Saturday, March 6, 2010

Susan Died During a Blizzard

My mother Susan Bair died during a blizzard Tuesday night, February 23, 2010 at age 84.  She taught me to read and write using the Calvert Correspondence Course while we were living on Mallorca with her then-future second husband.

She was born Susan Wiman on August 25, 1925  in Seattle.  Her great-aunt Gertrude Wiman helped chart the Straight of Juan de Fuca; and her grandfather Chaunce Wiman ferried Wobblies up to Vancouver during the “Steamboat Wars.”  Her father, my Grandpa Fred, was a destroyer skipper in the Aleutians during World War Two.

Susan’s wildly impulsive intolerance of conventional restrictions, however, and also her  love of literature, came from Mississippi.  They came from my great-grandmother Pearl B. Winter and my great-aunt Maude Bryan.  Nanny Pearl attended Agnes Scott College, then taught school in the Delta most of her life – until Mr. Winter forbade her attendance at a Women’s Suffrage meeting, whereupon she decamped for Seattle with her two children.

Susan matriculated at Radcliffe at age 16, but dropped out after the Coconut Grove Fire killed many of her friends.  She went to New York to be an actress.  There, after marrying a wildly improbable number of men attracted to her beautiful brunette good looks -- all the marriages were annulled by my grandmother Katie --  she met my first father, Richard Gehman, in Greenwich Village.  Richard was at the start of  his extraordinary career as an alcoholic writer of 400 magazine features, 15 books and many short pieces.  Richard died in 1970 at age 50.  When Susan met my second father Lowell Bair in Paris 1953, my brother Rob threw his shoes out the window.  Lowell married Susan anyway, despite the two young hellions attached to her, and before many years went by they had a daughter, my sister Connie.

Lowell translated over 300 French books including classic French novels like Liaisons Dangereuses, Candide, La Chartreuse de Parme, and Madame Bovary.  A former hand-launched glider champion of Florida, Lowell taught me how to build the glider that disappeared into the clouds at a party in Mead's Meadow back in the Sixties.  He translated his first book, a French detective thriller titled Canal Street to pay our passage back to the States.

My mother and my fathers taught me, by example, to love literature.  I learned what little I know about good letters from reading nearly all of Ford Madox Ford, Joseph Conrad, Stendhal, Flaubert, Hemingway, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, Marguerite Duras, Sybille Bedford , T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.  I first read all The Cantos at age 16 with only Susan's penciled-in marginalia to help me sort out the many puzzles in the text.  I speak French and Spanish, and know enough of the Koinae to parse the Gospels.  That all came from Susan too.

She had a good knack for suggesting the right fun book that you might like to read.   And then she'd let you read whatever you wanted to read, without interrupting you, no matter how thoroughly absorbed in the pleasure of the text you might appear to be.  Our family moved to Woodstock in 195660.  Susan  worked at the Woodstock Library for many years with Ellen Roberts, D.J. Boggs,  Pia Alexander and Joanne Sackett.  Jane Dardis and Jane Axel and Miriam Sanders were good friends.

Anyone who would like to contribute a story to this blog -- about Susan or about Susan and Lowell should email it to me, or post it as a comment, which I'll then post.  Pass the word along -- I'll print anything.  I got that from Susan too, as well as Pound's notion that:

“Art is more important than medicine –
because only Art reveals the soul of man”

As a writer, nothing seems to me more important.

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