Sunday, January 27, 2013

Adieu, Adele

Adele Slocum, a dear friend to me and many others, died on January 23, at the age of 87. Here is her obituary, written in perfect tone and content, by Peter Slocum, her stepson. 

Adele Slocum of Hollowville, an extraordinary gardener, dedicated library volunteer and determined traveler, has died at the age of 87.

She died Jan. 23, 2013 after a long illness brought on by post-operative complications.

Mrs. Slocum moved to Columbia County (part-time in 1968, and then full time in the 1980s) after a career in New York City as an editor and writer, including serving as editor of the award-winning Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center magazine.

With her late husband John Slocum, she worked tirelessly to create extensive and beautiful flower gardens. She was a member of the Rock Garden Society and participated in Garden Conservancy Open Days. She brought her editor’s exactitude to horticulture, memorizing countless Latin names and studying growing patterns and potential with determination.

She served on the board of the Claverack Free Library, and helped to develop a popular program series, featuring art historians, authors, musicians and yoga instructors.

Born in New Haven, CT, in 1925, she was the daughter of Peter Trenchi and Evelyn Gangi Trenchi, both of whom emigrated from Italy. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1948, and moved to NYC to begin her career. Throughout her life, she found time to travel widely, often to less well-known destinations.

Mrs. Slocum is survived by her stepson, Peter Slocum, and his wife Ann Sayers, of Keene, NY; their two daughters, Emily Slocum of Manhattan and Molly Slocum Smith of Darby, MT; three nieces, Lorraine Ferrell of Franklin, TN, Susan Henninger of Bartlett, TN, and Barbara Trenchi of San Diego, CA; a nephew, Peter Trenchi, of Sewanee, TN; several grandnieces and grandnephews; and special friends Tom Carty and Howard Van Lenten of Hillsdale.

The family wishes to thank the staff of Community Hospice of Columbia / Greene and Whittier Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for their competence and kindness.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Adele Slocum’s memory to the Claverack Free Library and the Columbia-Greene Humane Society. Friends and family are planning a memorial gathering in the spring.

Please visit to leave condolences for the family.

* * *

Oh, the memories I have of Adele! Here are some, in random order.
* * *
Those many of us who loved Adele might agree that her enthusiasm for life often led her to speak in hyperbole. For example:
In the spring of 1988 I sold a short story to The New Yorker. I learned this thrilling news on the phone in Dan’s and my small house in Hollowville, about a mile away from Adele and John’s house. I wanted to spend the afternoon on the phone, blabbing the news, but I couldn’t; I had to get back to the apartment in New York. Dan was already there, we had plans, I couldn’t miss my train. I finished packing, closed up the house, drove to the Amtrak station in Hudson, and bought a ticket. That left me 10 minutes to spare and one quarter for the pay phone. I decided to see if A&J were home.
Adele answered the phone. Hello, hello, and then, “Adele, I just wanted to tell you—I’ve sold a story to the New Yorker!”
[One-beat pause.] “Debby! That’s the best news I’ve ever heard in my life!”
* * *
When Adele was in her early 80s, she and a friend organized their entire trip to Vietnam by themselves, on the Internet. By all accounts, they had a fabulous time. 
But Adele always had a fabulous time. You couldn’t trust her assessments of restaurants or even takeout, because she enjoyed everything so much.

In this March 2012 photo are some of the stalwarts of the Claverack Library Book Group: Adele (seated), and (l-r) Vicki, Cynthia, Cheryl, Alice, and Kathy. The cake was for Vita Sackville-West, whose birth anniversary is March 9, and that’s Vita on the cover of the group’s book choice, Portrait of A Marriage

* * *
Adele didn’t marry till she was 43. I imagine her as happy in her New York City life of work and friends and travel, holding out for the right guy and finding him in John Slocum.  
I met Adele and John through my mother and stepfather, who were closer in age to them than I. But I always thought of A&J as contemporaries. When John died in 2004, less than two years after Dan, I was startled; in fact John was in his 80s, but I had expected him to go on forever. 
When do you stop missing him? Adele asked me only a few months later, and I didn’t know what to say. Never, was the answer, but you do go on, and Adele, too, went on. 
* * *
I got to know Adele and John in 1971, when I sublet their Perry Street apartment while they were in Cyprus. John was a professor of economics; he got some sort of a gig in Cyprus, Adele quit her job, and off they went, for most of a year. Peter had dibs on the apartment, but he wasn’t interested in living in New York City, so I lucked out. After that I house-sat for A&J in Hollowville when they were away, and eventually, that led Dan and me to Hollowville.
* * *
Adele always credited her mother, Evelyn Gangi Trenchi, for her own love of life. My mother didn’t have anyone like that in her life, and was unable to extend to me such optimism and joy. Adele was my role model, and, I’m learning, was a role model for mutual friends.  
* * *
Adele wasn’t well this past summer, and I missed our excursions, our talking all the way to somewhere and all the way back home. In the summer of 2011 we went to the Clark Museum in Williamstown, Mass., and to the Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, where Adele loved the tiny cafĂ© so much she took home the rest of their soup and anything else she could charm out of them. 
I missed sitting outdoors with her at the Muddy Cup / Parlor / Rev coffeehouse. 
I missed her utter, silent fascination, sitting on a bench of evening outside of Lick, eating ice cream and watching the denizens of and visitors to Hudson. 

At right are Adele and Paul Rappaport (1924-2012) on my porch during my 2006 housewarming.
* * *
On December 30 I visited Adele at Whittier, bringing the Sunday Times. She pounced on it. Then, “Do you want to read the Times?” she asked, a bit apologetically. 
“I would love to sit here and read the Times with you,” I said, and that’s what we did, passing sections back and forth. I left her the front section and Business News; when you get older, like Adele and me, you are less interested in the features, more in the news.
That was the last time we read the Times together.
* * *
Adele once told me that if she believed in God, she would go to my church, Christ Church Episcopal in Hudson, because we do such good things there. I told that to Fr. John Perry, our rector, this week, and he wrote back:
I am sorry for the loss of Adele; I am sorry for your loss.  Regardless of whatever she believed or did not believe, I trust absolutely that she is now safe with a loving God, beyond all earthly pain or limitation. I am glad she had you for a friend, while she was here.

I trust in that too. And I know how fortunate I was, to have Adele for a friend.

Copyright © Debby Mayer

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chapter 16 / Iconoclast

Iconoclast, the article called him. 

“Means he’s crazy,” said Jaime. 

“Does not. I looked it up.” Annie paused. “‘One who attacks settled beliefs or institutions.’ You’re an iconoclast, Jaime.”

“Well. If you put it that way.”

They were sitting at Annie’s kitchen table. She had gone to the library, found Andrew’s second book, and discovered he had won a Pulitzer Prize for it. On microfilm she had found the Times article that described that year’s prizes. 

“This is quite something,” said Jaime. “Who knew . . . You’re sure it’s the same guy.”

“Yes! If nothing else, this photo on the book looks the same. Him, only younger. I hear him on Pacifica now. He’s a co-host for Democracy Today.” 

“There’s some way you can look up people on the computer. Matthew probably knows.” Mathew was Kathleen and Doug’s oldest, fourteen. “Or can you do it at the paper?”

“We have one computer where you can do that. I think. It’s so complicated, it gives me a headache. You can look things up in the library. I did.” 

“Do you think he’d give a talk for Amistad? 

“You read that article?” said Andrew, sounding more startled than pleased.

“It’s public information. I’m sorry—I’d forgotten you won a Pulitzer.”

“Good. Your mind isn’t cluttered with factoids.” He stopped himself. “Not that I wasn’t happy to receive it. Ecstatic. But that was yesterday.”

“And today is Democracy Today. Amistad would like to present you in a talk. Would you do that?”

“A talk . . .” He cut another piece of pizza, put it on her plate. Annie was working this weekend, and so was he. Settled into the Schuyler Hotel, he had spent two afternoons watching the park from his window and coffee breaks getting to know the staff at the diner. Dinners, he took her out. They had now supported Schuyler’s two restaurants and were back at the one he liked best. 

“A talk about what?” he said.

“Any aspect of politics that you’d like. We’ve hosted talks before, and films. We got fifty people when Deborah Shaffer screened Witness to War. Ten of them asked questions.”

“How many are in Amistad?”

“Hm . . . “ She wiped her fingers before she counted on them, and he wanted to kiss her. “Eight. Six of whom come to meetings, four of whom do anything.” 

“I’ll meet with Amistad if you want.”

“Why don’t you want to go public?” Jaime asked him. Meeting with Amistad had turned into coffee at Jaime and George’s, for which Jaime baked apples and Kathleen and Doug brought a homemade hazelnut torte.

“I’m still adjusting . . . moving from iconoclast to pundit. Activist to talking head. I’m not from this area. Your other speakers have been.” 

“Smart group of friends,” he said on the way back to Schuyler. 

“Set a high culinary standard, don’t they,” she said. 

“What?” He said that before they both laughed and she was relieved; he hadn’t noticed.

He kissed her cheek, despite the seatbelt she required. He’d got used to this tiny car, grown to like riding around in it with her. He hadn’t been in her house since that first night, a month ago. They kept carefully to the hotel for him, the house for her, and the weather was dismally cooperative. But the car offered privacy—an easy intimacy inside, with a changing view outdoors.

“Thin,” he said. “You seem to know all the slim people in this area.” 


“Oh. I had been going to ask you where we could get a good burger.”

She had to think. “The bar in East Wynham. They have a restaurant, too, we don't have to eat at the bar.” He preferred that. 

“Perfect. I’ll meet you there after work.” Annie had to go to the office for the afternoon. 

“How will you get there?”

“I’ll take a cab. In Schuyler, there are cabs.”

“It’s half an hour!”

“The cabs in Schuyler are not busy. If I get to know a cab driver, maybe you won’t have to drive me around so much.”

“If you get your driver’s license, maybe I won’t have to drive you around so much.”

“I’m working on it,” he said, and he was, talking with Warren, both of them dealing with their knowledge that the world was better off without him at the helm of two tons of steel. 

“I’m remaking myself,” he explained to Annie on Sunday, “for the third time.” 

Sunset, and they had stopped at the riverfront in Schuyler before he got the train. Driving home, she realized he had planned it that way, more private than a restaurant, and if she turned around and left him forever, he could walk to the train. 

“I’m lucky I got the Pacifica gig,” he said. “As soon as I did, Rush Limbaugh accused left-wing radio of hiring convicted murderers. If I gave a talk here, some enterprising reporter might come up with the dirt, and then your group would be tainted. 

“That’s the high road. My real concern is that your friends would tell you to drop me.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer

Friday, January 4, 2013

Chapter 15 / View

“A small electric heater was on in one corner of the bathroom, which was good, because the room was tiled and cold as a crypt. Annie had set out a towel and a toothbrush, still in its plastic package, so I brushed my teeth, looking at the photos on the wall. San Pedro. Her cotton-picking brigade. 

“Back in the living room, Annie and Chloe were sitting on the couch. The dog was chewing a rawhide bone the size of her head and Annie was drinking her tea. She got up immediately. I’ll show you the upstairs room, she said. 

“I’m sure I can find it, I said. I couldn’t stand the thought of her butt, in her little black pants, leading me up the stairs.

“OK, she said. I turned on the electric heater up there. You can leave it on all night—it’s safe. 

“Before she could move away, I kissed her. Three kisses—top of her head and each cheek, thanking her for the dance, and the driving, and the room upstairs. I held her for a moment, to feel all her various curves and muscles, before she said good night and pulled away. 

“That was it, Warren. I stayed upstairs. The heater was on, but it was a very subtle heater, a sort of scat singer of a heater, and the room felt like it was outdoors. Really—there was ice along the bottom edge of the window. The only furnace heat had to come up from downstairs, through a grate in the floor. I wanted to look around, check out the books, but the ceiling was so low I couldn’t stand up straight, and my jacket was downstairs. I thought about getting it, but I didn’t want to make her nervous, so I just went to bed. I took off my pants and shoes and that was it. Then I decided I was being ridiculous, so I took off my sweater and spread it over the comforter as extra insulation. 

“A spray of light from the living room came through the grate until Annie turned it off, and then the house went black. She closed the bedroom door. I listened, not breathing, and it seemed to me that she locked it. I lay there thinking about her feeling safer behind a locked door and that I wouldn’t argue with a locked door, but I especially wouldn’t if I froze to death, and I wondered if she kept the house so cold in order to shrivel me up, and I fell asleep. 

“I dreamed we were at an aquarium. Something like the Miami Seaquarium, where I interviewed the source the day before I met Annie on the plane. The tanks were huge, as if we were walking at the bottom of the ocean, and we stopped at the reef fish, watching them sparkle in the aqua water. We were happy, walking around the tanks, which made a loud humming noise, and I woke up to hear a truck rumble by. A plow. I closed my eyes again, tried to get the dream back. I liked the feeling of traveling somewhere with her. The plow drove by from the other direction. I hoped it was still snowing, that they wouldn’t get the road cleared. 

“Later, still dark, there was a lot of truck noise in the driveway and lights flashing, and I sat up, thinking Jesus, what now. A pickup truck, plowing her driveway. Damn. My ears and nose were freezing. I put the extra pillow around my head. 

“Much later I smelled coffee. Nine o'clock, and the windows completely frozen over on the outside. 

“Downstairs, the house was empty. She’d left a note by the coffeemaker: Walking Chloe. Back soon. Coffee mug, milk. Down here you could see out the windows. I drank some coffee looking out at the road, at a day that glittered—bright sun, glistening snow, the sky a deep marine blue, every particle visible in crystal-clear air. I stood at her desk, in the utter stillness, and I could feel what it was like to live there, the bay window, the road, the woods . . . 

“Then Annie entered the view from the right, running down the hill. She wore a hat with earflaps, a furry hunter’s hat with a visor and a strap under her chin. She was trying to get the dog, Chloe, to pull her, with some success. They slid past the plowed driveway, both of them grinning, the hound grin, the girl grin . . . and I thought, this woman does not look bereaved. 

“She wanted to know if I had slept OK. 

“It was more like suspended animation, I said. I don’t think that heater works. I could feel the coffee raising my core temperature. 

“It works, she said. And I didn’t turn the thermostat down as low as I usually do. I’m sorry—do you want some toast?

“Not right now. 

“OK. I have to go to church soon. It’s in Schuyler. I’ll drop you at the hotel and after the service I’ll treat you to breakfast at the diner. 

“Annie, there was a blizzard here last night. We’re lucky not to be lost in a snowdrift.

“If my road’s plowed, all the roads are plowed. And I’m reading the lessons. We rotate readers, it’s my turn. 

“Later, in the hotel, I thought I would have liked to hear her read. She’s a tenor, with a gently definite way of speaking. January . . . she was probably reading something about Moses and something from Paul, and they probably sounded as good as they ever had. At breakfast, I asked her which lessons. 

“Paul exhorted people, and the Old Testament was Exodus.” 

“Rootless, wandering . . . 

“—Yes. They’re camping in the desert and dying of thirst and they get pissed off at Moses and he goes to God, who gives them water from a rock.  

“What’s the point?

“The Lord is among us. 

“Despite all the evidence to the contrary.

“Andrew, I’m not going to argue theology with you. I don’t remember anything I learned in Sunday school and I just went back to church a couple of months ago. I said the Lord is among us. God is not a puppet master in the sky. 

“Why did you go back to church a couple of months ago?

“. . . Mostly to keep every day of my life from being exactly the same, a combination of work and chores. To make myself sit still for an hour once a week. And the lessons sounded interesting. I’m what passes for a religion editor at the paper, since if someone calls in and says the lesson this Sunday is from Ephesians I don’t faint with confusion and I know how to spell Ephesians. 

“The paper publishes which lesson will be read?

“And the sermon topic. In 6 point. If you call it in on time. We’re the community newspaper, Andrew. And up here, church is community. 

"The waitress poured us more coffee, and Annie followed her thought. And evil is among us too. As you said, it would be easy for the United States to help Cuscutlan have clean water, everywhere. Then they’d be healthy, and they’d love us. 

“And we’d have all those healthy little Cuscutlano babies to deal with. 

“Exactly. It’s an evil spirit, not a guy with a tail and a pitchfork, that prevents that. 

“So you pray against it. 

“I pray for the Cuscutlanos. And I told you about our Amistad group raising money for Malpaisillo’s new water system. People here were very generous, even people who barely knew where Cuscutlan is. They knew it was the humane, human thing to do. 

"She stopped, then went on. I know I’m ridiculous, Andrew. 

“You’re not ridiculous.

“Especially to someone like you, who’s seen the evil up close, and I know I’m stupid and ineffectual.

“No, you’re neither.

“I can only do what I can do. I haven’t spent much time in Cuscutlan, but we’ve made some good educational headway here. 

“I told you, Annie, Amistad’s sending a miniature coffin, inscribed with the name of a dead Cuscutlano civilian, to your Neanderthal congressman once a week for two years, was brilliant. That was an excellent educational effort.

“She smiled again, remembering. It was fun, too, she said. 

“I would have liked to stay. I would have liked to wish a year away and find us both ahead of where we were. I couldn’t do either. So I took the train back to New York, and at the station I said, what are you doing next weekend?” 

Copyright © Debby Mayer