A note from her daughter, Catherine
My mother, first-born of Greek immigrants; child of the Great Depression; College Activist; Village Beatnik; Beverly Hills Housewife; fanatic mother of three; healer, nurturer, and bustling business person might, have gone the way of most girls of her generation and cultural background. But, the gods smiled and led her, in time, to Provincetown, where she found her heart’s home. Her own mother was a healer, a woman whose house was always open to the hurt and troubled and perplexed, a woman who could scare away the evil eye and make every person who sought her feel safe and whole again. My mother has the gift, too, passed down, diluted by New World noise but always there, a reminder of other times, older places. She entered college at 16, became enamored of post war politics and was, in 1949, the first woman ever to be elected President of the Student Body at Queens College. After graduation she escaped to Manhattan, settled on 10th street in The Village, went to work at Time and Life and for a time lived a little wild, a little free.
When she was 30 and her family had given up hope of it ever happening she met Bill Davidson, a kindly Jewish doctor with a rescuing nature who happened to be the only person she knew with a Triple- A Card. Their romance developed over the broken down engine of an old Buick and led, eventually, to schlepping her own children around Los Angeles, where her husband was in practice. This was the time she liked to call her Beverly Hills Years, when her goddess-hood went underground, glimpsed only occasionally at parties when she would dance to bouzouki with a glass full of water on her head, or by children who found in her natural anarchy an escape from their own rule-bound households.
Then a strange thing happened; my mother returned from the underground, just like Persephone, and like Persephone, she invented summer. In 1971 she was misdiagnosed with terminal cancer and when told it was all a big mistake and that she was alive instead of dead, she grew hungry with creativity. That June, she opened a tiny shop-selling kites in Provincetown, because ‘Wellfleet was all sold out’. She had never been to Provincetown before and her proper Wellfleet cousins warned against ‘bringing the children to that town’. My mother swept out her steps on the first day, breathed in the smell of greasepaint, popcorn, starry dreams and salt dust and found herself at last. Why kites? To get the three of us out of Beverly Hills for the summer, to get us to work and to instill in us some of that ‘Deli Mentality’ she had grown up with. Everybody works, everybody gets paid, everybody’s happy was her motto. And it worked. I’m doing fine. My sister Anna is a Resident in Psychiatry at UCSF, and my brother Nestor is a respected Attorney in Washington, DC.
The kite store grew and grew into a Provincetown (and national) institution; my mother became known everywhere simply as “The Kite Lady”. We three grew up running in and out of the legs of summer crowds; selling and seducing; roaming the beaches and the night dunes from Memorial to Labor Day when school and the first shiver on the wind sent us west again. We were bounded by a circle of amazing women who became my mother’s friends, women who are now local legends, with Elizabeth Gabriel and Laurel the most magical to us.
When Gabriel, Laurel and my mother first saw the old Electric Light Company Building at 104 Bradford Street it had become a squalid squatters pad, covered with dirt and graffiti, inside and out. They, with stars in their eyes saw only the glowing Gabriel’s Apartments and chutzpah of chutzpahs they bought it. In the early days we lived on the whole top floor of the front building. In time my mother and Laurel went on to other adventures and Elizabeth Gabriel acquired the entire Guest House and made it the marvel you see here today. Elizabeth Gabriel says my mother taught her everything she knows about business. My mother says when she grows up she wants to be exactly like Elizabeth Gabriel.
Now Elizabeth Gabriel tells me to my delight and wonder that she wants to name the Great Room kitchen after my mother. Here with all these famous women, whose words and work inspire and enrich us all, I reflect that there might be a place for a woman whose life has transformed the lives of so many, a woman like a wild silk kite in a blue sky, lifting our eyes and our imaginations.
Catherine Temma Davidson is a writer, poet, teacher, and lives in London. Her first novel, The Priest Fainted, was based on her search for her mother's Greek roots. Her second novel, Mixed Marriage, is also inspired by her mother.