Monday, September 29, 2008

Midnight on the phone

Lastnight, late, my cell phone rang and it was a cousin of Leonard Pennario's I had never spoken with before. She is 84 and she lives in Rhode Island and she wanted to talk to me for the book I am writing.

Luckily I could talk, I had time, so I hooked up the tape recorder and called her back on my land line and we settled in. We must have talked for about an hour. She had known Leonard only briefly, when he was 15 and came to visit her family in Newport. But it was a magical summer. I have been to Newport a couple of times and I think of it as a magical town. Leonard did, too. He wrote his famous "Midnight on the Cliffs" when he was walking on the beach in Newport. His cousin knew about that. She remembered that night.

What was wonderful about his cousin was that she is so beautifully spoken. She has a beautiful voice, and she phrased things so gracefully and so vividly. It reminded me of Joan Fontaine in "Rebecca" -- "Sometimes I do go back to Manderley..."

Anyway, for once in my life, I shut up! I kept thinking, on the phone with her: What if I ever could put together a radio documentary on doing this book? I would want her voice in it.

She was 16 that summer she met Leonard. He was 15. He had a crush on her and she wanted nothing to do with that because when you are that age, a year means the world, and you did not want any younger boy hanging around with you. But she laughed as she remembered him running into the room and jumping onto the couch with her, to tickle her and hassle her, the way guys do when they like you. It was so thrilling to get a snapshot of Leonard at that point in his life, especially from a girl's point of view. She told me about how his voice was changing, how tall and skinny he was. I was getting tears in my eyes. I wasn't sure at first why.

Then it struck me that as close as I was to Leonard, I had met him only in his last year, when he was 83 and had only six months left to live. She had known him only at the beginning of his life, and I had known him only at the end. There is something poignant about that which is not lost on you when you have had a glass of wine. Which, fortunately for the book, I had.

The cousin went on to tell me that a few years later, when Leonard was 19, they went to his debut with the New York Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall. They went backstage to see him and -- oh, I can't go into this now. I have to get my head out of the clouds and get to work. But I just found her story so beautiful and bittersweet. Like a perfect cameo. Sometimes this book makes me think of a mosaic. All these colored and detailed little tiles, and they form one big picture.

Funny, it's a picture of Howard's shoes, with an eggplant in between them! Something has gone terribly wrong!

Oh, wait, I was looking at yesterday's post.

1 comment:

Sarah Bear said...

How lucky for you in meeting new people while you write about Leonard. You are getting to know more of him while you write about him. I enjoy reading your blog and look forward to your book. You have one sale already.