Wednesday, August 9, 2017


February 17, 2005
Dear Aura,
     Even before I opened your letter I was bemoaning the fact that you never encouraged your daughter Jo to teach you how to use a computer.  If you learned this skill, we could correspond regularly, only a keyboard away from each other.  It mystifies me that a woman as brilliant as you are, who devised original and spectacularly successful teaching methods, boosting the self-image of your black students by coaching them in Shakespearean plays, is reluctant to take on the relatively simple challenge of mastering a computer.  When you have completed your book's chapters, might you not have time to make the effort?  End of lecture.
      One of the things I've learned how to do from a friend is to insert comments and questions in italics when responding to e-mails.  My younger daughter's best buddy tracked Kathie down three years ago and was shocked by the news that Vonnie had died in an auto accident at age thirty-one.  Margo and I began corresponding, and she wanted to know everything I could tell her about Vonnie's later teens and mature years.  I was able to fill her in with a number of attachments from my files and Margo described the mischief she and Vonnie used to get into as little girls.  For instance, they had found a way when summer ended, to gain entry into one of the big houses out on the cliffs to the right of Sandy Cove.  They would mince around and talk in falsetto voices, pretending they were grand ladies.  Margo and I also exchanged confidences about the dysfunctional families we both grew up in.  I am sure an exchange of e-mails between you and me would be equally rewarding.
      I have typed your letter and will reply to your questions by entering the text in italics.
February 13, 2005
Dear Barbara,
            What an amazing surprise--and coincidence--to receive the photo of you and Mr. Rinker.  Jo and I have been working diligently on Chapter 2 which starts with 10th grade and ends with Leon going into the Army Air Corps.  Not only is Mr. Rinker mentioned as my major teaching role model, but Jo and I have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing my year in his classroom.  I told Jo a couple of things about him that will not be in the book.  I had to write a paper in college on Shakespeare’s five great tragedies.  I drove over to our fine public library in Newton Corner and asked if they would allow me into the stacks.  When I climbed up there, I found Mr. Rinker doing some kind of research.  He was so pleased to see what I was doing.  Another time Leon and I were at the symphony and bumped into him.
     Aura, Taffy Andersen and I also encountered him at the symphony back in 1939.  He teased us, wanting to know what we were doing out on a school night.  Later Ed and I, newly married and the scandal of Newton, bumped into all three English teachers: Floyd, Miss Rideout, and Miss Robinson.  I told my diary the women snubbed me, but Floyd spoke kindly to me.  Barbara Malley
     When Leon and I were first married we lived with my parents and invited Mr. Rinker for dinner where he met my family.  And we invited the Fisher twins, Norman and Harold over afterward.  They, too, were very close to Mr. Rinker.  So many of us were.
            I keep looking at the picture you sent, wishing I knew more about him.  He was born in Great Britain, wasn’t he?
     In all the years that Floyd and I had lunch together, he never said he was born anywhere but here.  I think his practice of starting a sentence with "I say" was a fond affectation, springing from his admiration of the English.   Do you know anything about his childhood?  He spoke to me often about his sister Idessa, who was perhaps sixteen or eighteen years older than he.  For some reason, he was brought up more by her than by his mother, who may have been unable to nurture him properly.  At any rate, he felt so secure because of his sister's and several aunts' devotion, he didn't notice the hump on his back until he was a teenager.  After taking a shower, he happened to glance at a full-length mirror and suddenly realized he was a hunchback.      
      Devastated, he began rushing from room to room, looking for the term in dictionaries and encyclopedias.  Wherever he found it, he angrily tore it out of the book.  It was a long time before he was able to accept himself.  What about his adult life? He traveled a good deal, told me he saw the famous black singer, Josephine Baker, in Paris a number of times, and she was marvelous.      Was he gay?  I don’t remember anything about a wife and children.
      I do not believe he was gay. He did once vaguely allude to youthful sexual experiences that in mu mind were clearly heterosexual.  
     In any case, thank you from the bottom of my heart for the photo.  I remember going to see him when he was in charge of the Newton Junior College.  I never forgot what he told me.  When he was interviewing teachers, the most important thing he asked them was, “What books have you read in the last three months?”  I was so impressed, I used it as a guideline for myself over the years.  If I wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing in the classroom, I would select a classic to read with my students.
     I am writing about my childhood and realize I know very little about you.  Did you always live in that lovely brick house on Commonwealth Avenue?  Any siblings?  What about your father?  I know a lot about your mother and wish I had known her.  She was very special, talented and creative. 
     I'm attaching part of an effort I once made to write about my childhood, with names changed.  You will see that my father was a brutal disciplinarian with my brother and a pervert with my sister Janeth and me.
     I can't begin to imagine a childhood like that.  Mary Ormsby lived a block and a half from me.  We played with paper dolls together.  She taught me how to ballroom dance.  I wonder where she is now.  Do you know?  I saw her once, probably in the early 1940s,  in Filene’s in Boston, looking beautiful and sophisticated in a fox fur.  I felt dowdy and looked-down-upon in my ankle socks.      
     I am sure you made a very wise decision to stay in your beautiful surroundings rather than moving to Linden Ponds.  I appreciated the photos you sent.  I remember the morning after our 50th reunion in Norumbega Park, I had breakfast with Venus Peril.  She had recently visited you and described your marina view at Weymouthport.
Not blessed with your photographic memory, I can only say Venus's name sounds familiar.   
     Something very unusual and exciting is happening for me.  I received a letter the other day from Mound Bayou, Missisippi, inviting me to a 34th  (?!) reunion of the high school class of 1971.  Apparently they had me listed as a student.  Actually my son Philip was in the ninth grade there, and I sent him north to Amherst to his older sister the second year.  The woman who sent the letter is a younger sister of one of the boys I chose for Brandeis.  And the one student I still correspond with was in that class. 
     I'll bet that student wishes, as I do, that you could correspond via e-mail.  Excuse the broken record squawking.
     Jo, Jon, Philip and Nancy, and I are all going to the reunion!  Philip will get in touch with Leon, but I am sure he will not go.  He may go another time on his own—but not with us.  We’ll be in Mound Bayou from Sept 1-4.  Won't that be fun!
      Both Jo and Philip met with Leon and and second wife Audrey (they’ll be married 30 years in April) in Las Vegas a few weeks ago.  I have been sending them every chapter as soon as it's finished but have received no response.  However, Leon told Jo he thought the book was worth publishing. 
     It certainly is, although I think the many times you burst into tears because you were hurt or heart-broken could use some toning down.  That's just my opinion, of course.  Your real editor may advise you to permit the reader to imagine your reaction after an unkind remark from Leon or anyone else stunned you or hurt your feelings.
       Have you read Reading Lolita in Tehran?  I suggested it for one of my book clubs.  Not one person had ever read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby which is a major section of Reading Lolita
     I tried three different times to read The Great Gatsby and to appreciate it the way the rest of the world seemed to.  Always, the writing struck me as forced and contrived.  On the other hand, I was fascinated by biographies of F. Scott and of Zelda and of Gerald and Sarah Murphy.  Living Well is the Best Revenge was a fascinating account of the Murphys' magical and rightfully envied lifestyle. 
     That is our next month’s book club selection, and afterwards , they will all come here to see the movie that I believe  follows the book closely, starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, and Sam Waterston.
      You are the person who finally has me frustrated that I am computer illiterate. 
     Me too!   
     It has been a great experience for me, finding you as a friend after our 50th high school reunion.  And isn’t it hard to believe it was 16 years ago this coming June!
      Jo just walked in with work for me.  She has typed six of my handwritten pages of Chapter 1 and handed them to me with a long list of questions.  The rest of today will be spent on that, while she continues to polish Chapter 2 which you will be receiving soon. 
     I'm eager to see it.
     Stay well and happy, Barbara.  Have an exciting 2005.                                                                                                                                                                          With much love,  

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