Tuesday, August 20 at 11a.m.
Given by Kate Schutt at a memorial service for Ellen Draper Chadwick 11/11/1945 to 8/8/2013
My name is Kate Schutt and I am Puss and Chip’s daughter and Ellen’s niece.
Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist, writer, and thinker had a famous saying. He said, “The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty YES to your adventure.”
Without hesitation, Ellen said a hearty YES to her adventure. Every adventure.
She taught us to respond with a RESOUNDING and AN ENTHUSIASTIC YES to life – ALL of life, not only its sweet, serendipitous moments, but also its bittersweet offerings.
Her yes to life was a whole-hearted search for meaning, value, and joy in every activity.
And there certainly were a lot of activities!
I’m only going to talk about a few of her passions – a scant few (there are – we all know and as have been mentioned this morning – so many more). I would like to touch on her love of cooking, her love of looking at art, and her love of spending time in Nature.
Who can forget the experience of cooking with Ellen?
Even if you were just buzzing through the kitchen while she was cooking, it was an experience! Who can forget eating one of her deliberately planned and expertly prepared meals?
Many a night was spent around the mint green, rectangular dinner table in Maine, enjoying a new Indian dish she was trying out for the first time.
What an adventure it was to watch her tackle the egg curry from the new Madhur Jaffrey cookbook! Who ever heard of an egg curry? And who would ever think of cooking it? Much less a double batch? For dinner? For twelve adults? But – let me tell you – it was a homerun!
Or how about the tomato, eggplant and yogurt dish that was, quite simply, out of this world. Do you remember how long it took to make? And how many people it took make it? Hands down, that dish remains one of the top five best meals of my life.
And then there was the infamous bag that held her crazy, esoteric collection of Indian spices – asafetida, kalonji, tamarind paste, black cardamom, Bolst’s curry power, etc, etc, etc.
We lovingly referred to this pungent cotton sack as “Traveling Kafir-a-stan” because to open it up was to step into the ancient, mythic spice markets of some fabled Middle Eastern city of yore.
From cooking, allow me move on to the adventure and wonder of looking at art with Ellen.
What about going to a museum with Ellen? What about PLANNING to go to a museum with Ellen?
No matter what city you were in, she reveled in orchestrating the day’s art adventure. In New York, it would start with a cab ride from one end of the island to the other – all the way from Lucy Smith’s apartment on the Upper East Side to Grand Street deep in the heart of Chinatown, for the sole purpose of starting the day with the legendary, the perfect vanilla bean glazed yeast donut from the famed Donut Plant.
Once sated, we’d speed back uptown to spend the morning at, say, the Whitney to see a culturally important show – the Gee’s Bend Quilts, or the Biennial.
After you’d spent ample time at the Whitney wandering and wondering, she knew exactly what was needed next – something to bolster your mind and body for the long afternoon ahead. Directly, she’d march us over to Sant Ambrose on Madison Avenue for one of her favorite espressos in the city.
Thus fortified, the afternoon might be spent seeing a drawing show at the Frick – the Frickin’ Frick as we jokingly called it. The whole marathon of a day would end with a dinner at her favorite Indian restaurant on Curry Hill where she would take charge of ordering the whole meal – iddly, puri, dosas, and rava dosas for all.
Spend the day seeing art with her was a marathon of, well, everything: concentration, intellectual stimulation, conversation. A marathon of seeing, eating, tasting, savoring, exploring, and adventuring.
And now, at the real risk waxing rhapsodic, of going on too long, I must turn to her love of Nature. She always, always said a hearty YES to the adventure of time spent out of doors.
THINK of the all the walks we took with her over the years – in Chadds Ford, in Maine, in Kentucky, in Taos, and Spring Maid, and Ventura. And in the places of her past, in Italy, in India, in South America, in Afghanistan.
She was always game. She’d don her gay apparel – in later years that unforgettable, HUMONGOUS cowboy hat, a sun shirt, maybe a pair of boots – and off she’d go. And off we’d go with her!
What a pleasure it was to walk round and round her beautiful house and field in Kentucky, admiring and discussing her trees, with her dog Ponty running ahead and lagging behind, with Bob working in one corner of the field or riding his mower, waving at us every time we came round again.
How many hikes have you taken with her in Maine? Years and years of climbing the alluring, piney paths of the mountains of Acadia or, on a lobster picnic, hopping from rock to rock on the pink granite ledges of the outlying islands of Mt. Desert.
In the last ten years or so, I’d taken to memorizing poetry and Ellen and I would while away the walks by swapping our favorite stanzas, testing our memory, delighting ourselves, laughing at ourselves. She’d return again and again, on walk after walk, to Shelley’s “Ozymandias” – a poem she memorized at Foxcroft and could still recite. She’d begin: “I met a traveller from an antique land / Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone / Stand in the desert.’”
For my part, I would work on one of my long poems. One she loved and often asked for, once I had it down, was Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan.” The experience of wonder and mystery that this strange and visionary poem inspired in her, in both of us, was the thing of it, the reason to learn it, to recite it, to share it: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree [continue to recite the poem until the line “and there were forests ancient as the hills enfolding sunny spots of greenery].”
I wish I could continue on, she’d have wanted me to. But now is not the time. On our next walk together, I will recite it for you, for her, for my own heart.
Every outdoor adventure with Ellen was a time of wonder and joy, a sense of being alive and truly present.
In the depths of our suffering, she would want us to be present to, to chase after this sense of wonder. She would want us to embrace the genuine and real gifts of being alive.
What I mean is, in this dark moment, she would want us to get the feeling of, the experience of BEING ALIVE.
She would remind us to look for and grab onto with both hands, what Joseph Campbell calls, “the rapture of living.”
All the experiences I mentioned above and all the memories and moments with her that my words conjure for you are examples of that wonderful quality she had of tapping into the EXPERIENCE of being alive.
She knew what the genuine and real gifts of being alive where: laughter, art, companionship, correspondence, song, nature, family, travel, poetry, friendship, exploration, and curiosity.
Indeed, she was a seeker, an observer; she was ever-curious, ever a student of life; she was an adventurer.
She was our first and best adventurer – as my Mother and many others here today have reminded us. Her adventuring and her zest for life was mythic.
Over the last week, I have tried to describe Ellen to many of my close friends who weren’t lucky enough to meet her. Over and over again, I found myself saying this phrase: “She was my mythic aunt.”
What do I mean by this? I don’t even know. The phrase just came out one day and it seemed right. I guess I mean that her life was the stuff of myth.
What is myth? What do I mean? What am I trying to get at?
My quick and dirty answer: myth is the story or stories that give us a sense of experiencing the awesome wonder of the world, the fascinating mystery of being alive. A myth is a series of events that cause you to wonder and to stand in awe of something – that something can be sublime, it can be baffling or beautiful, monstrous or miraculous.
Ellen’s life was full of wonder and we are full of wonder at her life.
We are in awe of her, in awe of Bob, in awe of the life she created for herself, in wonder at every mythic adventure she went on and told us about, and every lucky adventure with her we gamely signed-up for, every twist and turn in the road of her life.
She will be sorely missed. Sorely missed.
A mentor of mine imparted this bit of wisdom to me. He said, “The world will look a lot smaller now that she is gone. And it will look a lot smaller for quite a while. Quite a while. But one day, when you least expect it, it will suddenly, miraculously, look big again.”
To me, to all of us here, the world looks pretty small right now. Without Ellen, life looks dark, empty.
But here we are, hunched together on this dark plain. Here we are at the start of a new adventure.
It is – no doubt – a bittersweet adventure, an adventure without our mythic aunt, without our soul mate, without our sister, without our dear friend.
We have no choice but to say a hearty YES to this adventure.
We must embrace the mystery and wonder of being alive.
It is what she would do.
She’s listening for that resounding YES.
From each of us.
I just know it.