Thursday, April 19, 2012

Rediscovering Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Well, not truly "rediscovering." It is not as if I set my knowledge and admiration of Anne Morrow Lindbergh down somewhere and then just walked off and forgot about her. Anne has always been near at hand, my fingertips just grazing a quote or a passage from one of her books. But it has been a long time since I have immersed myself in her works.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh is, in my opinion, one of the two most graceful and lyrical American writers ever. (E. B. White is the other.) Her writing, especially her published diaries and letters, are ones that I have turned to over and over again for almost 40 years. When I was undergoing my two stem cell transplants in the summer of 2005, Anne was on the bedside table in the Cleveland Clinic, along with pictures of Ben and Sam. Whenever I play the "if you were stranded on an island and could only have five books with you" game, Anne is always on my list (along, not surprisingly, with E. B. White).

I first discovered this amazing writer in 1973, while still in high school. A quote from her second volume of diaries and letters, Hour of Gold, Hour of Lead, was the prompt for a timed essay I was writing as part of a competition: "I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world be wise, since everyone suffers."The moment I finished the essay, I went straight to the library and checked out both that book and its predecessor, Bring Me A Unicorn. I had to find out who this person was.

I ended up taking Anne Morrow Lindbergh to heart and have never let her go.

On the crowded tabletop in front of me are two small books, each bound in red: North to the Orient and Listen! The Wind. These are her two travel books, detailing the early (1930s) global navigation expeditions she undertook with her husband, aviator Charles A. Lindbergh. I'd read them before, probably 25-30 years ago. In between "new" reads earlier this week, I picked them off my Lindbergh shelf to dip into again.

I am not disappointed. This scene, from North to the Orient, is an example why. Anne and Charles have stopped to see her family before setting off on their lengthy and dangerous trip and they have just finished their goodbyes:

The next morning we are off again, I with an extra handkerchief tucked into my pocket. "You will probably need an extra one, you know." That extra handkerchief seemed to set a seal of success on the trip. It made it at once intimate and possible. Hadn't an extra handkerchief taken me to school and back, and put me on the train for college, and sent me out the day I was married? One could go anywhere with an extra handkerchief--especially if it had a blue border.

I came across that paragraph and closed my eyes in delight and memory. It is classic Anne. In the midst of telling us this tremendous aviation tale, she brings us back with a personal moment: a mother insisting on tucking an extra handkerchief into her daughter's pocket. It is the smallest of touches and the bravest of attitudes: "One could go anywhere with an extra handkerchief--especially if it had a blue border."

Anne was born in 1906, 50 years before me, and died in 2001. Her last volume of diaries and letters, covering the years 1939-1944, was published in 1980. She went on keeping her voluminous diaries and writing fistfuls of letters, but I assumed that, other than the excerpts appearing in Scott Berg's stunning biography of Charles Lindbergh, written in 1998, those diaries and letters would never see the light of day. So it was with total shock that I learned that Anne's daughter, Reeve Lindbergh, is publishing her mother's diaries and letters from the mid-1940s to 1986.

The book, Against Wind and Tide, will come out on April 24. I am hoping Reeve edited her mother's words far less harshly than Anne, who often trimmed her own thoughts to appease her husband and maintain the Lindbergh image. The Anne of this newest volume will be an older Anne, a woman I am eager to meet and get to know, especially now that I am in my mid-fifties. I cannot wait to read it.

But for now, I am with the young Anne as she and Charles head north to the Orient. The death of her father, which will happen while they are on this trip, and the murder of her firstborn child, which is only a year away, are still in the future. Her husband is still the great American hero and they are about to undertake a great expedition that no one else has attempted. The hour is golden, the future is bright, and Anne has an extra handkerchief, one with a brave blue border, in her pocket.


Brandee Shafer said...

Sadly, I don't think I've read anything by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I'll make a point of it, and soon. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It has probably been 20 years since I have opened a volume of hers, but historical travel writing is a favorite type of writing for me. I have jotted down those 2 titles and plan to see if they are available in my local library tomorrow.

I hope you review the they become available.

see you there! said...

Gifts from the Sea is a book I've turned to over and over again. I will look for the book of diaries and like Terri, hope you will review it.


Donna Meyer said...

I discovered Anne Morrow Lindbergh many many years ago and still have her books in my vast collection. She is one my favorite authors. Her courage to be one of the first female pilots and in the face of personal tragedy makes her an inspiration still. Love the handkerchief reference! At times, we do need an extra one.

Jenny Woolf said...

This is the first I have heard of this writer, which is very ignorant of me. I had better seek out some of her books! From her photograph, she is also very beautiful, I see. I wonder what the diaries will be like. I hope nobody ever judges me on mine - they're so boring!