Home full of travel memories

A Mt. Airy couple spent years visiting mostly developing countries, returning with lots of art.

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Stanley and Beverly Diamond sitting in the dining room of their home surrounded by tribal masks they have acquired over time in the travels. (Michael Bryant / Staff Photographer)

It's hard to say which mode of interior decor Stanley and Beverly Diamond have chosen for their home in Mount Airy. American primitive? Definitely not. Country French? Not even close.

Let's just call the style an amalgamation of 75 cultures - and mostly developing-world cultures, at that.

The Diamonds, married 51 years, have arrayed their twin in finds from their decades on the road, across the seas, and over the mountains.

But we're not talking about what most people do: Call a travel agent, book the flight and hotel, see the well-known sights. That kind of travel generally guarantees clean water, fresh sheets, passable routes, and a hot shower.

On that kind of trip, you might not witness events "like the incredible funeral rituals of the Dogon people in the cliffs of Mali, or visit a Spirit House in the jungles of New Guinea," Stan Diamond writes in his book, What's an American Doing Here? (Eloquent, 2010).

There's nary a nook or cranny in the Diamond home that doesn't display a reminder of some trip: batiks from various parts of Africa and Bali; weavings from Laos, Bolivia, and Mexico; an Afghan tribal rug that a guest bit her tongue to keep from pleading for; knives, some made from the bone of the flightless cassowary found in New Guinea and nearby islands.

Then there are the tribal ceremonial masks, 100 of them, dotting the home's beige-colored walls upstairs, downstairs, and along the staircase in between.

Those masks - some more than two feet tall - are Stan's, and he takes great pride in them. Under each is a description of its type and where it was found.

Have they caused marital rifts? Of course. (That part of the story in a minute.)

Stan Diamond, 79, who has a doctorate in education, is the founder of Mill Creek School, a high school for emotionally disturbed children. Beverly Diamond, 71, has an advanced degree as a reading specialist. They met on a blind date and have lived in their house for 49 years.

The serious traveling and collecting started in 1982. Before that, the couple, with their two children, "did short trips," Stan says. But then he retired from his post at a children's summer's camp, which meant he and Beverly had time to really travel, for months at a time.

Once they decided where they would go - their favorite country is India, followed by Mexico and Myanmar - Stan would buy a book and map out their itinerary, if in fact they wanted one. Sometimes, they didn't. If they decided on a schedule, Stan would contact companies that offered guides and travel accommodations.

But they never visited industrialized countries. Stan had taught in Germany and Italy, and so the couple knew enough of Europe. Besides, travel there was expensive.

"I had a lifelong interest [in developing countries.] It came from looking through encyclopedias and stamp collecting," he says.

How can they afford their love of the road?

"We are living in a row home in Mount Airy. Our cars are six to seven years old," Stan says. "It's a matter of priorities. . . . There are choices you make."

Says his wife: "You have to give up something."

Their most expensive purchase overseas was the rug.

The second most expensive was an Indian elephant painted with rat's-tail brush with gold paint. It cost $150 two-plus decades ago. "It sat between my legs on the way home," says Beverly, who has a sharp wit. "You couldn't do that now."

The traveling, and yes, the collecting, have created some issues. In his book, Stan talks about the times the couple was robbed or nearly robbed in various locales (Barcelona, Rio, Belize, Budapest), but closer to home, there have been other pesky bits.

To wit: the elephant. Both Diamond children want it when their parents die.

Beverly says she can't be bothered with the sibling squawking. "When I'm terminally ill, I'll stand at the top of the stairs and drop it."

Though she lets a guest touch it, she's afraid to let strangers do so. Beverly cleans her own house, concerned that someone may damage the lovely elephant.

If she feels that way about the masks, she doesn't say.

By the mid-1990s, Beverly apparently had had her fill of mask collecting. Her own travel acquisitions, folk-art necklaces, hang discreetly in the couple's bedroom.

But Stan saw a Spirit Mask in Papua, New Guinea. The eyebrows alone measure at least six inches; its full length is at least two feet.

"I said, 'If you buy another one, I'll leave you,' " says Beverly. "He said, 'OK.'

"I came home from school, and there it was on the chair!" she says.

Her husband picks up the story. "I turned the chair towards her and said, 'We have a visitor.' " Stan then addressed the couple's visitor, asking, "How could you leave that mask anywhere with those eyebrows?"

For the most part, the Diamonds' traveling days are over. Stan had a bicycling accident last year that affected his hip.

But he isn't sorry. "We have these memories," he says.

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