Tuesday, May 23, 2017


I was asked to contribute a statement about Ann Shelby Blum to a Smith College 45th reunion memorial for the Class of 1972. I couldn't do it. But I did.
Here it is.


Oh Beth, where to begin?

But that is always the hardest part...beginning.

I was browsing on FB last February and had a flash to search for signs of Annie—surely by now she was onto social media. To my profound shock I found out Ann Shelby Blum had passed away in November 2015 after a long decline to ovarian cancer.

The letters and stories and tributes were piling up on a website put together by her husband Peter, each writer revealing their unique connection to Ann(ie)—who was a multidimensional and original woman—she who  could not be contained or defined in ordinary terms.

I read these stories through a fog of regret and sadness then went to tell Robert, bursting into tears. Annie is gone!

It was not that I knew her now as well as back when we had been so close, fading as years blew by...in 1971 when Robert and I spent the summer with Annie, camping in a lean-to in the mountains above Santa Fe with two dogs and a VW bug, waiting tables in town.

Annie had been fascinated by the Santa Fe Trail, and she was a trail-blazer. She left Smith to explore history, archaeology and geology in the southwest...she was a "naturalist" with a creative, insightful curiosity and intrepid style.
Her unique fashion sense, frayed turtlenecks and floppy pants, prompted my mother to offer her hand-me-downs, thinking it was because Annie was poor that she did not wear matching Bobbie Brooks. Yet she had a simple elegance -- Annie invented shabby chic.

It was not that I had forgotten her, the last time we hugged, when she pressed into my arms a wedding present: a big red tin pie-safe carried from Vermont, as we left Cambridge on the way to Maine for our honeymoon in 1975.

When we shared a broccoli pizza.

When I took the train from Springfield to New Haven to visit Ann, with a loaf of bread rising in my backpack.

When we climbed to her special autumn hill in Vermont, a riot of color. When she told me a drop of water fell in her eye while swimming in a pond and it changed her lens of the world to a brilliant sparkle.

And years went by and we had lives without each other but we had lives.

Ann co-authored ‘the’ book on natural history illustration, she was a wife and a mother, an artist, historian and scholar and we lost the close relationship, I suppose naturally, to distance and limitations.

The fat file of letters I have still today, written in her distinctive hand -- funny and insightful snapshots of Annie -- must have gradually lost its place as we just got too busy for all that. Too busy.

I suppose I wrote her back. We were in Philly, in Spartanburg, in Taos, in Corrales. We had babies. We had a practice. She was in Puerto Rico, Ithaca, Australia. Latin America. Massachusetts.

I sent Annie a coffee table book once, photographs of New Mexico, thanking her for bringing us to The Land of Enchantment.

Our lives were changed completely by her adventurous spirit; we never left and yet she never came back.

The postcard she sent to thank me for the book said the photos were so beautiful "it hurts to look at them."

The tears, I told Robert, were not because I knew her as well as once we did. It was the years that went by. How could it be.
Forty years! We were children together. Four decades gone, and we did not see, hug, talk, smile or know each other as grownups out in the world.

I am breathless, speechless, by the loss of that time that we did not know was going by and I still don't understand where it went. That realization is the source of deep sorrow, nothing seems to touch it.
And now a wrecking ball has hit my life, a wrecking ball called cancer. This happens to other people. Not to us. This happened suddenly.

Gone...where is he?

It's like he evaporated and I am alone with new parameters, missing my Robert, my healer, my brown silvery brilliant beautiful man, his voice, his touch.

Missing my man. Missing my friend.
Missing Annie.

1 comment:

JennieFazioliSmith said...

Truly heartfelt Linda & so beautifully written.