An old Girl Scout round goes this way: Make new friends but keep the old. One is silver, and the other’s gold. The song doesn’t suggest which are silver and which are gold, and I’d be hard pressed to decide. I could award silver and gold medals, plus even some platinum, among many friends down through the years.
I cherish some friends because of what we have in common and how closely we can identify with each other’s tribulations and accomplishments. I cherish others for the exact opposite reason–that they are different from me and therefore add new dimensions to my appreciation of life. Some live close by, and I know in my heart that if I needed them, they’d be on my doorstep in a heartbeat, whether I asked or not. And I would be on theirs. Others I haven’t actually laid eyes on in years or maybe just a few times, but we are in touch, still tightly linked by our early Ohio heritage. Some are even relatives.
One dear friend is an author I first met in the lobby of Beeson Hall at Samford University in 1972 when we attended a conference of the Alabama Writers Conclave. I was only two years into my Alabama life while she had lived here most of hers, beginning in Andalusia, moving on to Monroeville where she rubbed elbows with stories of Truman Capote’s childhood, then Cahaba Heights, some other places in between, and now Prattville. If I had to categorize, I’d say that, despite no similar background at all, we have tons in common and have, through the years, shared each other’s tribulations and celebrated each other’s accomplishments. (There have been many of both.) I would award her platinum on all counts.
After Wilson and I outran the tornado threat earlier this month, I stopped in Prattville for a visit with this dear friend whose second marriage, ironically, is to a man with a Michigan accent and heritage far more northern than mine. Over salad plates at a socially distanced Panera, we spent a couple hours catching up and then reminiscing specifically about the well-known authors we’d had the opportunity to meet through our years of service with the Writing Today conference at Birmingham-Southern College. (Much more about that in another post.)
We made two trips to NYC together–the first when Marianne received a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts to attend a writing workshop at Hofstra University. She invited me along for company, and I agreed to go so I could do some family research at the New York Public Library. Marianne had just started the manuscript for what would become A Bridge of Childhood: Truman Capote’s Southern Years, and she had an invitation to talk with an editor at Henry Holt and Company. One of my favorite memories is standing in the sunshine between Patience and Fortitude on the steps of the New York Public Library as I watched her walk off up the street towards the publisher’s offices with that manuscript under her arm.
Henry Holt and Company published A Bridge of Childhood in 1989, and Marianne autographed a copy to my second husband with the inscription, “For Barney, a fellow Alabamian born and bred and truly read.” She noted that he would enjoy the parts about Hatter’s Mill, probably because of his memories of swimming at a mill pond near his childhood home in Selma. I also have an autographed copy of the German translation: Truman Capote: Eine Kindheit in Alabama, which came out in 1993.
Our second NYC trip, a few years later, involved second row seats at the Booth Theater (West 45th Street) to enjoy Robert Morse’s performance as Capote in the Broadway play Tru. Marianne had arranged for us to visit Morse’s dressing room after the play, and this led to another of my favorite memories–standing in that small, cluttered room listening to Marianne explain politely to Robert Morse that he needed to pronounce the name of a certain Alabama city correctly on stage. In her priceless Andalusia accent, she told him, “It’s MO-‘BEEL, not MOBULL.”
Marianne and her husband Jim made another trip to NYC in 1997 when George Plimpton published a biography in which he blended the voices of Capote’s friends, lovers, and colleagues into a narrative ranging from Southern childhood through early days in New York to his death in 1984.
I remember Marianne telling me about the evening Jim came into the kitchen of their cabin on Peckerwood Creek, near Sylacauga, and handed her the phone, saying, “I can’t understand this man.” When she said hello, the eccentric voice on the other end said, “Marianne, this is George Plimpton calling. Do you have time to talk?” Of course she had time! Plimpton had quoted her in his new biography and was issuing an invitation to a debut book party at his home. And of course she and Jim would be happy to come.
They had a grand time leaving behind “the Alabama wilds,” as she put it, and flying off to the big city. Marianne chose her outfit for the evening carefully–a black skirt and an elegant golden fabric top. Later she told me with a laugh, “It was as if everyone there was in mourning. They were all dressed in black, ” she said, referring to the little black sheath dresses that were the predominant style at the time. “I felt like a peacock in my glittery gold top!”