Ms. Vielchenblau’s After Death
At 830 North River Street across from the Highland Cemetery in Ypsilanti, Michigan Ms. Vielchenblau began to plan her life after death while living her life with death or rather with the dead. A close friend from China had said to her, “you lived your life strongly, you will live after death strongly as well.” The comment created in Ms. Vielchenblau a longing for a beautiful after life. She thought deeply about how she would die, planned her life, and her dead life or her life after death. She wondered if she would die in the foreign service oversea’s or from an illness? She wondered how she was likely to die?
She aimed to coordinate her life with her death and her porch overlooking the cemetery kept her dreaming. Shortly after she purchased her house at 830 N. River Street across from the Highland Cemetery she bought a plot in the cemetery and so did her father and sister. There is a turn off from River Street where her complex lays.
The house she designed was full of life. The house was a complex set at an inexpensive price due to its location across from the Highland Cemetery. The stairs going up leading to the three bedrooms were extra high as if to heaven.
The complex was laid out in several studios that would come to embody areas where she would have mastership eventually. A music rehearsal studio was in the front room with an upright piano, an old bi-level organ, an upright bass, a violin, a guitar, a trumpet, drums, bandeer and of course she studied voice. There was lots and lots of sheet music for the variety of instruments, as well as her own compositions and song books.
Along the left wall behind the rehearsal studio were shelves lined with books, the first shelf was organized into several library sections, followed by a collection of cookbooks in the hundreds, followed by shelves with numerous fine and eclectic dish collections including Italian printed plates, French plates and wooden dishes, fine tea cups with saucers like her Prince Charles and Lady Diana set from Harrods in London. Across from the shelves she built a small room by adding three walls to the far wall and lined the walls with a fragrant cedar to make a screening room.
The room she built compartmentalized the rest of the adjoining space into areas and nooks. The dining area was behind it, with a long ovular table that had tall candlesticks and a blown glass sculptural object on top and the walls were full of gold framed paintings, her own. She had a vision to value the house and create what would become a historic house with a placard on the front as did many Victorian homes in Ypsilanti.
On the side of the table were two buffet tables for serving dinner parties and drinks. The paintings along with fine art illustrations represented some of her finest works and were numerous and with a variety of themes including drawings of her daughter and historical references to her house and photographs of staged and vintage scenes. Across from the dining table is the kitchen where many culinary fantasies were manifested from her cook books and culinary research. She keeps one shelf of binders that are filled with recipes broken down into areas that include diverse cultures and holidays, plus the largest binder that is her treasure, “The Vielchenblau Family Recipes.”
Behind the dining area and kitchen is a small nook that she made into an exercise and spa area. The exercise and spa area has a recumbent bicycle and a variety of hand held weights, plus mats and a TV for exercising with Falun Gong videos or Gaia exercise channels that sometimes include dance lessons or belly dancing. There is a long massage table that she performed exercises on as was done while having physical therapy after a knee injury using velcro weights and straps. There are also some stacked blocks for stepping and stretching exercises and a half foam roll to stretch particular regions of the leg and knee. At nearly 46 years she had begun briefly to walk with a cane after a knee injury while working in a culinary role.
Directly perpendicular to the kitchen a little on the side is a door leading to the back of the house where there is her outdoor sanctuary nuzzled between the 4 bay garages that house cars and dry and wet art studios including sculpture studios with the main house in the complex. The sanctuary area has trellises on both sides with shrubs and greenery to create atmosphere and privacy from the road. There is seating around an outdoor fireplace, a stone rectangular table with stone benches. There are two grills potted plants and sculptures and a shrine. The area is both sociable and spiritual.
Behind the four bay garages with art studios above and below is the carriage house in the complex. The carriage house is used as an office and for writing. The carriage house is a few feet away from the last bay of the garage and in front of a beautiful cream and red tiled fenced in outdoor area where there is a pool and club house. What looks strange about the exterior of the house is the common complex color of cream which unites the whole property except for the main house is an older antique color wood siding a shade browner than watermelon.
The main house blended with the Highland Cemetery and was left nearly “as is” to leave it in keeping with both the Highland neighborhood and The Highland Cemetery. Her favorite place in the house was the porch that had both walls and ceiling, the front door and a view of the Highland Cemetery. On either side of the steps leading to the front porch were small stone gargoyles, the type one might find in an old Spanish city such as Valencia. On the porch Ms. Vielchenblau read poetry, drank teas such as macha green tea with lemon that she learned how to prepare from the last restaurant she worked at where she hurt her knee. She sometimes read poetry with her daughter and they came out with a stack of print outs and exchanged each other’s poems or read their own. She read with writer friends on the porch and by herself. The view of the cemetery weighted the emotion of the porch and dramatized all that she read. The porch had 4 outdoor chairs with outdoor cushions with little rod iron side tables next to each. The tables she bought large enough to fit a tray with drinks and a stack of writing. There was barely grass around the house except a small patch in the front that she barely had to mow to keep the house up. The lack of grass was even a selling point as Ms. Vielchenblau had planned for frequent travel in the foreign service and as a Diplomat and didn’t wish to be encumbered by a high maintenance lawn while traveling.
Ms. Vielchenblau staged literary weddings to a poetry character Little Jinn. The wedding napkins were embossed in 14 karat gold, “a Chinese lamb, a blue rose.” The guests stashed the napkins in purses and pockets for later valuation.
From every area in the River Street house Ms. Vielchenblau felt a manufacturer. She wished to value both the house with history and design, plus all of her work within it. She wished for after her death the house to remain intact in the hands of her daughter and left as her daughter’s inheritance and a museum. The quality of the museum would be that of a local social outcast, eccentric, born with royal ties, died while in Diplomatic service and as fine artist, composer, poet and even chef. She leaves behind many publications. All of her art work was made into catalogues and left in print. Her music was also published. Strangely the entire house was published and the quality was high. The house was intended to be a museum, book store, spiritual refuge and place frequented by those visiting the dead.
She couldn’t decide whether to establish the house and move and build it as business from the after- life for her and her daughter. Her dead life took over her living life. Death becomes her life.
By Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu