Saturday, December 31, 2016



I minored in French Lit at Brown University, and one of my favorite professors was a young man (just out of the Navy from WWII, as I recall). He was handsome, accomplished, charming. And wonderfully gracious. He and his wife would often invite batches of his students to dinner. They were the parents of twins (?---again, can't remember for sure).

And the evenings in their house were what we, as young women, dreamed about for our perfect futures. The inevitable and delicious tuna casserole, the daddy going upstairs to read a bedtime story to the kids, the immaculate little house. We drooled with envy. (Please don't get yourselves in a snit, people---this was the '50s. We were the first generation of women to even go to college in large numbers, but our models were our home-bound mothers.)

Because I had taken several courses with him, and was an avid pupil, he and I became a little more than student and teacher. Not equals, given the formal relationship between students to teachers in those days, but certainly a budding friendship. And after I graduated, and my husband and I returned to Brown for a reunion or graduation (which was often, since my husband had also gone there and three of our siblings and two of our sons followed), we would be in touch with him, and sometimes meet for coffee with him and his wife during reunion weekend.

When I wrote my first book ("Marielle"), a historical romance set in the France of Louis XIII, I sent him one of my first printed copies. I had slaved over the research---the historical personages, the battles, the politics of that turbulent time. I smugly challenged him to find anything inaccurate in my book.

His letter in reply said something along the lines of: "I don't think a Frenchman of 1629 would accuse someone of being "as treacherous as a rattlesnake", a New World snake, barely nine years after the Pilgrims had landed in Plymouth! "An adder, maybe," he suggested. One word to carp over, but otherwise he found the history to be spot-on.

I laughed ruefully about that for a long time, but, thanks to him, it led me to check any questionable word I wrote from then on, to be sure it was appropriate for its time. (I have lots of dictionaries, which help me on that score.)

 But that correspondence deepened our friendship immeasurably. After that, I sent him every book of mine as it was published. (I wish I'd saved his letter about my book about French strolling actors---"Dreams So Fleeting" by Louisa Rawlings---who meet the great Moliere on their travels. We had read Moliere in class together, and I swear that his letter in comment of the book had teardrops on it!)

From then on, when my husband and I came for reunion, he and his lovely wife took us out to dinner, sometimes even picking us up on campus to drive back to their apartment. (He had retired at that point to a near-the-campus  retirement complex, where many Brown professors lived.)

It became a joke, every time we came for reunion---and as he and his wife grew older---for him to say, "Don't wait another five years! I'm xxxx (whatever his age was at the time)." And five years later, I'd write or call and say, "I'm still here and so are you! See you at the reunion!"

I missed my 60th reunion last year, because I was in the middle of a move. I had hoped to visit him and his wife---perhaps over the summer. But then his dear wife passed away and I got frazzled and busy with the move.

The whole point of this is to tell you that, as usual, I sent him a Christmas card. I'm crying as I write this, because I just got a card back today, with a long, chatty note in his distinctive handwriting. He is alive and well and just turned 96 (!).

I am so grateful for this. I will write him back. If I could send hugs through the mail I would. I'm determined to visit him next year, even if it isn't during graduation. I can't begin to describe how happy and grateful I feel at this moment.

Thanks for listening, people. Just had to share.

P.S.  Had a sudden memory after I published this: He smoked a pipe. (Very sexy, in those days.) And he always came into class with the pipe in his mouth. He would go to the window, open it, and tap the ashes against the outside wall to empty the pipe. It was such a graceful, masculine gesture that I found it entrancing. And many, MANY years later, I had my hero, in "Autumn Rose" by Louisa Rawlings, do the same thing!


  1. This is a beautiful memory! Have a Happy New Year!

  2. Thank you, and same to you. Can't begin to express how I am still grinning at his Christmas card---had last communicated with him just after last Christmas, and was nervous when I sent out this year's card to him. A happy new year indeed!

  3. Yesterday I called a college friend at his nursing home. He told me I was the only one to call him for the New Year. He was my best buddy then, I still love him. But to think I was his only call from the outside world, when he had so many friends! I'm so glad you have this wonderful memory, Sylvia. You deserve it! Happy New Year

    1. Thanks, dear. Am getting ready to write to him now.

  4. What a great story! Thanks for giving me the warm-fuzzies.

  5. Definitely a gulpy moment, right?

  6. Lovely story, Sylvia! So glad you shared it!

  7. Thank you, Anna. Have printed out a copy of the blog to include in my letter to him.

  8. Thank you so much for this wonderful story! It was marvelous. You are as full of life as he is...I admire you both!

  9. Thanks, Donna. Waiting to hear from him after I sent him a copy of the essay! He and his wife were indefatigable---taking trips to the Galapagos, the Andes, etc. well into their senior years, and sending along photos afterward.