Sunday, May 3, 2015

River of Words Oral History Project: Kathy Deis, "Retirement" and "Renacimiento"

I had the pleasure of meeting Kathy Deis on February 22nd. She is actually the mother of Terri Wiezoreck, and so she is responsible for that additional interview as well. Her words are "retirement" and "renacimiento" both pointing to a sense of renewal and new stories that occur as one follows life's stages. The words, she noted, were "perfect" in describing her and her husband of 54 years. Importantly, she mentions that some of the friction between the HRC and North Side residents comes from the sense that the HRC imposes regulations rather than "working with" the neighborhood: an antagonistic rather than a dialogic relationship.

Thanks so much, Kathy. Transcript follows:

CB: The date is February 22nd and I am here with Kathy Deis as part of the River of Words Oral History Project. So, thank you so much for being here.

KD: It’s my pleasure.

CB: I wanted to start with some demographic information, I am trying to get a sense of the diversity of participants. Can you tell me your full name, your address, age, marital status, race, and I’ll remind you [of the questions] if you need reminding.

KD: My name is Kathleen Deis. I live at 1221 Buenavista Street. I’m lost already.

CB: Age?

KD: I am 72.

CB: Marital status?

KD: Married for fifty-four years this year.

CB: Congratulations. How do you identify with your race

KD: Caucasian.

CB: And how long have you lived on the North Side?

KD: This time thirteen years.

CB: And did you live on the North Side the earlier two times you were in Pittsburgh?

KD: No, we lived over in Forest Hills, on the East Side of Pittsburgh, but that was with family, kids and stuff, so we went there for schools.

CB: Okay. I see. Do you know if your house falls within the historic district?

KD: It does.

CB: Ok. So I would now like to turn to the River of Words project. I’d just like you to talk about your experience with the project. So, how did you find out about it? What was it like? How did you choose your word?

KD: So, we are big supporters of Henry, so we get regular emails, we come to a lot of the readings and events that he holds, so it was through that that we found out about it. And, then we came that one day to the tent to pick our words, and it was a very nice experience for us meeting the folks that were involved, and I think that’s what makes us so defensive of the HRC giving us grief.

CB: What was the word that you chose?

KD: We had two. We had “retirement” and the other word is Spanish, I can’t pronounce it, you probably can’t read my writing, but it means to “re start” it kind of goes with “retirement.”

CB: Oh, renacimiento lovely.

KD: So when we decided to come back to Pittsburgh this time it was goind to be our first retirement house, and then stuff happened, and we decided to finish it faster and move in even though, for the first ten years, my husband was working in New Jersey and would commute every week, back and forth.

CB: Wow. That is a lot of commuting.

KD: He loves it though, audiobooks got him through.

CB: I see. Great. So six months later, has your relationships to your words changed at all?

KD: Just more protective of them. I’m very pleased to see how many people left their words up, our daughter lives in the 1700 block of Buenavista but that’s not historic, and her words are “Be good.” And she has a six and an eight year old.

CB: Ah [laughter].

KD: Yeah.

CB: So that will change meaning as they get older as well.

KD: Yeah, but it was interesting seeing what different people chose as their words. Some went very, I don’t want to say emotional, but something very private to them and somebody else walking down the street probably saw something else.

CB: Can you tell me about any interactions that might have happened around your word, if there were any?

KD: Everybody that knows us thinks its great for us and the words were, before the house tour in September and we always have a big party that day, and we have a lot of our friends come in and started looking for them and agree, that that was us.

CB: Where are they installed on your house?

KD: We have a stone porch, but its on the window right on the porch.

CB: What do you think the significance of this project is?

KD: It gets people talking. I also take care of two big flower gardens in the neighborhood, and my title is Green Space Chair and a lot of people thought I was responsible for the words, so, once the words started being installed, then everybody wanted one. And they thought I could get them for them, but by then the people had gone back to Venezuela, run out of words, that sort of thing. So I think that since this is a series of activities, it was a good way to start, and I hope it gets more of my neighbors into protecting it.

CB: Gets more of the neighbors into protecting the words?

KD: The idea of the words. Having art. Have you talked to Barb Telerigo yet?

CB: I’m scheduled to talk to her…not yet, nope.

KD: So, their house is on the corner of Eloise and Resaca, and her husband made this large mural—

CB: Oh yeah, Glenn. I’ve talked to Glenn, I haven’t—

KD: So, it kind of started around that. You know it was his gift to the neighborhood. He was very careful how he did it, very respectful, and then HRC didn’t like the lights, didn’t like the cam- the camera was too big. In this neighborhood where everybody is putting up cameras, “his camera was too big” he was told. It was crazy.

CB: That’s a good example. Let’s turn to the HRC controversy. What do you think about it? And how did you learn about it?

KD: Well, we’ve been down at the HRC often because our house was in the historic area when it was being built so we knew them from that. We knew, when Glenn was- when people have a problem with the HRC and they are going to have a hearing they put out an email and as many of us show up as possible, and its on third Wednesday afternoon of the month, so not a lot of people can go. But there is several hard-core work from home kind of people that show up. So we do stick together on that. I think that, I’m not sure about this part, I think that the positions on the board are all voluntary but they have Sarah that’s the paid employee and she has too much…she doesn’t try to work with us, she tells us what to do. What you can and cannot do.

CB: So what do you think should be done with River Words with respect to the application filed with HRC?

KD: Well, I think the one thing that came out of the meeting before was, the simple answer is for us all to go and pay $100 and have a hearing of our own, and that’s way too much money. Glenn’s organizing a group effort. He’s a lawyer so he’s going to represent us in a class action suit and anybody who wants to can sign up with him and he will represent us.  So that was the committee itself said, that needs to be looked at. They also said “there’s no history to anything like this” so they have to come up with a whole idea of how to handle art, what is art? That’s the other discussion they tried to get into, and it kind of got nasty because someone brought up graffiti and when is it good, when is it not.

CB: I want to close with your thoughts on public art in general. What do you think the purpose of public art is in the North Side and by that I am thinking of, who does it serve? What does it produce?

KD: I love to see the kids’ reactions to things. I think that’s important. I think a lot of times our kids have been led to believe that art is not for kids, its for adults, its for people that have money, but it doesn’t have to be that. A lot of times people don’t realize some of the installations that go in downtown and that all you have to do is walk around and its right there. I’d love to see more of that kind of thing. I do know some of the people that are not for allowing public art in the Mexican War Streets, they wouldn’t appreciate art that is not museum quality. They don’t see the value. And yet they don’t recognize on that several of the telephone poles we have flags that say “Mexican War Street,” that’s a kind of art. But they don’t recognize them.

CB: Is there anything else you’d like to say that I haven’t given you a chance to talk about?

KD: No, this was very good. I wish you a lot of luck with this and it’d be interesting to see how this all turns out.

CB: yeah, absolutely.

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