Remembering Anna Jane....
Dear Laurie & Jenn,
It has been my practice for some years not to write a letter like this until after the passage of some time. There is no statute of limitations on saying that you are so sorry for a loss or that you, too, grieve. So, I have decided that a letter “well after” the spate of correspondence that comes in soon after a death can be a welcome gesture. Besides, the old Swedish proverb looms large here: “Joy shared, joy doubled; sadness shared, sadness halved.”
Where to begin to share with you what your mother meant to me in my years at Westtown? I met her in the fall of 1960 not long after her graduation from Elmira. She was my 9th grade English teacher as well as a wonderful ear for the tales and woes of a 14-year-old who climbed up the fire escape to her dorm window many a late afternoon. Because of her junior year abroad in Wales, it was Teacher Anna Jane who introduced me to John Synge and Dylan Thomas. It would be difficult to convey how “cool” we thought your mother was. She was lovely, had some really striking clothes (I have a vivid memory of a finger-tip length plaid coat that she wore to Meeting), but more than anything she was interested in what we had to say. She was generous with her praise, sparing with her criticism, but honest in a way that ninth graders intuitively understood and respected.
I will recount one hilarious moment in her ninth-grade class, though it wasn’t in mine. She was very intent that we all spell confidently and well. I can still spell occurred correctly because of the mnemonic she taught us: Central Colorado Railroad – 2 c’s, 2 r’s. One day as she was demonstrating “assassinate” on the board, she had gotten as far as breaking it down by syllable to just the first two. So, when Dan Test, the headmaster, dropped in for an unannounced visit, all that was written on the board were two words: ass ass.
My mother, a somewhat impulsive woman, had a fight with Dan Test and took me out of Westtown the 3rd week of my 10th grade year. To say that I was heartbroken wouldn’t begin to cover it. But she did engage your mother as my extracurricular tutor to fill in some of the gaps in the West Chester High School English department. So I was able to maintain a connection through the 10th grade even though I wasn’t actually at the school. Your mother’s distinctive, and very readable, handwriting still stands out as she gave me questions and study suggestions on Romeo and Juliet. After that it was off to boarding school in Maryland and the end of our tutoring times.
Westtown played an important role in my life and I have stayed in contact with the class over the years, attending many “5 year” reunions. For our 50th we wanted to make sure that everything was “just perfect” so Nancy Bennett, whose work life involved a LOT of exposure to the printing industry, was in charge of printing the “book”. I was on the reunion committee and we were determined to use a beautiful painting of your father’s as our cover. But Nancy was having none of the “we’ll just use a photograph of it”. To make sure she got the colors “just right” she had classmate Dagny Henry go to the owner’s house, get the security code (because they were away), go into the room where the painting was hung and do something with her phone’s camera so that Nancy could get the pantone colors exact. I’m not sure you ever heard this story, but perhaps you have. (I wish I could tell you that your father’s art class was as influential as your mother’s English one. Alas, I cannot. For both 7th and 8th grades, he suffered through my complete inability to master any drawing technique though he was always kind in his comments. It was more than obvious that English was a greater proclivity.) Anna Jane was our honored guest for this reunion since so many of the class had known her for their entire Westtown years. Blissfully, this re-connection with her enabled me to see her several times between 2014 and 2019.
On my drives between SC and ME I was able to stop to see AJK at her house in MA a couple of times. There I became acquainted with paintings of your father’s that I had never seen. Indeed I have no memory of his personal work while I was at Westtown. I was smitten and delighted by everything I saw. Your mother shared a lot of details about their life together and of his interest and expertise in local theatre. That you lost you dad so very suddenly and at a young age was such an unfair blow. It was bittersweet for me to hear your mother talk about her life with Warren – the early years as well as the later ones. Theirs was indeed a lifelong, dearly treasured partnership. The house in MA was an embodiment of their life together and I so enjoyed getting a chance to see it.
Though not a long visit by any means, I did see your mother at our 55th at Westtown in May of 2019 when she came to our class Meeting to remember Sam Hogenauer. Thus I got to hug her, though at the time I didn’t know it would be my last. One of my life’s real joys was talking to Anna Jane on the phone before she died. Yes, she sounded frail, but so much herself. She was positive and wanted me to know that she was comfortable, not in pain, that she was at peace with the life she had lived, and that she was so glad to hear my voice. It broke my heart but I am very thankful that I could say a few last words.
So I will close. It has been sustaining for me to think of all the good times as I wrote this letter. May you both find peace and joy in the coming months as you remember AJK. She truly made the world a better place and we are lessened by her absence.
With so much affection and respect for your mother,
Aiken, South Carolina
May 3, 2020