Amanda in the Summer

Chapter One

August 5, 1947 

Dear Tilly, How wonderful to hear from my best friend, although I should be quite upset with you for such a short dissertation. You tell me you saw “Pollock’s” as if he’s painted only one canvas. More information would have been greatly appreciated for your poor isolated friend. Then you somehow relate the atomic bomb and the direction of the scientific community to the degradation of art into the abstract. How can you leave me with that? I’m left hungry for a real debate with you. You were short and bleak. Have pity for me, Tilly, and give me more information. 

Perhaps you are sour for having to work the summer while I lie in the sun like a beached whale. Tilly, my dear, you are free to touch your toes, drink a Manhattan, and dance until dawn. On the other hand, I know it won’t be long before I can’t see my toes, still throw up most days at two, and in bed by nine every night. You are working on a budding career while I traded my wonderful lab tech job at the university for housewife and mother-to-be. You wouldn’t want to exchange places with me. 

Ha! I can hear you now. You need not lecture me. You know perfectly well that I honestly feel grand about being preggers. But I could use you here to form a front against Mother. She is silently protesting my lying out in the sun…exposed! Rather undignified in my “condition.” And at night when I sit on the deck, feeling glorious in the ocean breezes, she frets about me catching a “draft.” 

If there were a phone in this old house, I would call you and have a good chat. It would pick you right up. But then, I know by the time you get this letter Robert shall have arrived and taken you for a grand lunch while he’s in the city handling some pre-registration papers at Columbia. The ever-thoughtful one, your friend, and my husband, promised he would amuse you at least one day while he was there. He’s quite good at amusing you. I’m sometimes jealous he’s been your friend longer than I have, but then, we might not have met if not for him. Robert is excited to get back to classes. Thank God for the G.I. Bill. He’ll be back at Columbia in September and finish what the war interrupted. 

Now, back to your morose view of the state of affairs. Maybe it’s the beautiful sea or maybe it is Amanda kicking inside of me, but I can’t believe the state of America is as depressing as you paint it. Although, you do make me think. Perhaps the closing of our little Beach Theatre is an indication of what you mean. I’m sure you would say, “Aha! Just look at where America is going!” When the sign announcing the last performance was tacked in the window, I felt quite stricken, as did Mother. We attended the town meeting to lodge our protests, but money was the only voice heard. It seems the cinema is taking all the business away. This is such a small town, and really only populated in the summer with us city folks, but the outcome is still so disappointing. The youngsters prefer watching movie stars on the big screen to locals on the stage. It’s a sad statement on the cultural tradition of any community when the theatre falls into decline and abandonment. 

Of course, I too have concerns about the atomic bomb. I’m bringing a child into this world. But I have faith in the scientific community. Unlike you, I was a part of that community and do not see it as a self-involved, self-perpetuating, abstract sterile environment. Which brings us back to Jackson Pollock. I don’t believe abstract art is a retreat from reality. Isn’t it more of a creative response to signify our freedom and liberalism?

Tilly, pack it up and come and visit. This one-sided debate is too difficult. I want you to feel Amanda kick. How do I know it’s Amanda and not John I’m carrying? I just know. Mother agrees. And no, I have chosen no other name than Amanda. After all, it is a grand tradition. I am Amanda, my mother is Amanda, and my grandmother is Amanda. I wouldn’t get into this debate with you if you were here. We have had it already, but since I can have the last word, I shall state with conviction and without retort from you that an individual is not determined by whether or not she has her own unique name or shares it with her mother before her. I can guarantee you, any name I might come up with will not be unique to this world. And then what? She shares a name with some unknown woman with no history between them, no connection, no pride in tradition? So pooh-pooh tradition all you want. My Amanda will be quite the individual; so much the more with the influence of her mother and her adopted Bohemian Spinster Auntie Tilly. Yes, you shall be known as Auntie Tilly, Amanda’s Spinster Aunt. So sad for Tilly—twenty-four and already a spinster. Are you laughing yet? Perhaps Robert will meet someone at Columbia and introduce you. Now I laugh imagining that you, of all people, need help in that department. 

It’s time for me to lather on more sun tan lotion (another good thing to come out of the war) and start reading. I am going to see what Dr. Benjamin Spock knows about raising Amanda. 

Please write soon and tell me about all those wonderful nights dancing until dawn, drinking Manhattans and teasing all the eligible men of New York. And watch over my handsome husband adrift in the big city. 

Love, your friend, Amanda