Artsy Isabel & Crazy Renee…

We were just getting used to living in a big city. It was vastly different than the charming town of Spencer, Iowa, population about 10,000. Have to admit though, we all liked it. Miles wise, we had zipped about 300 miles east to the opposite side of the state. Davenport sat on the Mississippi River, a large sprawling city of about 100,000 people. But closely attached (except for that massive body of water) to 3 more cities. In Iowa, Bettendorf, on the Illinois side, Moline and Rock Island. Altogether, aptly named the Quad Cities. Those Iowa-Illinois folks are clever like that.

 

From left, me, Josh, Shannon with Adam in front. Davenport, 1985…

After living in a rental for a year that was far to small for our growing family, which now boasted 5, we bought a house in an older section of Davenport, much closer to the Mississippi. The year was 1982 I believe, so Hubs was 34, I was 31, Shannon was 11, Joshua 7, and Adam 3. A large brick and stucco 2 story, located on a rather famous boulevard. Although the fame part was still on the rise. The fame of Kirkwood Blvd. deserves its own story, so that will come at another time. A couple of blocks from the junior high and elementary schools Shannon and Josh would be attending. Close to a small business section of hardware and drug stores with a Dairy Queen in the same block. Also included was a great hospital, St. Luke’s. Handy with growing kids which included 2 dare devil boys and one clutzy girl. No joke, she could trip over air.

 

The house on Kirkwood Blvd. To the right of the shrubs lived crazy Renee…

 

Initially, I was reluctant to give the kids much freedom. This was the biggest city we had ever lived in, and my hovering, mothering worry mode was in overdrive. But both neighborhoods proved to be quite safe. The crime rate wasn’t very high (except the the 2 murders I wrote about a few months ago which occurred while we lived there. And we were acquainted with both victims). Yikes. Glad that sadistic little oddity never followed us around every time we moved! Since Shannon was in junior high, she kind of sprouted wings, and was allowed to do more and go different places. Josh had a couple of neighbor playmates, and Adam was just too young to be very far from my sight yet. Our back yard was fenced, they kept busy with bikes, hot wheels, and an above ground pool.

 

Halloween on Kirkwood, 1984. Josh 9, Adam 5, Shannon 13…

 

Our next door neighbors moved to Colorado soon after we moved in. The couple who bought their house were young and had 2 small boys, Nicholas and Zachary, about Josh and Adam’s age. The marriage lasted just long enough to get their furniture arranged. It wasn’t a happy divorce. One morning, I’m talking crack of dawn, I was looking out my gorgeous, massive oak, beveled glass front door when I spotted Ken, the ex-hubby driving down Kirkwood Boulevard at a snails pace. He stopped a couple houses away in the middle of the street, and rolled down the passenger window. Ever so slowly he cruised by his former house, tossing 4 or 5 eggs at Renee’s (his ex) car. With the precision of a Jake Arrrieta no hitter, I might add. Truth be told, they were both nuts. To this day, I am sorry we didn’t adopt and raise their 2 boys. Honest, it would be a miracle if they both grew up to be decent, normal adults. They had SO much going against them.

 

Christmas on Kirkwood, Shannon, Josh and Adam, 1983…

 

After their uncivil divorce, Renee needed money, but paying a sitter, would barely bring home 2 nickels, so she decided to stay home and open a day care. Within weeks she was caring for way more kids that was allowed by the state. This didn’t stop her. She hired 13 year old Shannon to help everyday. Shannon was making big bucks. Nike and Calvin Klein were just becoming popular in the fashion world. With one income and 3 kids I could afford neither brand, but Shannon could. I was envious of her wardrobe. Sad. She worked very hard for her money, taking much better care of the kids than Renee. When Shannon started relaying what was going on in the house next door as she worked, my disbelief and concern grew. To keep parents duped, Renee started hiding kids. She knew which parents would be arriving to pick up their kid. Renee would have Shannon take a half dozen or more kids down the basement while Renee gathered up the belongings of those upstairs, and would send one after another home with their parents. That wasn’t the last straw though. Two things happened that I could no longer live with. Shannon babysat on the weekends for Renee. Party time for the new divorcee. Shannon would watch Nick and Zach and 2 or 3 kids whose parents worked weekends. While Renee was partying hard, Shannon was stuck in a house with several small children. And no food. She’d come over and get our leftovers or a couple of boxes of Mac and cheese. And milk, there was never and milk in their house. Such a pitiful shame. I still feel so bad that I didn’t do something months earlier.

 

Me, Shannon, Josh, John and Adam on Kirkwood, 1982…

 

There’s always 1. One little stinker who is part Houdini, part Nic Wallenda. Manages to scale the highest piece of furniture, literally climb the walls to the ceiling, or slip outside unnoticed. With far too many kids to watch, this almost 2 year old needed his own personal caregiver. That couldn’t happen because Shannon was trying to care for a dozen kids by herself. Renee was going through the motions, yakking on the phone, planning her next night out. Shannon came home and told me what Renee was doing to this little guy. I went next door, slipped upstairs, walked into one of several bedrooms housing napping children. There he was. In an old fashioned play pen. Sound asleep, but his arms were tied to the slats so he couldn’t escape. Walked out the door, back to our house and called the Iowa state department of welfare. Shannon lost her job, Renee was shut down (for the moment), all the kids shuffled out. If you can believe it, several parents stood by Renee and continued to leave their children in her care.

 

Graham 2, explaining the world of dinosaurs, 2011…

 

Without most of her income though, Renee lost the house and had to move. And I lost track of her little boys. Shannon heard after we moved to Michigan that Nick and Zach were in foster care. From that adorable family of 4 who were so excited to move into that house, to a nasty divorce, the fast decline of a seemingly normal mom into a drinking, drug using party girl, who cared nothing for her own children anymore. Beyond pitiful and sad.

 

About the time Shannon started earning big bucks at Renee’s, 1984…

 

Sorry, I got sidetracked with my ever growing list of crazy neighbors during our frequent moves over the years. Anyway, while Shannon was making boo-koo bucks before the crazy gravy train was shut down by me, Shannon was oozing money. One of her favorite places to go (and spend) was the Village of East Davenport. A few blocks of quaint shops and eateries overlooking the mighty Mississippi. Between a 5 and 10 minute bike ride from our house. She and her friends would eat at Rudy’s Tacos, then peruse the expensive shops (Shannon was the only one who could really afford to buy clothes at these places). Many times when they were in the Village, they just had to go visit Isabel Bloom’s studio.

 
Kids got me this when I retired from Central in 2013…

 

Isabel was born in 1908. She studied under Grant Wood (of American Gothic painting fame). Isabel’s talent would lie in sculptures. Starting with clay, adding concrete made from mud found under the Mississippi River. She’d sponge it off, adding color and resin. All of Isabel’s inspirations were children or animals. But simple, without much detail. I had never heard of her before we moved to the Quad-Cities. But her iconic colored indoor and outdoor sculptures were gaining popularity. If you remember from stories I’ve already told (Fred), living in this big city awarded me some of my dearest friends I’ve ever had. There were about a dozen of us. We bowled together, played double-deck Euchre, had luncheons, and secret sisters. Of these 12, I was really close to 4 of them. All of these gals, Mary Ellen (Fred) Jeanne, Betty and Pat collected Isabel Bloom sculptures. I, however did not. Though not terribly expensive, I was into collecting antique oak furniture. With fervor. But I did buy Isabel’s as gifts quite often. It wasn’t until we moved to Michigan that I discovered the errors of my ways and started a small collection of my own Isabel’s.

 

I bought Mary Ellen’s old woman mopping at the auction 3 years ago…

 

I started by buying a half dozen Isabel Christmas ornaments. Isabel had passed away in 1999, well into her 90’s and the studio had been sold. One of Isabel’s proteges, Donna Young, continued on as head designer, rarely swaying from Isabel’s vision. During one trip to Iowa, I was smitten (more like sucker-punched) when I visited the studio. (There were now about 5 Isabel Bloom stores, most in or near the Quad-Cities, plus one in Des Moines). It was a large angel, quite expensive and I had to have her.

 

My guardian angel. She’s doing a great job protecting me…

 

I was still buying sculptures as gifts, slowly teaching the state of Michigan about the iconic artist from Iowa. My friend Rosemary was so taken with Isabel, she went through the catalog before I headed to Iowa. Picked out the pieces she wanted for herself plus 20 or so gifts she instructed me to buy. On that trip I bought a lovely piece for my friend Pat, who was battling cancer along with Rosemary. The sculpture, 2 friends laughing and reminiscing. Just like Pat and I did many times before she passed away. One short month after Rosemary passed away at the young age of 47. Tough, tough losses.

 

I gave this to my friend Pat a few years before she passed away…

 

I’m not going through the whole loss of Mary Ellen. Three years have passed and it’s still pretty fresh. After she died, I contacted her family because I wanted some things to remind me how much she meant to me. The family decided they were going to have an auction. So John and I drove to Iowa in February (do not attempt this unless you learned to drive in Iowa during the winter while growing up). If they had not been claimed by family, I wanted 3 or 4 things. An antique oak chalkboard, a very old black and white depiction of a river boat on the Mississippi near Davenport. And a couple Mary Ellen’s Isabel Bloom’s, which were from the 70’s. There was no chalkboard at the auction, the pencil drawing of Davwnport was 3 or 4 hours away from being auctioned, and the weather conditions were deteriorating. But the Isabel Bloom’s were on an old flatbed near the auctioneer.

 

This piece was Mary Ellen’s for 35 years…

 

I was too scared and nervous to bid. Told Hubs, no matter the cost, I must have 3 of them. (I wanted a half dozen). Rest assured, I got all 3. The Isabel’s that sat in Mary Ellen’s house for decades, now proudly and prominently displayed in my house. For decades, I hope. I believe Mary Ellen liked Hilda the best. Massive and unbelievably heavy, a girl feeding the birds. But I like the little boy best. On his knees, wearing a winter coat, hat and scarf, he’s busy making snow balls. Don’t know what his real name is, but I call him Freddy, my nickname for Mary Ellen since 1982. The other piece is small, I believe it was either Mary Ellen’s mom’s or her aunts. An old woman, mopping her floors on hands and knees. Always sat behind Fred’s small kitchen TV where we watched the Cubs together. And it kind of reminds me of my Mom. She always did her floors on hands and knees.

 

My favorite piece which belonged to Mary Ellen, aka Fred…

 

I haven’t kept up with the latest Isabel creations. I always stop at one of the stores when I zip through Iowa. Usually pick up a couple of catalogs to look at and share. Shannon, as you can imagine has several statues and vases. This happened about 4 years ago. Our youngest grandson Graham now 6, was 2-1/2. Give me a bible, as God is my witness, Graham was the most amazing toddler. He knew every species of dinosaur that roamed the earth, and could say each name correctly. What they ate, how big their babies were, carnivore or plant eater. He knew it all. At age 2-1/2.

 

Rosemary loved to feed the birds and bought this piece. Her brother gave it to me after she passed away in 2010…

 

I was walking through Isabel Bloom in Northpark Mall in Davenport. I stopped suddenly, the air went out of my lungs, and I just stared. On the floor was a new Isabel. A small boy, sitting cross legged, looking at a page of a book with dinosaurs. Underneath his right arm was a purple dinosaur (Stegosaurus). In his left arm was a green dinosaur (Brachiosaurus. Thanks for spelling them Graham) leaning against the boy’s (who am I trying to kid? It’s Graham as sure as if they used him as the original model) tummy. Like a fool, I started to cry. For heaven’s sake, this was my grandson. I didn’t lose my cool though. I drove to a couple of the closest Isabel stores to get the perfect ‘Graham’ sculpture I liked the best. Most of Isabel’s pieces are green with a whitewash. Some are moss colored, others might have painted colored highlights. Like a black and gold scarf on a snowman for an Iowa Hawkeye fan. The finish I prefer is called Weathered Bronze. Underneath the green/whitewash is a faint but very noticeable bronze, sporadic coloring. I had to have Graham with just the right amount of weathered bronze, cause I’m fussy like that when spending big bucks.

 

This will always be ‘Graham’ to this gram…

 

Graham is kinda obsessed with all my collections. Some time ago, he asked me what makes a collection? Not really sure how to answer, I said any collection should have 10 to 12 pieces to get the distinction of a collection. Since he accepts this as gospel truth, he now runs around the house, counting my Lladro’s, Isabels’s, Blue Delft and Waterford. Making sure I have enough before he declares it an un-collection. Pluto, I feel your pain.

 

This matching princess (Peyton) was introduced a couple years after Graham’s statue…

 

Maybe a month after I got back from the Iowa trip with the little doppelgänger of G, he and Adam came to Muskegon for a couple days. Sarah was in school to become an RN and couldn’t miss during the week. Adam had days off during the week because he worked every weekend. Graham, always quick to spot any changes we might have made since his last visit, immediately noticed the new sculpture in the living room. He plopped down, legs crossed in front of it. Turned to me and asked, “what’s this, grandma?” “Hmmm,” I ventured, “what do you think it is Graham? What does it look like to you”? Shyly he looked up at me and said quietly, “that’s me!” …

 

Isabel Bloom, still working into her 80’s…

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Artsy Isabel & Crazy Renee…

  1. Wow! From calling the Iowa State Dept. of Welfare…to shutting down Renee… wondering about her boys whereabouts … to Adam recognizing himself as the model for that beautiful statue. Wonder if Jake Arrieta had such a subtle Change-of-Pace ? ⚾️

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s