Ten days before he died, in 1974, aviator Charles Lindbergh wrote to three women, none of whom were his wife. The women had raised seven of his progeny, aside from the six children he had with his wife. Two of his mistresses were sisters.
In his letters he instructed them to uphold “utmost secrecy” after his death. Including concealing from the children their true identities.
Charles also wrote a book entitled Autobiography of Values.
Women can be pretty co-operative.
I’m no aviation aficionado, and I only know this since his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh (navigator, aviator) wrote books that pile beside my bed.
I’ve named this pile Dead Friends I Never Knew.
I dig into her memoirs, feeling solace in her voice, curious about the gravitational pull of her voice, ironically, about some truth she expresses.
I was standing in a gallery in a small town in the north of England. Facing me was a life-size nude. Her dimpled belly protruded heavily onto her thighs; her head rested in her palm. The neutral colours were rich purples and pinks, blues.
“That is what I want to do with my life,” came to me, unbidden.
The painting was by Lucian Freud, (Sigmund’s grandson). It was 1996. Inside me was a collision of a real hunger intersecting with a total absence of required capacities.
I would have felt comfortable being the model. Or bringing “the famous artist” biscotti (I am baking my husband biscotti as I write this).
Or be his lover; I would have known how to tilt my head, charm, securing his ego at center stage.
My friend once reported on a musician she had seen:
“First choice would be to BE him. Second choice would be to sleep with him”.
Lucian Freud didn’t like birth control. He is thought to have sired possibly forty offspring.
Love of painting was one thing. Ambition however was utterly foreign to me. I definitely wasn’t attracted to an ‘art world’ beyond the studio, a world I saw as false, sycophantic, cheapening the spirit of the creative impulse.
The only women I knew were middle-class moms. One tended two dying children at Sick Children’s Hospital while a few blocks away, her husband rented lunchtime hotel rooms.
Derision fell on her anger, not on his behavior.
The way kids on a farm learned work, I learned to be pleasing. Turning a blind eye to protect the man’s reputation, to use my mother’s euphemisms like “Escapades”; that was the air I breathed.
Worse was the moms turning a blind eye inwardly.
I had no wiring for a robust certainty I associated with masculinity; you make things up, share them, simply because you feel like it. The freedom to fall publicly, without shame, and dust myself off again, feel valid and strong doing so, was a muscle I didn’t even know I needed.
A historian wants to interview me about my grandfather.
My grandfather’s accomplishments are publicly memorialized, and what I would add doesn’t seem likely to fit into a history of architecture.
I put the academic off, but he persists.
In Liverpool in the early 1920s, a class of seven architecture students included three of my relatives; both of my mother’s parents and my father’s uncle.
The men went on to have illustrious careers.
My grandmother’s life was relegated taking solace in the bottle, and hiding her Jewishness; a blemish on her husband’s stature.
That she might have been bored out of her tree, muzzled, ill-suited to parenting, left empty buttressing her husband’s dynamic life, wasn’t relevant to anyone. Plaques, books, awards and sculpture in his honour proliferated. Her legacy was grouch.
My mother Jean’s purpose was about waving pom poms for her father’s accomplishments, and later for my father’s.
She was attached to a vision of the warm family
she had grown up without. Eulogizing her father, erasing her own interests, had been modelled to her. She raised four discombobulated kids single handedly, the full catastrophe; epilepsy, diabetes, brain damage, miscarriages, suicide attempts. Somehow she made it her job to conceal every painful passage.
This was compensated with my father’s gift of an annual Hallmark card; in her currency, it was irrefutable evidence of her being loved and respected.
My grandfather’s esteemed legacy came with a cost that is of little interest or relevance.
Some of this messiness I share with the academic.
“I won’t publish anything that compromises your grandfather’s reputation,” he says kindly.
“That,” I say, not wanting to offend, “Is the problem with history.”