In Chapter Two Hans made a decision to convert. I have no idea what my dad might have actually done about conversion because he never admitted his original background. It seems that he was reinventing himself into a man he would want to be. Night after night I experienced dreams telling me to hunt down the answer.
During the first drafting process I began research by hunting down a church that would have been there in 1939, and found Fifth Avenue Presbyterian on Google. Figured that was as good as any, especially since Presbyterian would be close to Dutch Protestant. More than a year later, digging through papers on something else, I found out that dad actually had gone to Fifth Ave. Pres. I stopped breathing on that tidbit of information.
A few months later we flew to NYC to walk the terrain of the book, and made it a point to spend a morning there. That church certainly was a good fit – no iconography in the windows, simple brass fixtures, similar to Dutch churches and synagogues. Chet and I made up the scene with the two reverends fighting for the soul of the Jewish boy, and Chet picked Welfare Island, now Roosevelt Island in NYC for a place to end the chapter. I drafted it.Then Chet and I decided to try the walk to Welfare Island – now Roosevelt Island.
The tram landed near a little brownstone building. I turned to Chet. “If that is Episcopalian, I’m going to eat my shorts.” We walked around and around the little 1886 Chapel, over to the ruins of the mental hospital, and to what had been the soup kitchen. That was all real. When we returned to the church, a lady was going in with flowers. I asked her. “What is this called?” “Church of the Good Shepherd.” “What denomination?” “Oh, we’re just a small Episcopalian congregation.” Another series of nighttime dreams became real in the rainy morning.
Obviously a lot of the book came from places that are not me. Invented places became real. My job was to just wrap the words around the messages as carefully as I could.
See you soon!