I came over to Mrs. Munson's house early the next morning. We agreed that I'd be coming by to check in, and start helping her in any way that I could.
My mood instantly improved when I saw she had a rented moving van and it was parked out front.
I hadn't slept well.
For the next week my family would be holed up in a small coach house studio nearby while we got everything on track. I couldn't work at all because everything I needed was packed, but the kids could go to school. And though Jane could work, we'd have to pick up the slack quickly. I'd still need another week to set up my studio and begin taking in work.
I spent most of the morning keeping Mrs. Munson company while making phone calls.
-I had to phone my moving company and convince them to hold off and NOT unload everything we owned, having to switch trailers due to the delay and their shipping schedule. Another 2 days to keep everything on the same truck would cost about $850.
-I called and arranged a small army of packers to come later that day, to finish packing Mrs. Munson's belongings into storage. Half a dozen guys minimum, and a truckload of empty boxes.
-I located a nearby storage facility and arranged a locker in Mrs. Munson's name.
Once that was done I felt more relief. Lia had brewed some strong coffee and we spent some time packing and talking before I had to go to the closing we had rescheduled.
As per our plan, Michael Pardys had come over the previous night and Lia had signed the papers granting him the power of attorney.
She did not make him stand outside.
I know, because I asked.
We actually had a bit of a giggle about it.
I asked her more about what she didn't like about her lawyer and it led into some more in-depth conversation. Now, I understood why Mrs. Munson initially liked us, and I'll expound on that momentarily, ..but it was as if we were a grand-niece and nephew to her. She wasn't baking us casseroles or anything, ..simply that there was some sense of deep trust, or recognition of some kind.
In fact, by the time I had to leave for the closing I found myself eager to come back afterward.
In her younger days, mainly through the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Lia Munson was a professional fashion illustrator and photographer. She regularly created beautifully expressive ink and wash drawings of tall women, wearing stylish clothing, minks, hats, gloves, ..for newspaper ads. Carson Pirie Scott, Marshall Fields, ..downtown department stores that would run half and full-page ads in the city papers. She also had other personal art work, but she was an exceptional illustrator and photographer. She was also an avid gardener and much of her photography revolved around landscapes, flower and fauna.
Lia was a long-prominent member, and frequent lecturer and exhibitor, of the FPSA (Film Photographers Society of America).
Lia Evans met her future husband, Knute, when they were both illustrating for clothing catalogs in Chicago. They fell in love, got married and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota in 1936. They lived there while Knute, or as he was professionally known; "K.O. Munson", began earning a reputation as a renown pin-up artist during the 1940s and 50s.
He worked for Brown and Bigelow, an advertising and promotion company that printed media for distribution, ..but they were most famous for their pin-up calendars, especially during WWII.
Munson worked shoulder to shoulder with famous illustrators like Gil Elvgren, Alberto Vargas, George Petty, Earl Moran, Earl McPherson, ..illustrators who crafted a unique style and genre of iconic American art.
K.O. Munson was a classically trained artist, working with pastels and using figure models for reference, but when pin-up illustration succumbed to the era of photography Munson left St. Paul for Chicago in 1949 and focused more on a career in professional photography. At the time they bought the house on Chase Ave. in 1959 he was semi-retired, as was Lia. And, having no children, they spent much of their time living near the north shore beach in Rogers Park, entertaining friends regularly and traveling the world.
in the mid-60s K.O. Munson developed melanoma cancer, and passed away in 1967.
He was 67 years old. Lia was 54.
..I was to learn all of this about Lia, and much more, over the course of the next day and a half.
I'd come over in the morning and we'd share a pot of coffee, occasionally directing the packers around, ..but mostly chatting about photography, art and illustration. Lia talked a lot about her long and full life, and her travels with her husband. She showed me much more of her and her husband's work, talking about some of it as she sorted through it. ..and there was a lifetimes' work there.
Many of the hundreds of gorgeous photos we sorted through were pictures of Lia or Knute. It was fascinating to see them both through the years, and in different exotic places. They were a very handsome couple. I recall coming across one black and white photo of Lia, from the mid 40s. In it she was wearing a crisp white blouse, tucked neatly into jodhpurs. Donning 'cat' styled sunglasses and dark lipstick, her wavy shoulder length brunette hair framed her young face from beneath a tied scarf. She was wearing leather riding boots and posing with her foot resting on the running board of a car, casually leaning with her elbow resting on it, and flashing the most beautific smile. ..Lia looked like a figure model. Statuesque, stylish, and proudly celebrating her femininity. She must have been in her early 30s.
Lia had left Knute's studio essentially untouched since his death.
She kept it clean, but all of his working tools were still there. Drawing board, pastel cabinet, paper stock, backdrops, ..there were even some sketches and thumbnails of his, still stuck to the wall. ..It was as if he was away on a weekend fishing trip.
I had seen his studio already, several months earlier when first walking through, and I was immediately pretty blown away by his work. It was all over the house.
But I recall standing there for the longest time, ..and surveying everything of his. Slowly drinking in every detail, in a room that hosted such creativity. ..And there lingered an uncanny and odd sensation. Not that the place was haunted, ..but I knew this same room would now be MY studio. I would be spending several hours every day, drawing, painting, creating, in this same room. ..possibly for the rest of my life.
It was long past dinner time and I hadn't eaten since breakfast. I had been on the go since that morning, but I wasn't going to stop until we were finished.
For the past 2 days solid I had helped Lia sort through her belongings, pack, and kept her company the entire time.
And, 2 days after my family was supposed to have been moved into our new house, every last thing Lia Munson owned was boxed and taken out.
The movers I had brought in made quick work of packing everything to company code, and hauled it to the storage facility a few blocks away, ..or into the van Lia had rented the previous day. Everyone had been gone for a few minutes, and it was suddenly quiet. I was alone with Lia. She was getting a few last necessities together to bring to her new condo nearby, and I took one last stroll through the entire house.
It looked like a cyclone had hit it.
What Lia didn't want, she just left. Boxes of old magazines, boxes of empty jars, ..trash everywhere. Old lamps, cheap furniture, old rusty gardening supplies, stuff in the garage, stuff under the back porch, ..the freezer in the basement, and all its contents..
The next morning a salvage company would be coming in, to haul everything left behind out the back, and into a huge skid in the alley.
..They would end up filling it, and have to bring another empty one in to finish.
While all this was going on my movers would be bringing all of our possessions in the front door. I would be on traffic duty, bouncing between crews, giving directions to both so they wouldn't bump into each other.
Everything would have to go as smoothly as possible because the floor company was re-scheduled for the next day.
..In fact, after that, things went pretty smoothly in general. The oak floors beneath all the carpeting and vinyl turned out beautifully, and we were fairly well unpacked and cozy by the time Christmas came a month later.
But that would all come after tonight.
After surveying the work still ahead I suddenly felt tired and fatigued. Lia came back inside from loading the last box into her car, and we both stood there in the entry foyer for, what seemed, a full minute.
Feeling a little uncomfortable, I finally broke the silence;
"Wow, I guess this is it. ..Do you want a minute alone, Lia? I mean, ..you spent 40 years of your life in this house."
"No," she said, rather nonchalantly, "I've got everything I need. I'm ready."
I smiled, and walked her outside to her car, parked out front.
I opened the door for her and she sat behind the wheel. Lia held up her keys in the dim light and removed the one to the front door of the house. She had marked it with a piece of white graphics tape.
Laying it in my hand and closing my fingers around it with hers, she smiled back;
"I guess I won't be needing this anymore."
I placed my other hand on hers and gave a warm squeeze.
Saying my last goodbye, I closed the door of her car and she drove off.
I never saw Lia Munson again, after that night.
She had given us her contact information, ..but she still traveled quite a bit, so we never caught her at home. After a few years, the phone number she gave us didn't work any longer.
That was almost 9 years ago.
Lia would be in her late 90s now. I don't know whether or not she's still alive, ..but I'll always remember her as much more than the nice old woman who used to live in my house.