"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: Smith College

“gift from the sea” . . .

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.”


seeing green . . .

Even though this winter has been unseasonably mild (hallelujah!) a friend and I went to the Lyman Greenhouse at Smith College, Northampton, MA a couple of weeks ago, a place usually reserved for snowbound winters. I had thought there were more exotic plants–or at least slightly unusual ones but most of what we saw was commonplace. That is, I had seen most of the plants somewhere before. The place was also looking a little rundown but maybe that was my imagination.

In any case, I took a few photos and downloaded them onto my IPhoto file. Then forgot about them. Yesterday, some of these images came onto my screensaver, slowly zooming in and out. And I swear, I could almost smell the fragrant, damp air of the greenhouse. It seemed like an oasis of plants. So, I thought Read the rest of this entry »

“life is long” . . .

thankful every day

“Life is long”. . . a woman speaker told us at one of the Wednesday morning assemblies when I was a scholarship student at Smith College in the ’60′s. She talked about how important this idea was because as women, we might have to put the care of others ahead of ourselves. And that there might still be a chance to do something or be something that was really important to us. Later on.

It was a turbulent time. Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and others sang to protest the Vietnam War. Women’s Lib was at its peak, American astronauts walked on the moon, and the Beatles rocked everyone, singing “I Want to Hold Your H-A-N-D…” Being somewhat shy, I was too naïve to know what I really wanted out of life, never mind whether life was short, or whether it was long.

My first marriage lasted for over a quarter of a century and the best thing that came out of it was our children. The one thing we did well together was raising them to be independent, to be curious and to give them experiences and tools to find their way in life.

Preferences in the way he and I wanted to live were in stark contrast to each other: he wanted to travel the world and live in exotic cultures–the Wanderer. All I wanted to do was to be at home. In my own home in comfort of my own making: to read, play the piano, knit, cook meals, listen to music. We couldn’t have been farther apart in terms of what we each wanted to do at the middle-aged period in our lives.

The divorce was lengthy and painful, lots of to- and fro-ing. Worries about finances. I moved three times in two years, including cleaning out the Victorian house that our children grew up in for twenty-two years, virtually by myself. The first week in my new apartment, the family dog slipped out from the back yard, even though the iron gates looked secure. When I searched but could not find her, I found solace in the I-Ching reading which said, “peace.” I figured that either I should chill out because she would turn up, or that she was already at peace. The next morning, the phone rang and a dog Samaritan said she found Bridget on the causeway in the next town. Two degrees  of separation, the Vet’s number on Bridget’s rabies tag and my new phone number left with the Vet during the move coincided to reunite us once again. I didn’t have a job at the time, although by then, I had worked for seven years in a biotech start-up and had a track record for making decent money. Three months later, I got a call that led me to a new biotech start-up company sixty miles away.

The movers, in their haste, forgot to tighten the lyre on my Steinway grand piano. I looked in the phone book for someone specializing in Steinways to come and take care of it. That person turned out to be my future husband. We were friends for four years when we decided to marry. This year, we celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary and have been together now for almost twenty years. I never thought this might happen during the turbulent unsettled time in my life.

We are both pianists, grateful that we are together to share our lives. Whenever I say that I should have left my first marriage earlier given all the trials and tribulations, my husband quickly disagrees. He feels that had even one thing been different in our pasts, we might not have met each other at all. Timing is everything, it seems, even if it takes awhile.

As a postscript, my ex-husband married within a year of our divorce being finalized. He and his wife travel and live all over the world. All’s well that ends well, it seems.

That’s how I came to understand what I heard when life was still innocent and full of promise, “Life is long.”