“gift from the sea” . . .

by mulberryshoots

DSC_2885_2 tbmAnne Morrow Lindbergh (AML) wrote a book called “Gift from the Sea” that was published in 1955. It became a best seller and is considered a seminal book in the feminist movement, largely because it was an early forerunner written in a gentle tone reflecting how hard it can be for women to have a life of their own while tending children, households and husbands. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for 80 weeks and has sold millions of copies, translated into 45 languages, I’m told.
That’s quite an accomplishment when you consider that AML was also the wife of Charles Lindbergh, learned how to fly and accompanied him on long trips around the world, being the first woman to fly across the Pacific at the time. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? a woman flying for the first time across the Pacific? And of course, you might have heard about the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping and sorry aftermath. AML was pregnant at the time and had five subsequent children, four of them still living (Anne died in the 1990’s from cancer.)

Her book, “Gift from the Sea” was the first time a woman talked in a quiet tone about things that matter to us all, like the impossibility of loving someone just the same all the time. One of my favorite quotations from the book when I read it decades ago was: “The most exhausting thing in the world, I have discovered, is being insincere.” You can get a sense of her writing and rhythm just from that one sentence.

I wonder what it must have been like for Charles Lindbergh, the larger than life celebrity husband to know that her book was so popular and sold so well. I read that he supported her writing even to the extent of barring the children from disturbing her when she worked in her study. He was also a prolific writer and authored an autobiographical book about his solo flight across the Atlantic in his plane, the “Spirit of St. Louis” which won a Pulitzer Prize.

Later, the Lindberghs made some publishing gaffes–either due to foolish naivete or from idealistic ignorance–that got them into trouble with the American public. They were perceived, at least he was, as a pro-Nazi sympathizer and possibly anti-Semitic. Their fall from grace on the American stage lasted until Lindbergh died at the age of 72 in 1974. He was buried in Maui, Hawaii according to his own wishes, made when he knew he was dying from lymphatic cancer: the grave dug just so deep and so wide, facing a certain way; a coffin made from eucalyptus wood, the body wrapped in an old favorite Hudson Bay blanket and so on.

AML published thick volumes of her journals which bore wonderful titles like: “Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead” and “The Flower and the Nettle.” I remember cradling these books, reading them through and through when I had three daughters under the age of five. I also shared an intense love of everything domestic: houses, gardens, furnishings, rhythms of running a household. So her books were my companions, ones that I might not have been able to find in person to share how I wanted my home to be like. Of course, she was very rich and I was not, but she wasn’t pretentious in that way. She was also shy and reclusive and I liked that about her too.

Apparently, when one reads Reeve Lindgergh’s memoirs about the last years of her mother’s life and dying near her home in Vermont, Charles Lindbergh, though beloved by the family, was somewhat of a tyrant, controlling and autocratic. I read where he insisted on taking Anne away on flights just at the time the children were born when all she wanted to do was to stay with them at home. During the 1950’s when “Gift from the Sea” was published, it has been said that she had a three year love affair with her physician.

AML died at the age of 94 in 2001. She was cremated and her ashes scattered. Two years later, three children, now grown, revealed themselves in Germany after their mother died, saying that they were fathered by Charles Lindbergh. DNA tests confirmed their story, the eldest was born around 1957. But wait, there’s more. It turns out that the children’s aunt had two children by Charles Lindbergh and his secretary at the time had two children: a total of seven children in three households was revealed. My first thought on hearing this was to wonder if AML ever knew, either from Charles before he died or from elsewhere before she passed away so many years later.

So ironic, don’t you think, that this gentle soul who wrote so well about the difficulty women have to be themselves, to be allowed to be imperfect and so on, would have this happen as a footnote to her 45-year marriage to Charles Lindbergh, a national hero at the time of his transatlantic flight? It’s beyond appalling, I was thinking to myself. I’d also taken some pride that AML had gone to Smith, my alma mater too. In Reeve Lindbergh’s memoirs, AML tells her that she never wanted to go to Smith but preferred Bryn Mawr instead. One of her elders became President of Smith at one time and there is a residential building called Morrow there too–I guess that family ties to Smith were stronger than her individual choice.

So, it was a coincidence of sorts yesterday that I saw on eBay an auction for a first edition of “Gift from the Sea” with its own slipcase, of course published in 1955. I idly put in a bid on it because no one else had, and later found out it was mine for $10.00 with free shipping. I’m glad to have this early edition of this meaningful book because it has been one of my favorites for so long. I only wish that AML’s life had been easier, but perhaps she wouldn’t have written “Gift From the Sea” had it been otherwise.

That’s life, isn’t it?

Postscript: Reeve Lindbergh, AML’s youngest daughter, writes in her memoir, “Forward from Here,” about the revelation of Charles Lindbergh’s seven children by three women in Germany after her mother’s death in 2001 and whether or not AML ever knew:
“She died two years before the news about the other families was revealed, and I have wondered how much she knew about my father’s secret life. A close friend of hers told me this: ‘She knew, but she didn’t know what she knew. . .’ That sounds very much like my mother.”