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An unexpected discovery yields a charming children's book

How two gallery owners found 'Rhoda's Ocean' – an unpublished children's book hiding under a pile of laundry.

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"Practical Wilma believes in neatness, while Rhoda is a dreamer who forgets her shoes and wonders what an ocean looks like," says Arnet. "'Rhoda’s Ocean' celebrates creativity, friendship, and the rewards of being yourself."

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In some ways, it tells the story of Betty herself.

She grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains of rural Tennessee where she was the only daughter of five children. At the age of 19, she received a full scholarship to Cooper Union and bravely moved on her own to New York City to attend the prestigious art school. After graduation, she went on to work as an illustrator for a top advertising agency, The Washington Post, and other newspapers. She won several major awards for illustration during her career.

Betty had met Arnold in the late 1940s at Cooper Union, where he was also an art student. Arnold often shares the story of how they met. “I asked her to have a cup of coffee at the local Automat," Arnold reminisced with a twinkle in his eye. "That was a strong cup of coffee, because we were together for sixty years.” 

They went on to be married in 1952 and raised three sons in the same house in Natick, Mass. where they had moved in 1970. They have seven grandchildren, to whom the book is dedicated.

“I remember her working on the book, but I never really paid much attention to it," Arnold said. "Betty was always doing artwork even while she was cooking or playing with the boys. We would travel and paint together all the time. She liked the mountains and I enjoyed painting by the ocean.,"

At her funeral, Arnold gave a moving eulogy, ending with, “She was a wonderful wife, mother, grandmother, companion and friend. She was the only woman I ever loved romantically. Goodnight sweetheart, till we meet tomorrow.”

I asked Arnold if the characters in the book reminded him of anyone.

“I think I was Wilma and she was Rhoda," he replied. "I liked things to be a little neater than she did.”

Arnold lives alone now and paints every day in his basement studio. He also works out in the weight room at the new senior center in town and often stops by the library where Betty had been a volunteer for years. “She was a real lady,” a co-worker there says of her, recalling her “gentle and kind personality.”

Arnold also visits the gallery weekly to check on the book’s progress. He often tells us how much Betty would have loved seeing it finally published.

“She would have been thrilled," Arnold said. "She was a wonderful artist... I miss her very much.”

John Mottern and Anet James are owners of Gallery 55 in Natick, Mass. Gallery 55 is also the publisher of "Rhoda's Ocean."

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