I think we can all agree that Jules Peemoeller was a colorful guy. He had flair. He had humor. But he was also straightforward. He was fond of nicknames and there was always one close at hand. You might know him as Peemoeller of the Park; Puddle; Sage, The Big Surveyor (or just BS); Mr. P; G-Pops-P, or good old Grandpa. To me he was Dad and he was an absolute fixture at 521 Third Street in Park Slope. And he was loved by many.
Jules had a relatively unsupervised childhood growing up as an only child in Astoria, Queens with the likes of people like Christopher Walken. His parents were not often around and that meant that he lived outside on the streets; playing stickball and street games, going for swims in the East River, and managing a decent enough school life. Christopher Walken’s parents owned a bakery, and when my grandmother would stop by, she would get an earful about Christopher’s budding dancing career. Of course, we all know where that went- But I like to think my Dad was a pretty good dancer too. Anyone who has danced with him or seen him dancing knows that it brought him much pleasure to be on his feet moving to music.
He graduated from Brooklyn Polytechnic with a degree in Civil Engineering and through the ROTC program he became a Lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers. It was during this time that he met his lifelong friend Bob Klein (who lives in Florida and could not be here today) and they traveled the country. My Dad, in a Volkswagen beetle- living in California and Texas and Washington DC. Jules and Bob later settled as roommates in Corona, Queens- living together in what could only be described as a “bachelor’s pad”. He often talked about that as a dreamy time in his life as a young man, when he really got to experience America for the first time before coming back to New York.
But, after the Army, it didn’t take my father long to realize that he didn’t want an office job as an engineer. So, his pursuit of happiness led him to Brooklyn Technical High School where he began teaching Civil and Structural Engineering in 1964. By that time, he was living in Yorkville, Manhattan. Then, he happened to meet a pretty young woman (my mom) at a “Young Republican-club” which we would always chuckle about later. It seems to me, anyway, that it was really- just a way for getting young people together. Back then, I think they were both more interested in finding a date than participating in politics.
So, the magic happened between them and they realized they had a similar vision for their lives. They lived a few blocks from each other, and their frequent visits quickly led to much more. Jules and Carolyn were married in 1967 and moved to Park Slope. For eight years before I was born, they spent their summers traveling; mostly through Europe. They would pack their bags and race to the airport as soon as school ended. Usually, they had only a rough itinerary and would wander…Scandinavia, The Alps, the Mediterrenean, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Northern Africa and so on… Stopping here or there to spend a week painting or swimming or hiking. He told me how they would celebrate the mid-way point of their three-month journey in order to savor the remaining days before returning to New York, often the day before school started. For a guy who grew up in a basement in Queens, this was a life worth living.
By the time I came along, they were ready to settle into the Brownstone on Third Street that my father ended up living in for 44 years. It was a stable period in his life. He threw himself into family and his teaching career and we continued to travel in the summers. Although he was always interested in art, it was then that he began to blossom as an artist.
First he worked in clay and then moved on to stone. For a long time, I remember him changing into his work clothes, retreating upstairs to his dusty studio, turning the radio on and chiseling away. This led to a productive three-month stint that he spent in an artist village in Pietrasanta, the marble heart of Italy. This was part of the year-long sabbatical that my parents took in Europe in 1982. It was truly a triumph of the system. As if the stars were shining upon them, they were both able to align their requests for sabbatical and home school me during my 2nd grade, while living a gypsy life traveling from here to there. I think he and my mom would agree it was the happiest year they spent together. Many of his most interesting stone sculptings were made in Italy. As far as I can tell, he produced over 40 sculptings in his life on many subjects. For him, sculpting was about guiding his intuition in the materiality of stone to evoke a feeling. My favorite sculptings of his remain the heavy, stormy clouds made of marble.
Growing up with my Dad, it was very clear to me that he loved teaching. He loved Brooklyn Tech, he loved Fort Greene Park, he enjoyed colleagues, and mostly he loved his students. I know he felt that he had so much more to offer than what could be taught in a classroom. And he absolutely delighted in the diversity of people he got to know through Tech. He truly celebrated his student’s success and careers. And he enjoyed the very personal relationships that grew from that throughout his life. I loved being anywhere in NYC with my Dad and hearing a loud and resounding “Yo! Mr. P!” And then witnessing some sweet, short exchange between him and a former student before moving on.
My father also had a deep relationship with Prospect Park. I think the park is what drew him to Brooklyn. He was a great observer and the park had a lot to offer him as a public and private place for renewal and connection with the seasons and nature. After I had moved away from Brooklyn, many of our phone calls involved conversations about the park, certain trees, or holes in the pavement that were still there or pending repairs and restorations. I think his daily exercise in the park led to an intimacy of knowing it year-round and he shared this with me, revealing its excitement over the years. This mirrored his relationship with Fort Greene Park through his teaching. I believe that his successful intimacy with these two parks was A deeply satisfying and reciprocal love that encouraged his never quenched thirst to explore New York City.
It was sometime after my mother had died in 2003 that my father started on his third life. He would say; I had my first life growing up, I had my second life with Carolyn, and I now live my third life on my own. It was during this period that he increased the productivity of his work in colored pencils. These works evolved into a series of montages of New York parks and places that he continued to work on until his death. I know, so many of these artworks are deeply personal to him in ways that are coded from his experiences. He was prolific and during this time, he worked hard to publish two books on the alphabet and on numbers. His study of New York defined him. He was also a Big Apple Greeter- a volunteer tour guide for visitors to New York. Every week he would cherry pick from a list of visitors from all over the world. He thrived by meeting people from other countries and sharing his New York with them. I just recently learned that he gave over 350 tours and met over 700 people during his time with Big Apple Greeters. And he also created tours for his local friends and the Good Neighbor’s of Park Slope. It’s true to say that he actually gained a following. He was constantly researching new places to visit and interesting things to see. It didn’t matter the nature or the size of the group, he loved leading the charge. I have a feeling that this sharing of his life and city is one of the things that kept him going all these years.
I learned a lot from my father in this third life of his. He showed me how to live an active-life, and what it is like to keep living even in the shadow of personal loss. He showed me how to celebrate beauty and face challenges. He was a great adventurer and travel partner. I loved hearing his stories of adventure in Mongolia, Los Pampas, Bhutan, Siberia and on and on.
I also have so many memories of traveling the world with him that I cherish. And when Eric and his grandchildren; Addis and Jules came into his life, he embraced them and celebrated his great fortune to extend our small family. The most recent family trips have been among my favorites; driving around southern Italy eating mussels; in Cyprus where my father threw himself into the art project that Eric and I were working on, and most recently, this past summer in Spain; This was a trip my mother had always envisioned she would be arrange for her grandchildren (some-day). And somehow, as if he knew it would be his last, my father had suggested that we do it this summer. Really, there was no one trip better than the another, they all somehow add up to a feeling. A feeling of family, of being together and experiencing something together, and the moments when we feel we are bigger than just ourselves.
My Dad showed me how to have friendships that are deep and meaningful and personal. It’s been a great pleasure meeting his lady friends all these years. It always seemed to me, the he was seeking a flow of friendship, caring, and possibly romance that in the best of ways was simply about laughter, touch, and companionship. I know he respected and cared for all his friends, both men and women. It is so beautiful to see such friendships lasting into old age.
When we lose a parent- or a friend, we lose a part of ourself. There are so many things I will miss about my father. When all this is said and done, and I go back to St. Louis, I will miss our daily conversations. I will miss hearing about New York through his lens. I will miss his emphatic point of view, I will miss him being my personal champion and his never ending generosity of spirit- exemplified by how he always encouraged me to “go live the life I dreamed for myself”.
But I must remind myself that he knew how to live. He taught me the best lessons in life. He lived, he loved, and he danced. He had a good life and we remember that today.