Grandma, Newtown and the Tenacity of the Human Spirit

December 18th, 2012, Brattleboro, Vermont

Grandma’s back (in lieu of scanned pictures, here’s her look-alike)

Thank you all for waiting for me and Grandma. Grandma herself has been most patient, her typed pages sitting like little soldiers on the shelf, forgiving me for not being able to type her out every day like I promised you.

Life has other plans.  It’s been a crazy few years.  I don’t really love to talk about it except to say that the gray bird named illness flung itself at my window again and again until finally it tired of its own reflection and seemed to drop, though that leaves a rather limp bird with weak wings. But I am so grateful to be here!

Now dawns a new era and maybe grandma will inch her way back  into our sweet little world where also we have a brand new house built way back in the 1800s by a minister for his lovely young wife.

Our Little Abode (I write up in the tower, which is doll-sized…)

The writer and former occupant Cathryn Lykes (read her beautiful story about the house here: The Doorbell) wrote to me during the sale: The lines of the house draw the eye upward…toward the sky…it makes sense to me that someone who thought often of heaven would have designed and built it.  Which seems fitting since I have been through a kind of death.

But the deaths come so often–far more than the human heart can handle.  Those little first graders of Newtown keep shining in my mind, running off to school Friday morning, all the trust in the world tucked into their sweet little bodies, holding fast to the lunch boxes their mothers packed before kissing their soft warm cheeks, having faith that school, of all places, was safe.

It’s familiar to ask why. To blame.  There’s a sensation of not being grounded, of floating in desperate hollow space and if we can just figure out why perhaps we can tether ourselves to that. But I’ve found why to be labyrinth-like, sneaky, it leads one further into the maze.

Instead of blame, I have been looking around lately, trying to find gratitude, grace.  Recently my Reiki guru, Libby Barnett sent me this youtube from Som Sabadell Spain. I watched it many times and while watching it, cried– for the wonder on peoples’ faces; for the singing; for the little children climbing light posts, dancing, playing at being conductors.  I cried for how beautiful and how flawed we are; for the tenacity of the human spirit; for all those fresh-faced, bright-eyed students and the teachers who worked to save them; their empty bedrooms filled with toys; I cried for Christmas this year; and I cried for the loss of faith and the evil in the world. And then I felt emptied out. And I still felt thoroughly confused. But I knew that confusion, that not knowing, proves only that I am human, and whether we wake up in quiet desperation or we wake up believing in the fallibility of luck, we can count on humanity to alternately bring us infinite joy and to break our fragile hearts, but being human– at least we share that.

And Grandma, as Grandma will, can distract us from everything even if for only a page, or two, here she talks about the famous literary agent Max Lieber, of Joan Crawford and of making taglierini.  She didn’t write on this day 75 years ago, so I chose December 11th  for the heck of it.

December 11, 1937, St. Mark’s Place

Out early to market, then left menu and instructions with Lillian, put on silly hat with wide brim and walked with M up to Crillon bar to meet Bunsons for lunch.

They well and exuberant.  Dale’s novel is appearing in Redbook in March and K has four part series on Joan Crawford coming out in Liberty in February.


Told us about their trip to Florida—3000 in 12 days—cat they saw walks on two legs, share cropper town in Florida where people afflicted with syphilis, pellagra and practically everything else live in houses made of tin cans and when given seeds to plant by govt, do not plant but just eat seeds.  And are ecstatically happy.1  They told us about night before– hearing Benny Goodman’s orchestra which enchanted them, particularly a swing drummer who is supposed to have an orgasm each time he “swings out”.2

Said they saw kids doing the Big Apple which is sort of square dance that has been all the rage for a while now.  Also had a copy of Life in which was lay out on Cynthia, a life size doll of a young lady, which belongs to a gent who takes her to all the parties etc… and Thyra2 had given a lunch for Cynthia which was photographed.3  Katherine saying it was costing Thyra an awful lot to keep those swish young men around and wondered why it seemed worthwhile.

Sunday brunch at Thyra Samter Winslow’s Park Ave apt. Cynthia the mannequin sits to the right of mural painter, Franklin Hughes.

Later Whedons came in and M went to play badminton with Hank and K.  Dale, Whedons and I all over to see William March4 and his new apartment which was very nice. I had not seen him since one night several years ago when he crashed roof party at our house but am constantly hearing about him from Edith and Bunsons.  He had a cold and seemed a little melancholy. Has quit his shipping business and going to just write from now on but says he has been so prolific lately that his agent, Max Leiber4 has told him to quit for a while till these are sold.

William March

Left about quarter to four and Katherine went to meet Joan Crawford and come back with her and then Dale to meet them up the line somewhere and will drive in, all this because Joan was making trip without husband who was working and afraid if came in regular way would give rise to much gossip that she and Franchot were parting.6  Do not think we heard all of story but don’t care either.

So home and bathed T. and fed him and the Rebacks for dinner in fine form. Florence had new diamond and ruby ring which Sam giving her for Christmas, said might be pregnant and hoped so but he hopes not, had been to big party last night and hungover.  Had taglierini, which is spinach spaghetti, also mussels, also fruit bowl with pomegranate and they unfamiliar with these First Ave items and amused by. Then Edith and Lump in and also Binnie.  Good evening.

  1. So says the Bunsons.
  2. Goodness, Grandma is so R-rated.
  3. Thyra Samter Winslow was a writer, who wrote for the popular magazines in the jazz age, but most of her contributions were to the New Yorker. In 1937 she had just come back from Hollywood where she was working on screenplays.
  4. My goodness, this really did happen!! You can see more pictures of the beautiful Doll here:
  5. A good looking man and a prolific writer:
  6. In the 30s and 40s Max Leiber was a literary agent famous for representing the radical writers of the day. He was tenacious about representing his authors including Carey McWilliams and William Saroyan, James Farrell, Josephine Herbst and Albert Halper.
  7. About two years later, they did in fact, split up:

Thank you for reading everybody!! I’ll write again, who knows when?? and love love love to you all and to the spirit of Grandma, too…

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