The Family Trees

by Elaine Greene Weisburg

In elementary school my class was told that a troop of Campfire Girls would be formed if enough of us were interested. The idea of woodcraft and especially of learning to identify trees and birds was thrilling to me. But I was the one girl in the fourth grade who raised her hand and so the only trees I would know remained those stunted volunteers in the empty lots dotted around our neighborhood near the ocean in Queens. Although our treeless property was edged by waist-high privet, and rambling roses grew thickly around our front porch, I felt deprived of more ambitious landscaping.

The trees in the empty lots, which put forth dubious little fruits, rose out of a thick undergrowth of poison ivy, goldenrod, and ragweed. They were afflicted every summer with tent caterpillars which spread their filthy black-spotted gauzy-white tents wherever the branches formed a crotch. I tried not to look at them.

Some twenty-five years later when my husband and I acquired an old waterside cottage at the other end of Long Island, I finally had some lovable trees of my own. The best was a large weeping willow on the southwest side of our half-acre, high on a bank facing a saltwater cove. The sturdy branches started low and formed a sort of spiral staircase, a perfect climbing tree for our two young sons and their friends. One summer August had been particularly hot and muggy but on Labor Day, suddenly–as though a switch had been flipped–the air cleared and a fresh breeze blew. I walked outside to find the willow tree filled with gleeful little boys, five or six of them. A wave of euphoria swept over me that I can still recapture.

The weeping willow is a fast-growing tree with a relatively short life span and our specimen is long gone, but an even older tree, a white mulberry, still survives down on our beach. A friend who collects vintage local postcards gave us one with a 1906 postmark that shows our shoreline with the Long Island Railroad tracks still in use–a spur from Bridgehampton shut down in the 1930s. On the postcard the mulberry with its three equal-size trunks is already mature. In 1985 Hurricane Gloria blew down one of the trunks and in 1991 Hurricane Bob did the same thing.

Another of Bob’s victims was an old wild cherry street tree outside our picket fence and we went to some trouble and expense to turn it into lumber. We wired an old license plate to the fallen tree and on it I painted a note to the village cleanup crew to leave it for us to haul it away. Then I called in a favor from a superstar local contractor about whom I had written an appreciative passage in a House Beautiful architecture story. For a fair fee he removed the tree to a sawmill, returned the rough planks to us, and showed us how to prevent warping during their storage in an outbuilding behind our house. A few years later he fetched the seasoned wood to be planed and then it sat in the shed for another twenty years, awaiting a suitable project. At last, two years ago, a cabinetmaker turned our cherry wood into a beautiful new dining table that easily seats ten in the nearby summerhouse of my elder son. We all treasure our unique family connection with this piece of furniture.

The shapely buckeye inside the fence near the front porch came to us in the mid-1970s as a stick in a clay pot. It was a gift from William Flemmer III, head of the Princeton Nurseries renowned for developing a disease-free elm tree. I was in Princeton to interview him for a story. At work William Flemmer dressed like an outdoorsman–Robert Redford in the Africa movie–with a grafting knife in his belt. When we drove around his planting fields he hopped out of his Jeep to demonstrate the art of the graft. When I asked him whether I could plant a horse chestnut seedpod from a near neighbor’s property and achieve germination, Mr. Flemmer offered to give me a healthy buckeye sapling from the same arboreal family. That became the tree that keeps me company on summer mornings while I sip my caffe-latte on the front porch.

When I brought the sapling home and dug it in, the tip reached my knee. A year later, under my motherly care, it was hip high, then it reached my waist, my shoulder, and now stands at about 25 feet. I thanked Mr. Flemmer for the baby tree with a recording of north-eastern birdcalls—his wife’s suggestion when I phoned for advice. Trees and birds go together: I felt the buckeye was validated only after I saw a bird perched on a branch.

Our latest new tree is a red maple planted a few years ago. It replaces an unlovely Norway maple that shaded our car every summer and was a place to lean bikes, but several limbs began to look ready to hit the house in a storm and no one ever loved it anyway. Members of the family voted variously for the successor and I finally settled on a maple that turns red in autumn after neighbor Jon said the fall color would make the whole street happy.

I always look forward to watching the maple turn red in our yard. When I looked at it the other day I wondered how many more times I would see it transform itself… but why dwell on that. 


Elaine Greene Weisburg for some fifty years was a writer and editor at Seventeen, Esquire, House & Garden and House Beautiful and free-lanced widely for the New York Times and other magazines. 


First Generation American

by Elaine Greene Weisburg

My sister and I are attracted to movies starring Clive Owen–more than those of any other actor.  A year or two ago, I took a good look at him and realized that he resembles our father, Harry Greene, when we were young—especially around the eyes.  “Sigmund Freud did a good morning’s work when he invented the Oedipus Complex,” my psychoanalyst said, early in our acquaintance many years ago. But without an Oedipal connection, a precocious friend of mine had a crush on him when she was twelve, and when he was sixty, a fashion-editor friend said my father looked like Hubert de Givenchy, the elegant French couturier.

As adults, my sister and I admitted that each of us felt she was our parents’ favorite child. Yet for half a decade ending with adolescence, I was definitely the Daddy’s Girl, perhaps because I was older. Every Friday I got to stay up late with him, listening to the comedians Fred Allen and Phil Baker on the radio. And when we were snowed in during a blizzard one winter, Daddy and I were the ones to trudge to the grocery four blocks away, with laundry bags slung over our shoulders for all the food we would carry back home. In those pre-snowsuit, pre-blue jean days, I wore two pairs of flannel pajama pants tucked into my galoshes. This was such key scene in my young life that I could draw you a picture of it—from the rear, two figures disappearing into a cloud of snow.

I also got to go on a beach walk with my father many Sunday mornings when we were living in Rockaway. That’s where I developed my long stride because he didn’t slow down just to accommodate a child and I wasn’t going to show any weakness. That’s where Harriet Z. would sometimes show up on her own Sunday walk. She was a Long Island Rail Road commuter who rode the same weekday train to and from the city as my father. A tall, stylish single working woman my parents’ age, she patronized and annoyed me, but I didn’t think until decades later that perhaps my presence helped to make a not-so-chancy meeting look innocent.

Not many years later, after we entered the Second World War, my father used to walk the beach at night as a Civil Defense volunteer. This was not make-work: along this same beach in 1942, close to Montauk, several German submariners came ashore, were captured heading west on the Long Island Railroad, tried and executed.

*       *       *       *       *       *       *       *       *

My father was the third and last child in his Ukrainian-American family and the only one born in the United States. His Manhattan birthplace was an apartment at 184 Rivington Street; the date was May 14, 1895. There is a schoolyard now where the building stood, but random parts of the street remain the same. His birth certificate contains four errors: the date of birth, the newborn’s first name, the father’s first name, and the mother’s maiden name. Is this evidence of an indifference to immigrants?  Problems with foreign accents? His passport said “Henry known as Harry,” we celebrated the real birthday, and for over three quarters of the 20th century, he lived a good American life.

Harry graduated from Boys High School in Brooklyn and went to St. Lawrence University in Canton near New York’s Canadian border. His studies in the forestry department of the agricultural school were probably tuition free, and he earned his room and board as a clerk in a hotel near the campus. I have his photo album which covers many decades and in it a large sepia print shows the St. Lawrence football team including Harry Greene, a man of average size, playing left end. He also did a lot of bicycling, played tennis, and into late middle age played four-wall handball. He probably would have liked to have an athletic son in addition to his two daughters whose only form of exercise was the Lindy Hop. My father was a big reader, especially of serious biographies, and was an invaluable help with my math homework.

The college hotel job included summers, so for four years Harry didn’t see his family in New York. This was evidently not a sacrifice. His troubled father, a depressive by nature, did not find the streets of New York to be paved with gold as some immigrants did, and his mother was a generally acknowledged shrew. After graduation, my father found a job with a research laboratory where they investigated infectious diseases. His mother, fearful for his health, forbade him to take it. He actually obeyed her, and joined the Army (perhaps drafted) after the United States entered the First World War, serving in the Quartermaster Corps managing supplies. He remained in or near New York throughout the war and probably enjoyed being seen in his Teddy Roosevelt-style broad brimmed hat and puttees.

Upon marrying, my father he joined his new father-in-law in the floor covering business just as his two future brothers-in-law eventually did. His opinion of this practice was made clear in the rule established as soon as he, also the father of daughters, started his own company:  “No sons-in-law.”

When the Depression arrived, the family business had already been sold, the million dollars paid to my grandfather by the purchaser, the Armstrong Cork Company, was greatly diminished by the bursting of the Florida real estate bubble. My father was supporting us by various endeavors. The most exotic to me was his part-ownership of the Ocean-Edge Baths—lockers and showers for day-tripping beach-goers a few miles from our Neponsit house. But for the repeal of Prohibition, my father might have become involved in bootlegging. The well-known gangster Big Bill Dwyer was trying to arrange to smuggle some of his illegal booze into the country in small boats that would land on my father’s piece of beach. Would he have given permission? I think he was too sensible to have broken the law.

His business career was spent in the importation of linoleum from Europe which frequently required his presence at the factories. There was a lot of trans-Atlantic shipping in the 1930s so ocean liners went back and forth even with passenger lists in the single digits. My sister and I loved going to see him off. I’ll always remember the white-and-gilt piano on the Normandie and the grandeur of the Rex.

One winter, his ship returned three days late and covered with ice. My mother told me in an uncharacteristic confidence that Harriet Z. had phoned to ask when Harry was coming back. My mother said to me, “I hung up on her.” To me, on later reflection, Harriet’s phone call proves that although there may have been a flirtatious friendship, there was no affair: no guilty “other woman” would have dared to phone a wife.

After my father died, my mother recalled that in 1934 he spent more time at sea than on land. I wonder now why he didn’t move us overseas with him so we could all stay together. Maybe he didn’t think of it. Maybe my mother refused. That we girls never asked to go along for the ride just once is something else to think about. My children certainly would have asked, and my grandchildren would have insisted. My theory: we were powerless and we knew it. Our household was not a democracy. An example: When I was in eighth grade and all my Jewish classmates were going to be confirmed at the synagogue, I asked to join them. My father said no, he hated that rabbi. I didn’t argue and never asked again, although I was seriously discomforted socially and disappointed personally.

*         *         *         *

Harry sometimes talked about his deprived childhood. He only had one toy—a small painted metal car with wheels that turned. He would push the little car back and forth on the floor and that served as fun and games for the baby of the family. His sister became a beautiful woman who taught school, the pride and joy of her father. His elder brother became a lawyer, insurance broker, and perennial losing candidate for a judgeship on the Republican ticket. This son was the pride and joy of his mother and was referred to as Sonny Boy by my resentful father. I think my poor Daddy was entitled to his self pity, and to his lifelong touchiness too, I suppose, although the latter was sometimes a burden to me.

When I made a political and aesthetic leap away from my parents as a Queens College student, I was living at home—a bad place for leaping away. (College dorms do a lot to preserve family peace.) Although my mother ignored such details, my father found it hard to accept the huge poster I hung on my bedroom wall: Picasso’s Woman in the Mirror with those bulbous protuberances and weird extra noses. Another offense was the harsh-sounding Hindemith record often playing on my phonograph. To him I had become an alien and he took it as a personal insult. My moving to the left of his New Deal politics and insisting on arguing about it was even worse: I was a combative alien. My sister remembers me once charging up the stairs with our father charging after me although I have no such memory.

Yet my last years at home were peaceful and warm while I worked at a market research job my father helped me find and was being courted by someone he respected and liked. Years later, on his retirement, he and my mother moved to my apartment complex. She worked in her best friend’s art gallery and he walked his daily mile or two and shopped for their dinners. He was walking to or from the Second Avenue Deli the Friday he suffered a fatal heart attack. It was a month before his 84th birthday. I know just where he fell because the police told us the principal of a junior high school saw the collapse through his office window on First Avenue, just north of 11th Street. I pass the school a few times a year but I always cross the street to avoid stepping on that haunted pavement, even after more than thirty years.

Harry Greene died about a mile from where he was born. There is something oddly satisfying about that.


Elaine Greene Weisburg for some fifty years was a writer and editor at Seventeen, Esquire, House & Garden and House Beautiful and free-lanced widely for the New York Times and other magazines. 









Lives of an Oushak

by Elaine Greene Weisburg


There’s a building in the Twenties where
scores of Persian Jews
sell old mid-eastern carpets,
carpets that I love.
Once when I was shopping there
I happened on a circle
of rug men saying prayers.

The Oushak in my bedroom I gaze at every day.
Its geometric forms
spelled out in muted grays and blues
lie on a field of salmon red–
as warm to the eye as its wool to bare feet.
Accents of blackish brown are discreet
as is a flickering orange note.

Whose rug was this long years ago?
Whose broken window blind
allowed the sun to fade
that narrow three-inch bar?
A Turkish imam? An artist from Spain?
And whose turn is next in this ownership chain?


Elaine Greene Weisburg spent about twenty years each at House & Garden (Conde Nast) and House Beautiful (Hearst) as design reporter and features editor, eventually editing a memoir column and two memoir anthologies.

Car Stories From the Writing Workshop, Spring 2016

Road Trip

by Lisa Cristal

I had finally convinced my husband, Bruce, that we were responsible adults.  We could stop inheriting old clunker cars and buy one that we could take care of for many years.

The black shiny Toyota Avalon was a sensible, highly rated car that would accommodate our growing children. We splurged and added a sunroof. We loved that car.

A week after purchase it was time for our first road trip. Our two small children fidgeted and fought most of the drive while Bruce accustomed himself to the nuances of a new car.  We were on the last part of the highway, within 10 minutes of our destination, when suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a brown blur shoot out of the woods and charge toward the driver’s side of the car.   The impact pushed us off the road.  Looking up through the sunroof I saw the deer catapult over the car. Bruce tightly steered the car and righted us onto the road.

Our daughter asked where Bambi went.  “To find his mother,” I replied. Unfortunately, her older brother said that he saw the deer fly over the roof of the car. “Yes, “I said, covering, “but I saw him scamper away.”

Actually, Bruce had seen the deer twitching by the side of the road.  We stopped at a general store to report the accident. Bruce got out to inspect the damage.  The entire front of the car was smashed in and covered in blood and hair. Our son asked why daddy was kicking the pole of the payphone and yelling. “Stay in the car,” I ordered. “He is just trying to kick off the mud on his shoes.”

We fixed the car but it was never the same. We hated that car.

I spent my  entire career writing non-fiction and decided to go outside my comfort zone and take Writing Gymnastics. The support and provided by class members has allowed me to discover the great pleasure  of writing fiction.



by Elaine Greene Weisburg

Our first car, bought for $200 soon after we were married, was a used pre-war English Standard—a right-hand drive, two-seater, rag-top convertible. My husband named her after a current English movie character and we pronounced it English style: BED-ul. It was a source of entertainment as well as transportation. Even the kids in the street where we parked enjoyed it. We could tell that they played in the car at night and we assumed they used it as a stage set for pretend games, but they never harmed it. Anyway, we couldn’t lock them out because the two windows were Isenglass, set into a canvas surround that snapped into the snazzy low-cut doors.

I suspect some alarmed phone calls took place between our two sets of parents but neither set offered us a real car, so we enjoyed Beryl for a few years till we were expecting a baby. Then we sold her for the price we had paid. By that time the transmission was shot and we had to get the neighborhood boys to push us down the hill for the engine to start.

I still remember an encounter one rainy summer night on Sag Harbor’s Main Street. My husband was at the wheel and Dave, his former roommate, was sitting next to him. I was folded up on a narrow back ledge meant for luggage—your cricket bats and such—when a police officer stopped us about a sputtering tail light. He approached the left side and Dave obligingly snapped open the window. The officer asked to see Dave’s driver’s license. Dave respectfully replied, “But Sir, I am not driving.” Nobody laughed, the officer looked over at my husband and mumbled “Have it fixed” and quickly left us. Then we cracked up.

Elaine Greene Weisburg (under her first two names) worked as an editor at Seventeen, Esquire, House & Garden, and House Beautiful, spending two decades each at the latter two publication. Voices helps her keep her hand in.


Rainbow of Cars

by Sara Pettit

I’m the least knowledgeable person about cars you can find. Being a born New Yorker my family never owned a car but we all got Driver’s Licenses so we could have ID’s to cash checks. My inability to tell one car from another made it impossible for guys to impress me with their wheels when I went on dates..

When I finally did get a car it was a Dodge Omni. The only car on the market at the time worse than the Omni was the Yugo. I would drive the car around East Hampton where the Honda of East Hampton was a De Lorean or a Porsche. I had a nifty little bumper sticker on the back that said, “My Other Car is a Piece of Shit also!” You can see I like to irritate the Hamptonites.

About 5 years ago I took a trip to Cuba and being a visual person I was overcome by the beauty of the Cuban cars. Most cars were from 1960 or earlier and they were in a rainbow of colors that rivaled any floral bouquet I’ve ever seen.

For two weeks I stood at stop lights all over Cuba and photographed cars. When I got back to New York I showed them to a gallerist who invited me to have a one person show and I was invited to become a member of the gallery on the basis of my Cuban car photographs.

These cars were a tribute to the ingenuity of the Cuban people who kept them running and in perfect condition. Never in my wildest imagination did I think I would be fascinated by cars and that they would give me entrée into the New York City art world..

I spent most of my life as a textile designer and artist. It is through the IRP that I discovered my interest in writing. I look forward to my writing classes and the challenges they set for me.



by Charles Troob

My Grandpa had a boxy two-tone Oldsmobile 88. It seemed weightier than Dad’s series of Buicks–but maybe this was just the secure feeling given by Grandpa’s methodical driving, along with the comfortable odor from years of loving use. He would take a grandson or two out to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, to watch the coming and going at the LIRR trainyard. With Grandma we would go to Jones Beach in the off season to take in the salt air. My first Sunday school was in Kew Gardens. Grandpa would proudly drive me there, then pick me up and take me to their house in Jamaica for the afternoon.

In time the house was sold and my grandparents moved to an apartment not far from us in Forest Hills. Grandpa would regularly drive over to bring us Grandma’s chicken soup or borscht, her brownies or cupcakes–or just to say hello. Sometimes they would drop in together after an hour with family and friends at the cemetery off the Interboro Parkway.

In 1970 I left graduate school and moved back home. That summer Grandpa admitted to feeling poorly and was rushed to the hospital. A few agonizing weeks later he was dead of cancer. The ancient Oldsmobile was passed on to me. In September I started a day job at a public school in Bedford-Stuyvesant and an adjunct college position in the west Bronx. I tooled around the outer boroughs, enveloped by Grandpa’s kind spirit, ignoring the worsening tailpipe fumes.

On my way into Manhattan one evening I was stopped at a tollbooth and told that the car was not welcome in the Midtown Tunnel. The next day, at a junkyard near Shea Stadium, Dad and I sadly said goodbye to Grandpa a second time.

I am grateful to the IRP for making me write something each week — and for providing a receptive  audience.


Car Ride, 1945

by Lorna Porter

Nestled in a drowsy state, I hear the purr of motor and feel my sister’s leg stretched along mine. We have a wool blanket sprawled over us.

She lies on her side with her head at the other end of the back seat from me. I am propped with a pillow against the arm-rest on the door. Lights flash rhythmically through the dark car, yet I am drifting softly.

Kate is seven and I am six, on a long drive that has lasted all day from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. In front, my mother may be asleep, and surely my two-year-old sister, Emily, is asleep on her lap. My father drives silently against the night air.  Briefly, my mind sees me as a bunny down a snug hole with my bunny family.

There is no greater safety in life than having our entire family held close in this humming embrace. No one else in the world exists and no one in our family will ever be apart or alone. The heavy metal of our sturdy Packard is a tank like the soldiers have and we are a little  army headed for home. Dad will get us there.

I enjoy the weekly writing exercises and critiques that the IRP writing workshop has provided for many years now.



by Tom Ashley

One of the great perks when I was elevated into a management position was a new car when I became the head of sales at Turner Broadcasting. I had owned some great cars in the past. After all, I was from Detroit. But the idea of having a nice new car with gas, insurance and repairs fully covered was a big-time bonus.

I was provided with a list of several dealerships with whom we were doing business and took the weekend to shop. Turner didn’t care what it was, but it had to be fairly large for taking clients to lunch, dinner and sporting events. I settled on the biggest Pontiac Grand Prix ever made, jet black and equipped with the largest engine on the market. It was fully loaded with every imaginable option: air conditioning, tape deck, sun roof and it even had a device to listen to, not watch, all of the local television stations. That baby could fly. Other than flooring the accelerator, I took great care of that machine. It was washed every week and it glistened to the point that I could comb my hair in its hood reflection.

About nine months into my job I pulled into my regular spot next to Turner’s. His red Ferarri was nowhere in sight. In its place was a Toyota. I figured Ted was out of town and Vera, his long-suffering secretary, had parked in his space. Wrong.

He must have seen me entering the building as he screeched, “[author, author], come on in here.” In I went. “[author], those A-rabs have us by the balls and are starting to squeeze hard.” He rambled on about an oil embargo, then, cutting to the bottom line, I was told to head over to Voyles’ Toyota, turn in the Grand Prix and pick up my new car. I don’t know if you recall those early Toyotas, but this was not my happiest moment. I was pissed as I drove off Voyles’ lot in a pea-green, stick-shift, AM-radioed, roll-up-windowed deathtrap. My lawnmower had a larger motor.

A few months later I arrived at the office simultaneously with Turner who was driving a new Lincoln Continental. After my, “What’s this, Ted?” he informed me, “[author], I got to thinking how valuable my life is and how my children should not be put at risk. Driving around in that Toyota was far too dangerous…for me.”

“Are you telling me your life and your kids are more important than my life and my children?”

A week later I had a new Grand Prix.

Taking many study groups and writing over the years at the IRP has been a growing and stimulating process. In college I dreaded my writing courses. I LOVE them now.


Cuba and Cars

by Carmen Mason

I was going to Cuba in 2009. I had a list of items we could take to its struggling people, mainly pencils, notebooks, candies. I’d learned from friends these would be immediately sold for a quick profit so I packed a lot, but then I also decided on some baseballs and half a suitcase of professional pliers, hammers, Allen wrenches, screw drivers, tweezers and packets of nails, screws, nuts, bolts, coils of wire, crazy glue, work gloves and flashlight visors.

Once in Cuba, we drove to a small house in a run-down barrio. The grandmother of the family — living under one low and metal-patched roof –- was boiling strong tangy coffee in a battered pot. The kitchen cabinets were makeshift; the beds and sparse tables and chairs like ones resting in the decaying lots of the South Bronx.

The Castillo family was shy but smiling. Senior Castillo shook our hands and lead us from room to room, then out into his dusty, struggling garden. And there it was: a bright green Chevy Bel Air parked next to a table of taped-up hammers and awls, plastic scraps and broken parts.

On our way to the Castillos we’d cheered, even shouted ‘holas out the bus windows to the proud drivers of a Ford Mustang Dodge Challenger, two Daytonas, and a Plymouth Superbird – all 50’s or 60’s models. Now we were close-up to Senor Castillo’s 1957 four door sedan. He opened the hood lovingly. Inside were the intricate connections of tubes and wires and obviously jerry-built substitute parts body-fillered in place.

Before we all said goodbye I took out my heavy pack of tools and parts and gave it to him. He opened it hesitantly. Then he fell to his knees and started to weep. His wife rushed to his side, then turned to me and laughed like a young girl.

I was an English teacher of literature for 35 years andI have been writing forever and published here and there through the years. Editing for VOICES has been an added challenge and I am thrilled that I could help our VOICES come into its own.

Look at this, Bambi

by Elaine Greene Weisburg

An optimistic kindly lady
just put in some yummy hostas.

Doesn’t she know it’s our favorite thing?

We’ll leave her the boxwood–
that’ll outlast her
and the poisonous daffodils
brightening her spring.
But moving right past her
we’ll claim all the tulips,
the roses, the daylilies, peonies,

Until she surrenders,
this lady


Elaine Greene Weisburg spent about twenty years each at House & Garden (Conde Nast) and House Beautiful (Hearst) as design reporter and features editor, eventually editing a memoir column and two memoir anthologies.

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Viewing the Portrait of Titus

by Elaine Greene Weisberg


About twenty years ago on one of our trips to London, my husband and I spent an afternoon at the Wallace Collection whose holdings include five Rembrandts. In a museum containing 25 galleries of Old Masters it is easy to walk past great works. I didn’t give more than half a minute to Frans Hals’s flashy Laughing Cavalier—an icon of the Collection. “Mmm, nice textiles,” I thought, “But it’s not a man I’d want to meet.”

Then I came upon a portrait of Titus, Rembrandt’s son, who was painted by his father throughout his young life. Here at age sixteen he was approaching manhood. On the 64-inch-tall canvas the artist shows us the outer Titus, lighted from the left, dressed in brown against a brown background shading to black. His luxuriant wavy hair is brown and his soft beret is a muted red, matched by the warm tone of his lips. The beginnings of a mustache are visible.

But the inner person was always Rembrandt‘s portrait subject, revealed especially by the eyes. Titus is looking at the painter, an author of his being. They gaze at each other. The painting is about trust and love.

I stand there, tears are running down my cheeks for the first time in front of a painting. My husband says, “ Is anything the matter?” I say, “Rembrandt would have liked me.” We embrace.


Elaine Greene Weisburg (under her first two names) worked as an editor at Seventeen, Esquire, House & Garden, and House Beautiful, spending two decades each at the latter two publication. Voices helps her keep her hand in.









The Shoot

by Elaine Greene Weisberg


It was New York in the eighties: Money, Baron Guy de Rothschild moves to New York, Conde Nast editors in chief travel on the Concorde, AIDS.

In l987 his publisher asks my friend and colleague Martin Filler, then a top editor at House & Garden, to get a new head shot for PR purposes. Martin asks which photographer they prefer. Pick one they say, send us the bill. Martin, never one to turn down an offer of the best, picks Robert Mapplethorpe.

Mapplethorpe accepts the commission and offers Conde Nast a deal because they have published his studio (photos by the artist, story written by Martin) and have given him other work. He will charge $10,000 for a single image instead of his customary $15,000. The arrangement is that Mapplethorpe will choose that image and will not show the subject-client proofs or contact sheets. OK with Martin. They make a date.

On the appointed day, Martin sees in his morning paper that Sam Wagstaff,  Mapplethorpe’s artistic mentor, benefactor, and longtime lover, has died of AIDS the day before. Martin waits for a phone call cancelling the sitting. When a call doesn’t come he rings the studio. The assistant says there is no cancellation: Come ahead—my boss had to go out but he’ll be back.

Martin is there when the photographer returns, carrying four very large shopping bags whose contents he empties and shows Martin. It is Wagstaff’s famous collection of Aesthetic Movement and Art Deco silver. Included are a chrysanthemum-shaped punch bowl and a large table-center plateau (a tray) ornamented with silver sculptures of polar bears and Eskimos with spears, a piece made to celebrate the purchase of Alaska. Mapplethorpe explains, “I had to get these before Sam’s sister padlocked the apartment.”

Then the photographer motions “Let’s go” to a working corner of the big room and for an hour he takes pictures. The subject is standing against a black background.  A pair of tripod-supported lights about three feet in diameter with an opaque white covering to obscure the bulbs are aimed at him. The two lights are reflected in the subject’s eyes–it is often a mark of Mapplethorpe’s portraiture although he doesn’t always use it. Most photographers prefer a single light source.

The photographs are taken with a minimum of fuss. Many portrait photographers have “hair and make-up” people on the scene to beautify the sitters before and during the session. Many photographers, especially those in the fashion world, sweet-talk the subject throughout the shoot, aiming to relax or stimulate them.  There is no such fussing here.

After Mapplethorpe died of AIDS two years later, Martin learned from his assistant — a onetime member of the House & Garden art department-that there had been at least three contact sheets with a dozen images per sheet. And not long ago Martin also learned that Mapplethorpe charged everyone $10,000 for a portrait and thinks the artist was perhaps currying favor when he told Conde Nast they were getting a special price.


Elaine Greene Weisburg (under her first two names) worked as an editor at Seventeen, Esquire, House & Garden, and House Beautiful, spending two decades each at the latter two publication. Voices helps her keep her hand in.












What is it with old ladies and babies?

by Elaine Greene Weisburg

My phone doesn’t text and I’m still tablet-free,
On the bus I’m just riding and looking around.
I study the thumbers engrossed in devices,
while hoping a baby soon will be found.
No matter how little, a baby likes eye play–
We gaze at each other as long as we can.
I love little babies so I am contented
if other old ladies stay out of my way.

Elaine Greene Weisburg spent about twenty years each at House & Garden (Conde Nast) and House Beautiful (Hearst) as design reporter and features editor, eventually editing a memoir column and two memoir anthologies.