In my discovery years, well as far as I can remember, which is about 4 or 5 because I still remember my preschool in Coconut Grove, FL where I grew up. My Cuban immigrant parents had finally settled in Miami almost a decade after arriving to the US. They came seeking refuge & a future initially in Puerto Rico & later in Chattanooga Tennessee where my sister was born. They were dedicated workers and had hopes and dreams of building a life and future for their daughters.
Mom & Dad bought their first home in the early 70’s for under thirty thousand dollars. Our homestead stood on an odd shaped lot that was triangular. The house was built on the east corner of the plot and my mother had a small garden adjacent to it, then towards the west there was a long narrow grassed area with a huge banyan tree with all its majestic roots exposed, a tropical almond tree off the sidewalk and several other trees & bushes that lined the fence. Oh how I wished those wonder years would never end!
The years passed and I grew more curious and wanted to know the how, what and why of everything.
I was fearless and would let my imagination take off on Madys wild ride and I didn’t need much to go on my adventures. We enjoyed many happy years both at home and school. Mom would allow our friends to come over and we’d have slumber parties, birthdays and holidays with family and friends. The good old backyard days when life was simpler and similar to how its been the last 6 months. I wished to be surrounded by people the more the merrier.
Then one summer night we received the news of our parents separating and boy was that tough, I was scared and confused yet I felt I needed to be strong and calm to help my mom. She was devastated and had to deal with alot of new issues and She lost her mojo for a bit so I knew I needed to strengthen mine to help her. I was not a bit shy and had already done some part time work selling my favorite accessory shoes. I even won my first sales contest on my second weekend, so shortly after I accepted a job as a travel agent assisting a family friend and dove into my last year of high school. It was different than I had dreamt this year would be but I wished for all the turmoil to pass and whatever we would have to face we’d make it through.
My aunt Mabel always touted that I’d be a super star in sales or fabricating jeans or managing people because of my leadership traits and extroverted personality.
Well Mabel was right, I experienced a few other jobs for a while searching for the right fit and a few years later my mother ran into Elena, another mom from my formative years while shopping at Sears, a couple of weeks later I was sitting in Dr. Kurstin and Elena’s jacuzzi sipping Sambuca after learning how to water ski all day, interviewing for my next job. Talk about the power of a mom’s prayers and The Law of Attraction. Well, I not only got a job offer, I also learned all about Netsuke’s. Pronounced Net-Skis
What are Netsuke’s I asked? As Elena said, “lets have another Sambucca”.
netsuke’s are a small ornamental toggle like piece, usually of carved ivory, used to attach a medicine box, pipe, or tobacco pouch to the obi (sash) of a Japanese man’s traditional dress. An art form Dr. Kurstin had been collecting for years and was enamored with. Now the child within me wished to learn more!
And this is how I learned about Netsuke.
Dr Kurstin asked, when could I start. I replied, ” I’d like to give my dad’s friend at least 2 weeks for having given me a flexible job opportunity so I could try to go back to school. He responded what a shame. I replied why? He said, we’re traveling that week to Hawaii for a Netsuke convention. I said, oh wow! that sounds awesome, what’s Netsuke. He then explained what Netsuke were and said, “you wanna come with us”? I chuckled and said oh yeah, sure I’ll just go on vacation and start after and looked at Elena. She looked at him looked back at me and said, he’s not joking… All I had to do was pay my airline ticket. His daughter was joining them and had plenty of room for me too. Well you can only imagine how I felt for the next few weeks. And just like that, I started on the Monday we agreed on, worked 2 days, traveled with them for 10 days to Hawaii and even got paid for it. What a way to start a new job right! How I wished for a purposeful place to work at and here it was. I would be the best worker ever in my mind!
I’d overcome so much for the last few years with my parents divorce, its after effects, and it was as if I’d won a grand prize. I had picked myself up, brushed off the past occurrences and was launching a new chapter just like my adventures at The Gingerbread House. I met the most wonderful group of girls, we worked well and hard and also played hard, we became family. I worked in the Ophthalmology field with Dr. Kurstin and Elena for 25 years. They had separated from a practice they were both at for quite some time and I was the new appointment girl who was in charge of filling up the office and making sure we carried an adequate flow for the Dr. I was summoned to arrange 10 patients an hour so as to not overwhelm our staff and clog the system. But everyone wanted to see, “El Aleman” translates to The German, a nickname given to the Dr. early in his career because the hispanic’s had difficulty pronouncing his name. He didn’t like it because he had no clue he had German descent thru his fathers side until he took Elena to visit all his family in St Louis and discovered it while she told them all the story about the nickname. From then on he felt it was OK since it was now true. I assure you no matter how much I battled with Dr. Kurstin we frequently had patient backups. The patients either came in too early, all together on the transportation buses or it just rained that day. It was a topic I wish we would have found a solution for!
The work I did was so fulfilling in so many ways people thought I owned shares in the practice. He was such an outstanding human being, his patient’s came first, he is humble, courteous, with a bedside manner above and beyond most and an out of this world physician who gave sight and hope back to so many people young and old that I felt proud to be one of Kurstin’s Angels as he would often call us. I was happy and wished I could please him all of the time and always tried to but he held a high bar and it wasn’t easy.
He had the midas touch!
Every time he would think of adding another service, procedure or product to offer to our patients we would be skeptical because we knew that would bring change, but he would always make it work. Younger doctors would come to work and learn from him and they couldn’t keep up. We stopped questioning his ability to make things happen when he got the wild notion one day to expose his best Netsuke pieces at Disney’s Epcot Center in Orlando. We all laughed aloud and said sure you will Joe.
Well can I tell you is to, “be careful what you wish for”, took a whole new meaning not too long after that day, when he came into the office and informed us he had reached out to Disney and was meeting with the Curator of the Bijutsu-kan Gallery at the Japanese Pavilion at Epcot to discuss his idea. Not only did they like it but he went on to plan and chair the following years International Netsuke Society’s Convention at the Japan Pavilion and tied in the exhibit opening as the culmination for the event with dessert and fireworks under the stars to top the night. It was truly magical! If you’re interested in learning more about Netsuke you can find more info at http://www.Netsuke.org and there are archives of interesting pieces along with the stories and current events the society has today. I am forever grateful and blessed to have worked along side Dr. Kurstin and Elena, he is my mentor and she my adopted mom as I their adoptive daughter. Their both special people I have looked up to most of my life. Thank you Joe and Elena for all those great memories I will cherish forever… I wished for LOVE and got so much more!
PS: We’re still connected and still socialize and reminisce our grand times together. I’m sure I’ll share many more interesting stories about our times together on my blog in the future.
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