Not everyone enters this world healthy, safe or loved.
My four sisters, my brother and I did. On top of that, we were lucky enough to have fields to run in, a pond to jump in, and wildish ponies to ride. I learned a lot leaning against my dog watching chickens scratch while goats grazed and swallows swooped out through the barn door.
One of our grandmothers cut perfect silhouette portraits at the church bizarre. She made her own Christmas cards and cookbooks. She knit sweaters with her grandchildren’s initials in their favorite colors or with familiar scenes stitched along the bottom hem populated with their pets.
My other grandmother wore hoop skirts and worked on fine petit point. Hands were always busy. My dad made furniture and could fix just about anything: human, animal or object. My mum dabbled in painting, sculpture, jewelry and furniture making. She could swim, dive, golf, and drive a mean obstacle course in horse and carriage and then come inside, get behind her Singer and sew herself a Chanel suit!
I have recently discovered flashes of my childhood through bits of paper scribbled on from the time I could pick up a pencil. My mother saved small time capsules for all six of us.
What was wonderful was not the quality of the drawings or the musings, but the fact that we were listened to and given paper for our ideas. She gave our thoughts merit.
I didn’t discover a decent paintbrush until my second year at the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts.) Up until then, I had used our communal crusty brushes and musty tubes of paint.
In college I discovered the luxury of good paper, thick and creamy for water color, crispy and thin for drawing and new brushes that went from fat and absorbent to springy and pointy. With these tools came the huge learning curve of how to make them work!
I drew, painted or sculpted every day for four years. When I graduated, my pencil and I kept up our long, happy relationship.
In the 1970’s, there was not much emphasis in college on finding actual employment. There was no Internet! I had picked a pretty lonely profession.
I survived on random freelance jobs in advertising, graphic design and calligraphy. Those were peppered between waitressing, bartending, and pedaling clothing and stuffed bears.
After I married Holland C. Gregg III in 1977, he asked me if I was ever going to DO anything with the stack of drawings he saw growing beside my desk.
Here was how he put it: Was I expecting art directors from New York to come looking for me in the rural woods of Pennsylvania?
Yes, he was exactly right! That was just what I wanted!
He posed as my agent and made some phone calls to several publishing houses in New York. We drove to the city and he coaxed me inside the heavy doorways of several publishing houses. The editors were puzzled when he introduced me and then took off!
But, to our complete and astonishment, I left New York with two offers to illustrate and write children’s books.
Within three years, I had two children, Holland C. Gregg IV and Marietta Brewster Gregg. While I illustrated, they grew up gurgling and kicking in a basket on my desk and then commenting and critiquing from a high chair beside me. I benefitted from their company, honesty and inspiration.
Fifteen years and thirty-odd books later, my children were looking at colleges and I was peering at anemic paychecks.
I found extra work with greeting card companies that offered nice short projects with quick deadlines all of which helped the college fund a bit.
Years into work on both the cards and the books, I still found that the work I loved doing, that felt the most authentic to me could not find a place in either publishing world. Editors found it interesting or humorous, but did not feel there was an audience for me.
In 2002, a promising request for an expansive line of cards turned into a major rejection. But, for the first time, I found fuel in the rejection. I had done what I thought was my best work and I was fired up. I took a huge risk, borrowed my husband’s time and a loan from my ever-supportive mother and started Patience Brewster Cards.
I got lucky. My cards were warmly received. There was an audience out there!
Interestingly, at the same time, a large public company licensed some of my drawings to make Christmas ornaments. I was pleasantly surprised when they were developed perfectly and began jumping off store shelves on an international basis. (see the ornaments link)
It seemed I was off to the rodeo.
But my stars were not going to be lucky for long. The month that I started the card company, my son complained of a lump near his hip.
He was misdiagnosed in California where he was living at the time. Six months later, he came home to see our family doctor. Our beautiful, happy, clever, athletic son Holland (Herm) was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 23 years old.
Over the next three years we would discover just how aggressive cancer could be.
Holland battled bravely and without complaint. He ate cleanly and stayed fit. He took a crossword puzzle and his broad smile into every chemo infusion. He would continue to do so through three bone marrow transplants.
He diverted his career path and worked for us at our new small card company. None of our customers would ever know that the healthy looking boy or the strong deep voice on the phone belonged to a young man fighting for his life.
It was not short of incredible to watch Herm, Holland, hold up against this disease and its brutal treatment. It is hard for me to understand where any of us found the strength to get up in the morning, let alone to run our businesses as a family in and out of hospitals in three states for three years. Our daughter, Marietta, who had just graduated from college, left her independent path and moved to be near her brother. She would be his repeated marrow donor, platelet donor, humor resource and his rock.
When there were no more answers, no more medicines for Holland, his father uncovered one ray of hope in a small magazine article. He found a research team in Houston that had created a therapy without chemo or its side effects. They would actually devise a serum that was made for Holland from Marietta’s blood, which would cure him briefly.
But his insurmountable disease outsmarted even this very clever therapy. Holland lost his life on October 20, 2005.
Never a brighter light was taken.
Please know that his spirit burns present and vital within us. In his name, we created the Holland C. Gregg IV Research Fund to continue the quest for a cure through immunotherapy, which provides more effective and humane treatment. (see A Dinner for Herm link)
Holland’s love still radiates. Its effect is alive and important, as is this chapter of our lives. A small miracle did occur when doses of the serum remaining from Holland’s treatment were administered to a woman who had no more options. She has survived and proved that a random unrelated donor’s serum can be used effectively. This was one of many of Holland’s gifts.
Basic elements of life: family, friendship and even business become very clear when loved ones are suffering or lost.
As a result, we run our business cleanly and on a level playing field. We treat our employees, and our customers, the way we like to be treated, with respect, transparency and equality. Herm liked to keep things simple and under calm control. He had a wide-open heart and mind while doing so. What could be a better policy for life and relationships?
Today we have an ornaments and gifts business, started in 2009 (yep, right after the crash). Our daughter, Marietta, went back to school for graphic design to be by my side and to save my sanity. She became an expert at computer graphics and typography that I do not do. She started by adding her touch to the graphics in the cards. She is now our Director of Marketing and creates all our communication and marketing tools. She is a virtual mind reader for me, stylistically, but even better than that, she brings a fresh creative resource that is hers alone.
Our accomplished VP of Sales was once our children’s babysitter! Rebecca Dalton grew up and rose to the tippity top of several challenging careers before coming to our aid one magical day. She offered to fill my bird feeders. Today she does it all. If you have been a customer, you know, that not one detail in our business escapes her capabilities.
My favorite compadre from my licensing days, Hubbard Stout, came to help us as VP of Product Development. We’ve traveled to the other side of the earth together many times working with craftspeople who have also become good friends.
My husband never quite got away after he set one toe into our card company. It swallowed him whole, but he survived and is still here running the show!
Does it drive you crazy when you have a product question or a problem with a purchase and you get in a recorded phone or computer loop? Growl. Me too. As a result, we have an incredible team here. Each one involved honestly loves to help our customers. They love just to hear from you. You can meet them on our phones or on our team page. Put them to the test. They are so awesome. So is our team at our shipping warehouse.
We started Patience Brewster Inc. to gain control of the quantity and quality of my handmade products. We wanted to give deserved respect to the people who put hours of intricate work into each of our products and to our wonderful loyal customers.
There is still only one artist coming up with and painting the original designs. That would be me. But many hands and eyes, those of the sculptors, mold makers, sanders and painters bring them beautifully to life for you. More hands and eyes get them past quality control, gently packed into gift boxes and then shipped to you. I am very fortunate to have a great team here in our offices and warehouse and in other parts of the world to make this all happen.