My mother grew up near Little Falls, MN which is famous for being the birthplace of Charles Lindbergh. As a little girl, I remember visiting historic places in that town and being surprised that his wife and I had the same name; Anne. And it was even spelled the same. COOL!
Of course after learning that she was Charles Lindbergh’s wife, which was of course super cool; I also learned that her infant son was kidnapped. But I still thought she seemed to have a better life than the other well known Anne I learned about in school around the same time; Anne Frank. She was famous too but her life was obviously tragically cut short.
As a reader, I have read Anne Morrow Lindberg’s most famous book: “Gift from the Sea” which was published in 1955 but I really got to know her much better and appreciate her more after reading Melanie Benjamin’s fictitious account which was based on original documents and letters from Anne’s life.
Anne’s father was a wealthy ambassador and she was the 2nd of 4 children who grew up with a high society lifestyle. She met Charles when she was a 21 year old college student at Smith and he already had completed his famous voyage. The historical accounts of the their family life and the kidnapping of their son are very interesting but what I didn’t know was that Charles had a number of German women who bore him 7 additional children. Also, he was a major control freak who found it difficult to share his emotions.
Anne herself was not above reproach. Later in her life, she maintained her own apartment in NYC complete with her own social network and an intimate relationship with a long time boyfriend.
And yet, even hearing all of this, this novel is about love. My favorite part of the book takes place later in their life. Charles and Anne are attending a party to celebrate the succesful return of the Apollo IX crew. Anne is dancing and enjoying herself while Charles sits by watching. Later that night he asks Anne “It occured to me that you might have missed that kind of life. Do you? Do you ever wish you hadn’t married me?”
Anne doesn’t answer him but is lost in thought over that question. Yes, he was a difficult man to be married to. Yet she loved and respected him and the marriage also brought her a rich and full life.
A few pages later they are visiting the Smithsonian to view his plane. Once again, Anne is reflecting back on their marriage and the question Charles posed to her.
Benjamin writes in Anne’s voice: “That I would never know anyone as brave, as astonishing – as frustrating, too, but that was, as I forced myself to admit finally, part of his charm… – He was the man who was, for better, for worse, my husband. I turned to him.
“No,” I said softly.
“No, what?” He turned to me.
“No, I’m not sorry I married you.”
“Oh.” And he turned back to look at his plane and he reached for my hand.”
To me, as a witness to several long term marriages, my own included, this scene captures that which is a marriage. And whether or not it really happened to Charles and Anne, I would like to think that it did. Marriage is not a fairy tale but rather a long term love and respect which is made up of a lot of day to day life. And hopefully a few poignant life making moments sprinkled in. Just for good measure.