Peter Carl Schmitt, 1923-2017

Peter Schmitt as a technical sergeant in the famed 10th Mountain Division of the U. S. Army (the “ski troops”), which saw action at the front lines in Italy in the winter of 1944-45.

Peter C. Schmitt died on Saturday, June 10, 2017 after a brief illness.  He was born on March 19, 1923 in Norwalk, Connecticut, the fourth son of Carl and Gertrude Schmitt.  He was raised in Silvermine, Connecticut, and graduated from New Canaan High School, where he met the love of his life, the former Jane Hunt.  Upon graduation in 1943, Mr. Schmitt enlisted in the U. S. Army and served in Italy with the famous Tenth Mountain Division Ski Troops.  He participated in the battle of Riva Ridge and was awarded the Bronze Star.

Upon discharge from the army, he married his high school sweetheart and settled in Silvermine, raising their six children and pursuing a career as a commercial artist in the advertising industry in New York City.  After his retirement he relocated to Bedford, New Hampshire.  He and his wife later returned to Connecticut in November of last year.

His funeral mass will be celebrated at the Basilica of St, John the Evangelist in Stamford, Connecticut on June 15.  He is survived by Jane, his wife of seventy-one years, and their three sons and two daughters, as well as his sister, four of his brothers, and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Mr. Schmitt is preceded in death by his daughter Carolyn Jane “Karen” Schmitt, and brothers Austin, Michael, David, and John Schmitt.

Among David Schmitt’s many stories and recollections of his growing up is the following portrait of his brother Peter.

Peter Schmitt at the age of 3½.

Peter’s temperament is a lot like Dad’s.  If there was ever a person true to the character of St. Peter’s, my brother Peter is the one.  Just like St. Peter in the gospel, he is a leader.  He is outspoken, to the point.  He is spontaneous; he is intuitive; he’s extroverted.  Black and white.  Truth is charity and there’s no such thing as unnecessary charity!

Peter at an early age wanted to play the violin.  The only hitch was he had to learn and unfortunately that was at the expense of all the rest of us.  Dad remedied the situation by having him practice at the other end of the acre of land we owned.  There was an old shack there and I remember after school Pete was free to go to it by himself.

Peter (far left) and his brothers David, Jacob, John, and Carl, Jr. about 1932.

Peter was also a fast talker. I remember once when our friend Harry was visiting, Peter sent me to the house to get a quarter he had in his desk.  We were all going to go to Guthrie’s market for candy. While I was getting the quarter, Peter and Harry took off on their bicycles and when I came out I was shocked to find out they’d left without me, and I was a little hurt too!  When they got back an hour later, I complained, and Peter’s reply was, “Well at least we didn’t take off in front of you.  We were decent enough to send you in the house for the quarter so you wouldn’t see us.”  From then on in life I knew what I was dealt, or up against.

My aunt Martita once took me aside and said to me, “David, if you wouldn’t cry when Peter bully’s you, he wouldn’t enjoy it so much and he would leave you alone.” That evening I did better than that. When he started in on me, I punched him on the nose, knocked him down and beat him up.  It’s amazing what a word from a grown up will do for a little courage when one is down or depressed!

He never challenged me again; in fact he’s always respected me since and I respect him too!   I think when I was about six he taught me that lesson.

Peter (left) and his brother David about 1924.

Another time when we were in Rome, Chris (who was about eight) went down in the driveway to play with the boy who lived below us.  The boy, being the only son of a military man, was quite spoiled and got everything he wanted.  He got mad at Chris.  Their maid heard him under the kitchen window so she thought she’d help him by throwing a glass of cold water on Chris.  Chris came upstairs crying, his feelings more outraged than anything else.  The big kids, Peter and Mike, came to his defense.  They told him to go back down and yell up at the maid, which he did.  Sure enough, she moved into position above him with another glass of cold water.  When she did, she got a whole dish pan full over her head.  This time no one came to pound on the door.  In fact, we all celebrated at an easy victory.

Christmas in Silvermine

We continue our series of reminiscences by Carl Schmitt’s late son David, who died this past March at the age of 89.

One Christmas when I was about seven dad and mother bought me a present much better than I anticipated.  Dad called my name and I stepped forward and he handed me a large box attractively wrapped.  “To David from Mother and Dad.”  I tore it open and inside was a large pair of brown hunting boots with a jackknife in a leather pocket on the left side of the left boot.  I was overwhelmed.  I put the boots on and paraded around the house upstairs and down all the rest of Christmas day.  I could see nothing but those two boots.

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Michael, pastel on paper, 1935

Unfortunately, my brother Mike had gotten a model airplane kit—the kind one puts together from balsa wood and covers with Japanese tissue paper, then paints to match the real airplane.  It actually flew and took a lot of work to build.  Late in the afternoon, just before supper, I was coming down the stairs, and of course Michael was assembling his plane right at the foot of the stairs.  You guessed it, the inevitable happened; my big boot went “crunch” right in the middle of his plane and completely demolished it.  It was a case of the inevitable force meeting the immovable object.

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Carl Schmitt sons ((left to right) Peter, Jacob, Michael, John, David, and Austin, c. 1932.

Mike wanted to take it out on my hide but he didn’t, remarkably, because I pointed out that after all that wasn’t the best place to put his plane together.  Naturally, he didn’t relish hearing my defense.  It was a case of arrogance vs. pride which most kids excel in.  I still don’t remember how the situation was resolved short of parental arbitration and both of us eating a little crow.

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Christmas card (c. 1925) for John Kenneth Byard, a friend and patron of Schmitt in the 1920s who later became a well-known antiques dealer.

Bobby

Robert Schmitt, Carl Schmitt’s eldest son, celebrates his 95th birthday today.  This reminiscence by his late brother, David, pays tribute to his gentleness, intelligence, and courage, qualities still evident to everyone who meets him.

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Bobby Schmitt, c. 1925

My oldest brother’s name is Bobby.  He was born first and is the gentlest, most considerate and responsible of all the brothers.  I suppose that has a lot to do with what has always been expected of him.  Usually, the eldest in a big family is expected to look after and help care for all the rest of the little urchins that follow along; it’s his unwritten destiny and usually works out that way in most families.

Bobby is not only conscientious, but he is very smart and also an excellent teacher and applied psychologist through necessity. He is a genius at simplifying the problem and applying the common denominator.  He excelled in mathematics, geometry, trigonometry, algebra and everything else for that matter.  Every year he would win the ten dollar gold piece in grammar school.  The only year he didn’t win was because the poor girl who always rated second was given the award because the school officials “wanted to be fair,” or political, about it.

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Robert (far left) and his siblings Austin, Michael, Jacob, Christopher, Gertrude, and John, in the garden at Silvermine, c. 1935

Bobby was also courageous even though he was gentle and never fought, that didn’t stop him when he was called upon for leadership.  Once when we were teenagers out on Long Island Sound in a sail boat, a big storm came up.  We all but capsized when the first squall line hit us.  I was five years younger than he and was scared stiff.  But I was much impressed and very thankful when Bobby took charge and put us all to work: donning life jackets, stripping the sails, and heaving to into the fierce wind.  We weathered the worst of it and when the Coast Guard asked us if we needed assistance, we thanked them and let them know “everything was under control,” thanks to our skipper.

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Norwalk Harbor, pastel on paper, 1910, 7 x 13 in.

Another time just the opposite happened and we were becalmed and spent a pleasant summer night drifting across Long Island Sound.  I can still hear the slapping of the halyards against the mast as the boat rocked back and forth with each swell all night long.  In the morning we were perilously close to the rocky shore of Long Island but were very thankful for a tow by the Coast Guard back to Norwalk Harbor and our mooring and some of the concerned parents I might add.

Bobby’s basic philosophy (per forsa) was: “Chi va piano, va sano et chi va sano ve lantorno”: “Who goes softly, goes sanely and who goes sanely goes a long way.”

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Robert, oil on board, c. 1945, 12 x 10 in.
After working six full days as a draftsman for the war effort, Robert would would travel to Silvermine by train on Sundays, trudging home from the station six miles away.  The exhaustion of his long hours at work shows in his face.  Perhaps due to these circumstances, his father never finished the portrait.

Summers in Silvermine

We continue our series of recollections by Carl Schmitt’s son David.

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Eight of the nine Schmitt boys, early 1930s: back row (left to right): Austin, David, Robert, Michael, Jacob, Peter; in wagon: John, Carl, Jr.

My earliest recollection of the “early days” was my father walking to Winnipauk to ride the trolley car into Norwalk to the foot of Hospital Hill to visit my mother. Every year her only two week vacation time was when another little brother was born.  Eventually she would come home for a grand reunion introducing the new baby to the rest of us which was always a joyous occasion, a memorable event.

Summers were also happy times.  I usually put on my red and white striped bathing suit toward the end of May and would only take it off after first frost in September.  No baths either in the summer (I was, I believed, allergic to water) although I did learn to swim (doggy paddle) in Borglum’s brook and up at the old reservoir, which was enough!

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Gertrude Schmitt holding her son David, with Jacob standing to the right.

I remember we kept the little kids from following us into the woods by enclosing them in the yard at home with a big stone each in their diapers.  One time after about a two hour swim we rushed home because of a huge thunder storm, and lo and behold there were the two of them soaking wet, still straining to get out of the pouring rain, anchored in the yard.  Mother was, needless to say, exasperated because she was busy at the other end of the house and never heard their crying above the storm.

Dad: A civilized man

This week we are honoring David T. Schmitt, Carl Schmitt’s fifth son, who died on March 22 at the age of 89.  Below is David’s portrait of his father, taken from a collection of memories he wrote down not long after his father’s death.

My father was born in 1889 in Warren, Ohio.  He was the second son of Jacob and Grace Schmitt, who had only two boys. His father Jacob taught music in Youngstown and donated his expertise as the choir director for St. Mary’s Church in Warren for over fifty years.  He also played the organ every Sunday for that period.

Jacob Schmitt with his sons Carl (left) and Robert, c. 1905.

From the beginning Dad could always draw, he had the talent of the discerning line.  He pursued this talent and made it his vocation, leaving high school to study art in New York, at the National Academy of Design.  He always knew what he wanted to do and he did it as far as art was concerned. He was given the gift and he knew it was his responsibility to develop it.  He further studied abroad in France and Italy before the First World War.

Later he returned home to marry Gertrude Lord and settle in Silvermine, near Norwalk, Connecticut.  Here he and other like-minded artists founded the Silvermine Guild of Artists, a colony where they could exchange ideas, paint and exhibit their skills.  This included drama, sculpture, painting, drawing, etching, water color, and some crafts such a pottery–they established a shop.

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Self-Portrait, charcoal and pencil on paper, December 1916

My father was what I call a civilized man: you could count on him to not only do the right thing at the right time but from the right motive, and he always knew why he should do things so.  He had good will and intelligence.  He was mature.  He not only nursed the gift of Faith, but he welcomed the gifts of the Holy Spirit, contemplated them, and tried to integrate them into his everyday life as much as possible.

He was civilized in the Christian tradition and he saw God’s creation as a magnificent manifestation of his love, because God is magnificent.  He wasn’t stilted in Puritan observations and taboos because Christ has redeemed creation to the extent that it wants or has cooperated in submission.  Consequently the Holy Spirit has informed nature to raise it above itself through grace.

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Self-Portrait, oil on hardboard, c. 1965, 15 x 12 in.

Mother always said Dad had an “artistic nature” or “temperament.”  In a word, he responded almost innately: dramatically, responsibly to any given situation.  He had instant commitment or involvement, with integrity.  To balance this innate tendency he was also extremely analytical to the point of being almost scientific about evaluating everything.

He was a true contemplative at times and even mystical at others in his deep understanding of the true nature of persons, places, things, situations—he would speak of the symbol and reality of the Trinity again and again in creation!

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Untitled, pastel on paper, 14 x 16 in.