Thursday, March 10, 2022

Time it was

Last Saturday, I joined several of my former LIFE magazine colleagues for lunch, as many of them had traveled to the city from as far away as California and Bangkok to attend a memorial service for the venerable Dick Stolley, founder of People Magazine and former managing editor of LIFE, and the man who, as a young journalist had been the one to track down and secure the famous Zapruder film of John F. Kennedy's assassination, the one we've seen again and again on history reels, of Jackie Kennedy in her pink suit and pearls with her husband's bloody head staining everything red. 

I didn't go to the memorial, in part because even though Dick had been my boss and had been a legendary newsman, the Friday of his service fell on the seventh anniversary of my mother's death. Seven years already. Some anniversaries hit harder than others. This year, I just wanted to spend the day quietly. Both my children called me to make sure I was okay. I was fine, and so touched that they remembered their grandmother on that day. We all shared lovely reminiscences about her.

Anyway, on Saturday, there was a plan for some of the reporters who had worked for one particular editor, Mary Steinbauer, to get together with her at a restaurant near her home in the Village. There would be six of us, two of whom I hadn't seen since leaving LIFE when I was twenty-nine, and the other three I had seen only twice in the intervening years, once at a reunion of the old staff in November 2013, and again when we got together for lunch with Mary and our beloved former Chief of Research, June Omura Goldberg, the following day. 

We reporters were a wild bunch back then. At lunch on Saturday, we remarked on the fact that we were not only work colleagues, but also each other's social group, which was to be expected since we worked till ten and eleven at night, or on closing nights, two or three in the morning, waiting for our stories to come through the editing rounds, and decamping to each other's homes to imbibe and smoke and be giddy with exhaustion and abandon afterward. My fellow reporters, two in particular, were my best friends during those years. We were each other's everything for a while, because if we weren't burning the midnight oil in the offices on the thirty-first floor of the Time Life Building, we would be traveling with an assigned photographer for weeks at a stretch to report stories and create photo essays for the magazine. We had so little time left over to develop outside friendships. I have never worked more intimately with another group of people since. 

All that to say, as socially anxious as I was to show up on Saturday, as soon as I arrived I was at ease. The conversation flowed, so many memories were dredged up, and we all gave Mary her flowers for the calm way she had guided us excitable young whippersnappers back then, when we would call from the road with unforeseen challenges to be solved or on-the-fly plans to be approved. She demurred in her usual gracious way and said, "I got so much credit for the stories we did, but I always told people, it was you reporters who made them happen. All I did was say, 'Go.'" She shared that she had turned over all her papers from her decades as a senior editor and then Assistant Managing Editor of LIFE to the New York Historical Society, so if we ever wanted to visit our stories and the voluminous files we created in service to each one, we could find them there. 

Mary was famous for taking us all out to long margarita-soaked lunches on the day after a big story or a special issue shipped, and we recreated that vibe on Saturday, toasting with round after round of margaritas. Having met up at noon, we were still sitting there at four that afternoon, calling back one riotous memory after another. I loved the way each person around the table had evolved to become even more fully themselves. Each of my lunch companions could have been the inspiration for a fascinating literary character in a Truman Capote or Joan Didion narrative. It was close to five when we finally roused ourselves and walked Mary back to her apartment building before the rest of us jumped in a cab and regrouped at another former staffer's home on the Upper West Side. It reminded me of the way we used to roam in clusters back in the day, going from one gathering place to the next, one person's house to another, loath to let the party end.




We are all older now, so the party on Saturday did end. I went home to my husband as darkness fell, all the memories we unearthed sticking to me, calling back the way I used to be, reckless and footloose, jumping on planes to far flung places at a moment's notice, anxious before every new adventure, but feeling the fear and wrestling each new story to the page anyway.

This photo was taken as the sun came up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where photographer Michael O'Brien and I were doing a series on "New Americans," recent immigrants who were making a go of life in their new country. In Fort Wayne, we reported on a large Ethiopian family who had opened a parachute factory, after a harrowing wartime escape from their homeland. Michael was my absolute favorite photographer; we worked so well together that our editors paired us on numerous stories, and his wife, also a reporter, was one of my closest friends. He liked the light coming in through the blinds that morning as we sipped coffee in the airport cafe while waiting for our early morning flight home. So he raised his camera and took this shot. 

As the years accrue, it hardly seems real anymore that I lived all those stories, that my young life was so enriched by the people I encountered from all walks. But on Saturday with my old LIFE crew, I touched again the young woman I was, reporting stories in almost every state in the union and navigating to places as far away as the Falkland Islands, now called the Malvinas, the southernmost inhabited land mass in the world, and yes, it was me who went all those places and met all those people and built enough trust with them that they allowed a young Black woman who grew up in Jamaica and came to New York as a college student to literally camp out in their lives. My God, I really did that. Memory is an elusive shimmery thing.



18 comments:

  1. Cool group of folks- great company! You have done a fair amount of living I would say, and done it all so beautifully.YOU are fabulous- and then you went on to make the most wonderful and honorable family. Your Mother is radiating with pride, somewhere. LOVE

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  2. I really enjoyed reading this. You had a dream life! Sometimes that walk down memory lane is a wonderful blessing. You won't remember me, I was a blogger back in the day, I guess I'm taking my own walk down that lane coming back. Anyway, thank you for this story.

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  3. Touching, very touching every bit of the way. I'm glad you participated so heartily back then and now recently too. It's good to recall the days of youthful vigor and an adventuresome nature; it's what the 20s and 30s are for! Love that picture of the light streaming in and across your face. Your storytelling skills have prevailed through the decades in delightful ways. Kim in PA

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  4. Tears welled up as I read about your memories from so long ago in the company of good people as well as when I looked at the lovely photo of you at sunrise in Indiana all those years ago and the photos taken recently with your journalism colleagues. Tears of gratitude.

    Loved reading about your visits with the hermits during your days working for Life magazine.

    Your mother's lovingkindness shines in you.

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  5. I loved reading this so much. If I could get on a plane and travel, I would so want to go to New York and meet you, shake your hand, hug you and hold you close. I would want to just have that moment to get a sense of all that you have experienced in the world of journalism. Thank you for sharing this wonderful gathering of old friends with us.

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  6. What a wonderful life you had then, and it's wonderful now. Dag! you were quite the human!

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  7. Love this part of your story. You should write your autobiography between your other worthy projects. That editor's note about your hermit series was great to read. Hugs on the anniversary of the passing of your dear mother. x0 N2

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  8. How splendid that you could meet and mesh once again. I have several friends that go back to young adulthood and I always marvel at how we can reconnect so quickly and so well. Good for all of you .... and I love the early morning photo of you. Beautiful then and beautiful now.

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  9. Well if this isn't the most magical thing I don't know what is. Just a glory of a re-meeting! I love the idea of all of you gathering and drinking and talking and laughing and probably crying a little and remembering and being in that magical circle once again. I am SO glad you got to do this. What an amazing life you've had! And what an amazing mother you had. She must have been so proud of you. I just love all of this more than I can say.

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  10. "Preserve your memories; They're all that's left you"
    Gosh, you are a fabulous woman! You certainly have lived your life to the fullest and shared your talents through you work and stories.

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  11. Michael indeed could capture an Essence via his Photography! How nice you could spend time with Old Friends/Colleagues and recount such amazing experiences. The Anniversaries of our Dearly Departed can be rough, however much Time passes.

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  12. You've had an amazing life. Perhaps it's time to write your own autobiography.

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  13. Wonderful and fascinating story. I’m envious of those experiences and the creative, bright people you had in your life for a time.

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  14. What a wonderful post, what a fabulous life! I never did anything quite so adventurous. Heck, I never did anything adventurous. Just stayed at home plugging away at making my art studio support us

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  15. What a fantastic opportunity -- both the job and the reunion! I LOVE that photo of you in the Fort Wayne airport. Thank goodness you got to reconnect with everyone again and share those stories. Coworkers often don't realize how woven together their lives are, especially when they're young.

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  16. I can feel your energy from here, where I sit and wish that I had known the young woman who was so huge in undertaking so much. I am glad that I am becoming to know the woman that you are today from your writing.

    I know that some anniversaries are harder than others. I lost my mother on Dec 16th, so Christmas is a hard time for me. The one thing that helps me get thru the holidays is that my mom loved Christmas.

    I eny you with the long Margarita lunches. I can barely drink 2 before I am ready to call it a night lol.
    Have a woderful weekend. xx

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  17. You ran with a great group of young, ambitious and talented people. Reuniting and reliving some of the best days of your early career must have been just wonderful. You've got some fantastic photos to capture the day.

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  18. A lovely post. You were fortunate in your career and friendships.

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