My good friend, Madonna Hamilton, posted a link about the Rosenbaum House in Florence, Alabama. Talk about a throw-back! I was just going to send her a private message to tell her about my relationship with this house, but decided it was such a nice little chapter of my life that I would share it here on my blog.
I did not take this photo, I stole it from the house website http://www.WrightinAlabama.com. This post is not about my new life in Mexico, it is about my life a long time ago, when I was 19 years old and a sophomore in college. My parents really didn’t have the resources to send me to college. Looking back, I don’t know how they did it and I sincerely appreciate that it was important to them. After I had a very bad year at Birmingham Southern (in more ways than one), they laid down the law. It was Florence State or nothing. Florence State is now the University of North Alabama. But, in 1962, it was Florence State. There was absolutely nothing about the place that made me want to be there. In fact, the idea that I was going to have to go there was just short of a nightmare. It was way too close to where my parents lived, and had no glamour factor at all. But, an amazing thing happened when I went to Florence State. I suppose in every college there is a group of “outsiders.” I landed smack in the middle of them. I was immediately accepted into the art and theatre group. I started painting and writing poetry. I memorized e e cummings and Wallace Stevens. I learned about modern art, just from seeing slides in Art History. I listened to Bob Dylan and idolized Joan Baez. I discovered my creative talents, and was encouraged to express them. But the most amazing thing was that in the midst of unenlightened North Alabama, I had some really great teachers. And the greatest of them was Stanley Rosenbaum, my English teacher. I took every class that Stanley taught and I have a very good liberal arts education because of him. He saw something in me that no one else had seen, and because of his support I learned so much. But, the main thing I learned was my own worth as a creative, intelligent person. He became a father figure to me. I hung on his every word. I loved everything about him. I can still see him in class, leaning on the lectern, smoking his pipe, and gazing out the window as he gathered his next thought. He spoke several languages fluently and had literally read every major book in every major language. We got to be friends, and I was invited–along with the few other members of Stanley’s “in crowd”– frequently to visit his home. I also loved his wife, Mimi, a truly beautiful and gracious woman. When the students would visit Stanley’s house, he would just turn the living room over to us. He would sit in his study, where he could hear our conversations. Occasionally, he would chime in with a fact that we needed to understand. We would talk about literature, poetry, and politics. The Civil Rights Movement was going into full swing, and we were all very radical. At that time George Wallace was the much hated governor of Alabama. Florence State was all white, but in my senior year one Black student somehow got past George Wallace, and Wendall Wilkie Gunn became a member of our group. (As much as he could. I found out later that he had been hand-selected and instructed to keep pretty much to himself. He must have felt like a stranger in a strange land).
Stanley and Mimi had four sons and I got to know them all. In fact, one son, Alvin, was my first serious relationship, but it only lasted for a few months. He attended private schools away from home and went on to college at Bard. Of course I fell for him. He was a very special person, and I had never known anyone like him. His entire family symbolized a life I hadn’t known existed. Spending time with the Rosenbaum family was one of the best educations I could have ever had. I still love my memories of spending time in that beautiful house. Even though the relationship didn’t survive, the friendship did, so throughout my three years at Florence State spending time at the Rosenbaum house was an important part of my life. I stayed in touch with the family as time went on, and Fred and I got to spend time there together when we visited Florence many years later. I am so glad that Fred was able to meet Stanley, the person who was so very important to me. I am still in touch with three of the sons, and hear from them occasionally. Alvin now lives with his wife, Linda, in Costa Rica, and Fred and I spent some time with them there three years ago.
It seems fitting that the house is a museum. In the vast wasteland of 1960’s Florence, Alabama, this place was an oasis of all the values that I still hold dear. Liberalism, intellect, art, books, film, music. Thanks, Madonna, for taking me on the wonderful walk down memory lane. And if anyone is ever in Florence, you should visit this house. It’s a treasure.