A Remembrance of Enid Lois Epstein Mark

by Maralyn Segal

Enid was my dear friend and I miss her.

Although we met and became friends at Smith in 1950, I think we grew closer over the years after graduation. My Smith memories of Enid are not as important to me as those of recent years, but I must say she was the glue and the prod that drew me back to Smith every five years for reunion. I was the person who picked her up at the airport or train station, and she was the person who introduced me to all the interesting people in the class that I didn’t know. (I pretty much stuck to Northrop House for my friends, but Enid branched out.)

This leads me to one of Enid’s outstanding traits. Enid was always able to organize her life in such a way that, no matter how busy she was, she had the time to develop a broad range of acquaintances and friends. Although I was unaware of her doing it as a student, in our later years I marveled at the way she kept up with people from every area in which she had an interest. I was also amazed at the variety of things she fit into her life so smoothly: Her family, art, reading, theatre and concerts, religious and charitable obligations, entertaining, gardening, health concerns for self and her aging parent, exercise, and friendships, old and new. I have a cookbook that Enid co-edited for her Temple probably in the sixties that gets me through Passover every year.

Lets go back to Smith. My most vivid memories of Enid are of her happiness at finding and falling in love with Gene which, when you think of her important accomplishments as a student, shows just how narrow our goals were in the 50s. She is also the only person I know who bought and furnished a home while still in college and happily lived in it with Gene for almost fifty years.

We went to each other’s weddings and sent each other baby gifts and saw each other infrequently during those early married years. I remember driving to the Cape one summer with my girls to meet Enid, Peter and Melanie. I don’t know where Gene was. But once Peter was at Harvard, and later, when Melanie was at Wheaton, Robert and I saw a lot more of Enid and Gene. From that time forward, every time she came to Boston she would bring her current art work to show me. We would discuss the theme, or the technique, or her collaborators. It was fascinating.

That brings me to another of Enid’s outstanding traits - her development as an artist. As unqualified as I am to judge, it is clear that a lifetime of creativity led to a body of important work. I have an early oil painting (her studio was in the basement), some mid-life prints (she moved upstairs to a studio that she designed), but, unfortunately, not one of her amazingly crafted books. Her path involved intellectual curiosity, experimentation, the acquisition of new skills and, I’m sure, lots of practice. In her books she was able to combine her love and knowledge of poetry and literature with her art. She also shared her talent through teaching, developing a school program when her children were young, and more recently speaking to college classes and library groups around the country.

For years I called Enid after the publication of each book about Sylvia Plath to ask if she remembered events at Smith that were talked about by the author. As I have said, I have very little memory of the details of life at Smith. And Enid would always help me to reconstruct the event. One day I asked her how it was possible for others to remember so accurately events that were in the distant past. “They kept journals,” she told me. “There’s nothing wrong with your memory.” It was an “ah ha” moment for me.

When Sylvia Plath: A Biography by Linda W. Wagner-Martin was published in 1987, Enid called to tell me that we (or maybe I) had arrived. We were in a group picture taken with Sylvia as members of the Smith College Press Board. Needless to say, I went right out to buy the book hoping to dazzle my children. (I hope that Peter can reproduce the photo here. Enid and I are second from the left in the first row; Sylvia is behind us.)

Enid and Gene enjoyed travelling and added people they met on their trips to their group of friends. Travel also inspired and enriched Enid’s books – the Hamptons, Monet’s garden. We didn’t do grand trips together, but spent some time with them enjoying Philadelphia; they spent some time here in New England (Gene’s reunions, Enid’s business trips, summer trips to Maine beaches) and together we enjoyed weekends at Tanglewood and one Civil War site-centered trip to the beautiful countryside around Antietam and Harpers Ferry. One weekend we visited Philadelphia and Enid had invited Kay Becker Finney (Northrop) and Graham to have dinner with us. Despite her arm being in a cast, she turned out an elegant meal, with Chicken marbella as the main course. How did she manage? “Oh,” she said, “I sat in the kitchen and directed Gene step by step.” The ELM Press is another, more significant, example of Enid and Gene’s collaborative efforts. They were a couple who could and did work together.

In 1992, Robert and I spent a memorable weekend in Camden, Maine while attending the reception in honor of Enid’s Edna St. Vincent Millay book. Ann Bailey Sziklas, Northrop House, was also there and can attest to the joke of the weekend – the curator of the museum sponsoring the event, insisted on pronouncing Enid’s name with a short “e” to conform, we surmised, with “Edna.” It was funny, but maybe you had to be there. Some years later, Jane Andrews Harris (Northrop) and I drove to Yale to a poetry reading and exhibit in honor of Enid’s To Persephone. And in 2007, our daughter Jody was thrilled to be able to attend a lecture and exhibition at the University of Seattle. These were exciting events to share with Enid.

Enid and I kept in touch by phone, with calls every other week or so, and I was aware of her back pain and search for answers during the summer of 2007. After her diagnosis followed by the devastating news about Melanie’s illness and her subsequent surgery, I flew to Philadelphia for a day in November. Kay Finney not only met me at the plane and drove me to Enid and Gene’s beautiful new city home, but also planned a party with favors for all of us, creating a festive mood that lasted all day. After lunch, Kay left, Melanie went to rest and Enid and I stretched out on her bed and had a relaxing afternoon just talking about whatever crossed our minds. She talked with optimism; she was interested in our plans for an Alaskan cruise in the summer, and thought that would be a wonderful treat for her family when she and Mel recovered.

I called frequently over the next months and could only marvel at the courage and spirit of Enid and Melanie and the strength of Gene, who in his gentle, unassuming way kept everything going. In September, Robert and I drove to Philadelphia to visit Enid in the hospital. I didn’t expect much because Enid had been too weak to talk on the phone for most of the summer, but she was, as ever, the gracious hostess. Robert and Gene went out to dinner; Enid ordered dinner for me and we talked a little as we ate. It was clear that she had done a lot of thinking about her family’s future and she expressed some of her thoughts to me. I also knew that she was focused on Peter’s upcoming visit and she was saving her energy for that. As soon as Robert and Gene returned, Enid thanked us for coming and kissed me good-bye.

Both these visits are precious memories, as are almost sixty years of a friendship enlivened by the generosity of Enid’s sharing with me her interests, her knowledge, and the beauty she created.

Maralyn Kleinman Segal
February 13, 2009