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


  1. Beautiful! This is what it really is all about.

  2. A lovely, so-true memory of Adele from Tom:

    There aren't that many people in the world who give as much pleasure as they get.

  3. I knew Adele my whole life. She was my mother's best friend. She and my mom (Evelyn Potter) were college room-mates. When I was a little girl, she would sometimes help put me to bed at night and I LOVED it when she did - she used to do this thing where she would make me into a "brownie" before she put me to sleep - sprinkle sugar all over me and turn me back and forth and then put me in the oven - then it was time to go to sleep. She was around most of the time when I was growing up since she and my mom spent so much time together. They were always laughing. My mom suffers from Alzheimer's now but they saw each other about 2 years ago when I brought my mom up there to have lunch with her. My mom didn't know her name anymore but as soon as my mom saw Adele, her face lit up and she said, "Oh! It's YOU!" I am so glad that they had that time together. She will certainly be missed.