I first met Trudy when the crocuses were in bloom. They were white, illuminated by the sun, scattered across her front lawn. As I stood staring she opened the door and said, “They look like candles!”
As I struggled to begin this project I thought of her. We live one block apart, so on my first day I pushed myself out the door and rang her bell. I explained that I was trying to make portraits of the people who live here, and she said, “I am an artist. Come in.”
Her East Side home was bright, spacious, full of flowers – jewel-toned tulips that she’d grown in her garden. We sat and talked about the yearning one feels to create, the business of art, and the pain of seeking recognition. She took me upstairs and showed me her studio, opening drawers of paintings thick with color, portraying flowers like the ones downstairs. “I just can’t let them die,” she said.
As I think about this project of portraits and words, I wonder: What is essential to say about a person? What is the critical piece that might illuminate who she is? While I was with Trudy, our conversation deepened as she spoke of her life in Germany before emigrating to the United States, the tragedy of living through the war, the anguish she feels about the world at large: “What if we could see all the men killed in Iraq, lined up here on Lorimer Avenue?”
Before I left she hugged me goodbye, and the powdery smell of her perfume remained with me for the day. The next week she called to tell me about a photographer she’d read about who reminded her of me. When I brought her her portrait, she considered it, then said, “You have portrayed me just as I am … And you have made a friend of me.”