When I first met Madame Votaw over 40 years ago, I was frightened. Descending from the floor above in a rattling cage-like elevator, she emerged smoking like a dragon, surrounded by baying hounds. Add her daughters as sirens on the rocks of adolescent heartache and we have an opera. One she would have enjoyed.
Like some mythic figure, Madame Votaw literally created some of my dearest friends. She shaped even more of us. She will never be gone so long as we are here.
Although she was a commanding and powerful figure of unquestionable authority, I’ll never forget her wonderful laugh or smile. I still hear the music she added to my nickname: Gue. No one else made Gue sound so lovely.
Eszti and Al Votaw were phenomenally gracious and generous in welcoming many of us into their home. In their salon, I first heard Doc Watson, as well as Pete Seeger. At their dinner table, I first ate artichokes. At their back door, I first tasted cigarettes.
I taxed the Votaws’ hospitality more than most by visiting them in Abidjan, in the Ivory Coast. It was the trip of a lifetime and nearly the end of mine, but it was a privilege to experience a little of Africa with such worldly hosts.
The last time I saw Eszti was in her apartment. She wanted to meet my wife Merri. They hit it off instantly and the three of us chatted and laughed like old friends. I finally felt grown-up.
Much of her lives on in our hearts and memories. I’m grateful to the Universe for placing the Votaws so directly in my path that even I couldn’t miss the opportunity. To say the least, my life was changed immeasurably.