As many of you know, September is a most special month for me, full of every possible happy memory and my favorite month: Peter and I fell in love in September. My daughter Brooke was born in September. My daughter Alexandra was married in September. I have a handful of friends who were married in September. September is the best weather in Stonington Village. “Try to Remember that Day in September” is my Peter’s and my favorite song. Peter died September 25th, two years ago.
August brought us all a more carefree life style. I spent private, quiet hours in the garden, at a table that looks out on the harbor – my favorite summer writing room. Just as we express ourselves differently in other culture’s languages, we think in another realm when we are dazzled by nature’s wondrous, mysterious beauty. I live for this opportunity all year. There is joy when the garden is full of blue hydrangea blossoms, and the uplift of Peter’s and my spirits was palpable, as it is for me still. “Lets go to the garden” was a regular refrain. Whenever I sit in the garden loveseat, I feel Peter’s presence; I’m glad I have so many pictures of him sitting here. I enjoyed photographing Peter in the garden. I also have several pictures with granddaughter Cooper and Peter hanging out.
Pictures freeze a moment, preserving it for delicious reminiscences that are present in real-time, as we’re able to flash back to an earlier time, and place ourselves together. I can imagine myself popping up and snapping a picture, returning to perch next to him, supported by cushions and love. It’s fun to see the table set up for writing with a variety of pretty tablecloths and flowers. Over the years I have used different pens, note pads, and even different size paper, but the quality is the same. I write on French writing tablets – Triumphe – that encourage my nib to glide effortlessly along the bright, white paper. The process, indeed, is the reality. Whenever possible we live in the moment, and when the value of our moments is high-quality experiences, we have gigantically, delicious times in an earlier period of our lives to reminisce about.
Peter wrote a nostalgic book, Flights of Memory: Days Before Yesterday. He had an extraordinary ability to blank out any earlier events in his long, happy life that were not up to his high standards and celebrations of the good life. Peter also was a gifted writer to be able to paint a colorful scene and tell a most interesting story with total recall of events that go back to 1938 when his parents took him along with his three older siblings to Bermuda, a beautiful island he held in sacred awe and admiring reverence.
Cooper and I spent wonderfully fun play dates in the garden. The morning glories are thriving but so far there are no blue blossoms! In September, perhaps. A riot of brightly colorful zinnias is thriving and livens up the rooms in the cottage. We went on some grooves together in the village, including a cotton candy ice cream cone at the new coffee shop, Indulge, that is in the space of our former bookstore, The Book Mart, that faces the library and green. Evenings we have a cookie party and watch a movie of her choice. The snuggle time is the main feature.
We had a family reunion in New York City that fell on a hot spell, but we cooled off in air conditioned spaces and had a wonderfully happy time in the city I’ve known and loved since I went there to live and study art design before going around the world.
I couldn’t get anyone to go with me to the new Woody Allen movie, “Café Society,” so I went on a sweltering afternoon and enjoyed myself enormously. Our sleepy movie theater here has been renovated and is now claiming itself a luxury theatre. The seats are better than deluxe, and the air conditioning lets you forget how hot is it outside. I went to see Meryl Streep’s new movie in the city. She is my favorite actress and keeps getting better—and better—and better. What an inspiration Meryl is to take on such versatile parts and become that character. Brilliant.
I’m loving working on the essay book I worked on with my agent Carl before he died in August, 2013, that I continued to work on until Peter died a year later. I know I wrote that I was working on a book about the last seven months of Peter’s live, and I spent a year and half in the process, forever grateful I was able to capture the tenderness and raw emotions of the end of his life. I’ve received inquiries about this unfinished manuscript and I’d like to explain the evolution of my thought process. I came to the realization that this material is too intimate and personal to share with the public. Writing, as in all of life, is a process of discovery and evolution and reflection. What I discovered was that Carl, who loved Peter, would have eagerly read the first rough draft of The Main Gate, and called me on the phone: "Sandie,” “Carl.” “I read The Main Gate. Lucky Peter, lucky you. I suggest you put it in a manuscript box and place it near Sweet Pete: A Love Story/ Whether these are two separate books, or one whole that needs some filling in and restructure, only time will tell. For now, get back to work on Joyful Living in the Real World.” The muse of “the great man” has been heard. Perspective is everything. I don’t have Carl or Peter to talk to for advice on such a serious, important body of work that now has spanned over 35 years.
As I shared with you, after I stopped struggling to put closure to The Main Gate,, I took sabbatical and took myself to a rigorous home schooling. I studied over 30 professors of ancient philosophy, travelling through thousands of years to the current philosophy and psychology minds. I also studied the ordinary citizens in ancient Egypt. In my time of deep reflection where I wanted to enthusiastically cross over the bridge and embrace the essays that Carl and I edited, revised, reshaped and fine tuned to the sweet spot where I was happily on my way when he died, I wanted to follow my interior designer boss, Eleanor McMillan Brown’s maxim: “When one thing changes, re-think everything”. I remember in the late 80’s when Peter and I bought our sweet, old cottage in Stonington Village, I wrote a book, Creating a Beautiful Home and I originally wrote a chapter: Guest Rooms. As Carl loved to remind me, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should”.
There was a fire 200 yards (or 322 steps) down Water Street in a restaurant that burned to the ground. The Inn as Stonington was built on the space at the mouth of the Stonington Harbor. Who am I kidding. The one downstairs bedroom was for family, not a guest room or “friend’s room,” as our artist friend Roger Muhl referred to guest rooms. Friends could stay at the Inn. I wrote about having reconsiderations in my thinking about having guests, no matter how much I love them, that is not the spirit of why we bought the cottage. Our motivation was to escape the noise and intensity of New York City and commune with nature, gardens, write and study in the peace and quiet of our own private retreat.
Originally, when I was determined to record the last seven months of Peter’s life, I wanted it to be a love story, of sorts, about the end of an extraordinarily happy, long, accomplished life. I’ve arranged with Carl for decades that wisdom is gained through learning from experience. You can have the most brilliant professors teach you, but the inconvenient truths hit home most powerfully when they are real, in your face, and you feel the sting most profoundly when you are directly involved. Nothing is lost or wasted. The essense of what I learned from Peter’s death is that the best way to prepare for death is to love to the hilt, have fun, and be with people who love and treasure you.
I have an essay in the joyful living book that addresses the subject of love, end of life, and death, that I feel can be helpful to so many of us who are in intimate loving bonds with someone who will probably die before we do. I hope this will be useful. If you’ve written me recently and haven’t heard back, please drop me a postcard with your address. Your email is not helpful. I’d have to engage a typist to respond. I want your writing address, please. The real world is that I write my books and letters longhand with various colored pens and ink and if nothing more than a postcard reply, I will respond. Don’t assume I have your address, even though I do it is more pleasant for me to have it close at hand. Many thanks.
Happy September! I’ll be in Concord, Massachusetts September 11th as a fundraiser for Wounded Warriors and will be there all day. I’d love to have you and friends join us in a patriotic, historical town on a significant date to show our appreciation doe the service and sacrifices our troops make for our freedom.
On September 25th, please toast Peter. And, please send me good karma as I write. I’m looking forward to exciting days ahead of all of us. Thank you for being here for me. You along with Carl and Peter, are my muses. Great love to you all.