopped. He went to his camera bag and pulled out a bottle of blue pills. “John, get a glass of water.” He handed Seth and Max each one of the blue pills. John handed them the glass of water.

Max said, “Viagra, why?”

Richard said, “Max, your turn to undress Seth down to his underwear.”

“He goes commando most the time,” Max said laughing.

“Just undress him.” The camera continued clicking as Max finished and Seth pulled Max’s underwear off. Richard said, “I want you to sit on the couch for some torso shots.” That progressed into full range of public fondling. As planned the men’s cocks were at full attention. Richard looked around the room and asked John to move furniture so Seth and Max could reenact the scene in the painting that made Richard famous. He had the two men walk toward each other until their dicks touched. He told them to lean into each other and passionately kiss. He had them do that three times. Each time they seemed more romantic and passionate.

Finally, Richard said, “We’re finished until tomorrow.”

Seth unashamedly said, “Please excuse us. Max and I will have some business to take care of.” They left carrying their clothes.

Miriam looking totally relaxed said, “That was beautiful. I can’t wait to see the pictures. I haven’t told them but I want to pay you to paint the last pose. I want to surprise them. They are a wonderful couple.” Richard agreed.

View of a dock on a lake

Miriam's Dock

Events after that magical night didn’t unfold as Richard and John hoped. Richard did shoot Seth and Max outside the next morning and got some great shots on a sparkling fall day. However, shortly after noon Miriam called down to Seth. He returned and told us Miriam needed to go to the emergency room. He didn’t explain why she wanted to go but got his jacket out of the closet. He carried tiny Miriam out to their car and gently attached Miriam’s seat belt. Since Richard had to fly on Wednesday the cameras and luggage were loaded into the Lexus. With cell phone numbers exchanged, and with Seth’s permission, they took the ‘Special’ album. Richard drove with John nervously chattering in the passenger seat.

When they got back to the condo John called Seth to find out what the doctors said. “John, the doctors think she has a pulmonary embolism. She may have dislodged the clot when she fell.”

“How did she know?”

“She told us driving to the hospital that she had a stabbing pain in her chest that hurt terribly when she took a breath.”

“Can the doctors do something?”

“They’re giving her massive doses of blood thinner hoping the clot doesn’t move. It will be a few days before they know anything.”

Unfortunately the following afternoon Seth called to say his mother had passed away from a major heart attack. The doctors assumed her clot had moved into her heart. Seth was calm and said he would call when the funeral arrangements were finalized.

On a glorious fall Saturday two weeks later the remembrance service took place at the Dunes in Saugatuck. The resort was an unusual place but Miriam was an unusual person. Miriam was good friends with the owner of the Dunes so Seth said he was honored to hold her service. The disco was large enough to accommodate over 200 people who showed up to pay their respects. Miriam’s sons, except Harry, attended. He was angry about the location of the funeral so he didn’t attend his own mother’s funeral.

Miriam was not religious person but she was certainly spiritual. Seth asked the minister from the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Portage to lead the service. Many people gave remembrances and testimonies of the good things Miriam did in Southwest Michigan. An urn with her ashes, a photo that Richard had casually taken on their first visit and a single yellow rose adorned a table near the lectern. At the conclusion of the service the attendees proceeded to her house where the local county sheriff’s deputies managed the traffic. Seth and his brother, Carl, and Jimmy, his half-brother, jointly carried the urn out onto the dock while the assembled watched Miriam’s ashes fly into the air and settle with the colored leaves that covered the sparkling surface of the lake. A great cheer went up from the crowd.

The crowd including Art and several of the models mingled, ate and drank to the memory of a lovely lady. Seth approached Richard, C and John who were looking out onto the tranquil lake sipping champagne. He introduced Carl, his brother who lived in California and Jimmy who drove up from Columbia, Missouri. While they were standing he said, “Guys, my brothers, including Terrence who is out of the country, and I have talked and none of us can afford to keep this house. We own it with Harry who we’re sure doesn’t want it. Do you have an interest in buying the house if he agrees? We’ve had realtors approach us but we have told them it is too early to list.”

“Have you decided on a price?”

Without directly answering the question Seth said, “We would sell it to you for $300,000 and avoid realtor fees.” John looked at Richard and C waiting for one of them to respond.

C said, “If we do agree would you guys continue to consider this your house and come visit us when you are in the area.” Heads shook affirmatively. “Give us a little time and we’ll let you know no later than tomorrow.”

With the resources that John and C had they could easily afford the price without taking a mortgage. John asked C and Richard the obvious question, “Do we want the responsibility of a house with taxes and maintenance?” Richard and John loved the house and its setting by the lake. Later with a drink in hand they sat with Seth and Max on the rustic log furniture on the massive front porch. Seth’s brothers had driven off. C spoke first, “We will buy Miriam’s house because we love it. However, you must consider it is your home as well.”

Seth said, “That would be fantastic. Max and I talked seriously about buying but it is too far from our jobs and we would have to take a big mortgage. The house is too much for me a teacher and Max, a city administrator, to undertake. We really need to be in Portage.”

Jokingly John said, “Here’s the deal. The last persons who sleeps in the king size bed which we are going to buy for Miriam’s room has to wash the sheets.”

“Max and I have never slept in a bed that big. Will we be able to find each other?” Everyone laughed.

The deal was done two weeks later with Richard taking ten percent ownership and C and John equally taking the remaining ninety percent. As the holidays approached Richard had multiple commissions to complete. C expanded the gallery so Richard had space for a portraiture studio. Richard reluctantly agreed to shoot several well known rich suburban families but was not happy having to deal with kids. His reticence didn’t show in the portraits which uniformly pleased the parents. The mayor’s office called requesting his services. C insisted that he take the commission. Richard told John that he wasn’t going to take any more families.

With Richard and C busy in Chicago John decided go to Saugatuck to decorate the house for Christmas. He ordered a twelve foot blue spruce for the living room. He brought boxes of lights and ornaments that hadn’t been used since Howard died. Howard had a rare collection of beautiful, fragile Polish ornaments plus hundreds of others. John was so happy he hadn’t thrown or given them away. John called Seth to see if he and Max wanted to come over and help him decorate. They enthusiatically agreed to come.

On the following Saturday morning the three of them set about not only decorating the house but also making Christmas cookies and peanut brittle. At lunch they planned Christmas dinner. Saturday night John insisted they sleep in the new king sized bed. Seth was insistent that John sleep with them. He enjoyed their company and they seemed totally at ease with his presence in the bed. The next morning Seth said, “I guess we don’t have to wash the sheets.” The house was ready the week before Christmas. John called Richard and encouraged him to come over as soon as he returned from his back-to-back trips. He said he would be there Saturday before Christmas. He asked, “Is it OK if I invite my sister, Jenny? She recently got a divorce so I think she will be alone at Christmas.” John was surprised since he had only heard Richard mention her once in all their time together.

By Christmas Eve the house was filled so that Seth and Max had to wait until Christmas morning to drive over. In addition to C, Richard and John there was Jenny and her new boyfriend with his two teenage sons from Bloomington, IL. The fourth bedroom was occupied by C’s mother and aunt from Evanston. The ladies took over the cooking responsibilities which pleased John. He arranged the dining table with bone china, polished silver and eleven name cards and decorations. By early afternoon the champagne was flowing. Everyone was getting along well. By mid-afternoon the snow began to fall heavily. After a delicious dinner of Beef Wellington with the appropriate trimmings no one suggested hurrying off. By 9:00 the house was quiet. The teenage boys moved into the den so Max and Seth could have their beds. A cracking fire was glowing in the fireplace as Max, Seth, C, Richard sat with John sipping brandy. John proposed a toast to Miriam. With lifted glasses there were “Here, here’s” all around. The night could not have been better as the snow hung heavily on the evergreen branches and completely covered the ground.