Friday, December 08, 2006

Moon River and me.

from Jacqueline

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had an Audrey Hepburn thing. I wanted to be just like her – I know, I know, me and thousands of others. But I was about seven, I think. I remember wanting a pair of narrow black pants, a black turtle neck sweater and ballet flats after I’d seen Audrey in Sabrina. Sadly, none of my older cousins, the fount from which all hand-me-downs came, had the same taste. Mind you, elegance is something that happens in your wildest dreams, when the clothes come from older kin.

After seeing my heroine in The Nun’s Story, I walked around with an old white tablecloth draped over my head, trying to look pious – until, that is, my mother told me to “get that stupid looking thing off your head or I’ll take it off for you.” We were nothing if not down-to-earth in my house. Then on my first ever trip to New York, when I was twenty-one, I made a bee-line for Tiffany’s and, having located the store, came back as the sun was rising the next morning, wearing a black dress so that I could sip my coffee and eat my donut while gazing at those sparkly things in the window. Many moons later, my husband-to-be took me to Tiffany in San Francisco to choose a wedding ring – he’s an indulgent fellow, probably had to sell a guitar to pay for it.

So, you may be surprised to hear that I was initially dismayed to hear that the iconic dress worn by Audrey in Breakfast at Tiffany’s had sold in London for the equivalent of about $807,000 – probably a million by the time you add commissions and other administrative costs. I was dismayed because, with all the want in the world, I wondered how anyone could pay that much for a dress, no matter who had worn it. Such sentiments were instilled in me at a young age.

When my brother was six years old, he had an appendicitis that did not manifest usual appendicitis symptoms. The doctor visited several times (it was a rural community, and the doctor did his “rounds” in those days), but each time he examined John, he diagnosed a bug, or something of that nature. It was only when the appendix burst that John was rushed to the hospital, with a very, very poor prognosis.

The hospital had been built in Victorian times and, it seemed, had changed little since. The children’s wards, in particular, were sadly in need of updating, and desperately needed about 600,000 pounds* for, among other things, new IV’s. My mother referred to the IV attached to my brother as “that antiquated Christmas tree.” I remember sitting at my brother’s bedside several days after the surgery, watching the rise and fall of his chest, waiting for him to come out of a semi-comatose state. My mother had been staying overnight in his room, keeping vigil because the hospital was short-staffed, so I was watching him while she went to the bathroom. I leaned forward as he stirred, and felt soggy wet bedclothes under the tubing that went into his arm. “It’s all wet here,” I said, as my mother returned to the room. She felt the bed linens, looked at the drip and flew along the corridor in search of a nurse – if an air pocket had made its way into my brother’s system, it could kill him. Mum couldn’t find a soul, eventually having to gatecrash the operating room to summon a nurse to come to my brother’s aid. The nurse was cursing the old equipment as she dragged the long, ugly needle from my brother’s arm and disconnected the drip. It wasn’t the last time my brother almost died because of the ancient equipment.

Soon after John was released from the hospital, my mother returned to work, where she learned that her employer’s wife was running a fundraising drive to save an antique suit of armor from being bought by someone overseas. The price of this antiquity? 600,000 pounds. Let’s just say that mother’s opinion about a better way of spending that kind of money became widely known. People come first, not things.

In the same vein, I feel the same about the news that NASA is reigniting the moon exploration program, planning to spend billions with a view to setting up a lunar space station - that news item followed the segment on Audrey's dress on TV a few nights ago. I have my doubts about the space shuttle, and wonder why so much is spent doing whatever they do up there, when there are problems down here on earth that need to be addressed – how about universal health care in the USA, just for starters. I remember hearing someone say, “They might find a cure for cancer in space.” With all that money going into it, heck, they would stand as much chance finding the cure for a lot of that which ails us down here.

Of course, I know there’s the inspiration of it all, bringing the country together behind an idea – I was at school with a guy who became an astronaut and has been up there twice on the shuttle (and can you imagine what an achievement that is for a Brit?), and as a thirteen-year-old I was transfixed by the first lunar landing, keeping a log book of every news update - but I still cannot think how we can spend so much getting our logistical ducks in order to effect smooth space exploration, when we can’t even get people out of harm’s way when a natural disaster strikes planet Earth.

But there are things you can do nothing about in life, things you can’t change, so I try to do what I can. Volunteering and tithing work for me, and I’ve found it more meaningful if my contributions reflect those things I most care about, and my personal values. A few years ago some friends and I decided not to send holiday gifts, that we all had too much anyway, and we were more than a little jaded with the whole commercialism of the season. We decided that making thoughtful donations instead of gifts to each other would be a better idea – and in not spending on gifts, we’d have more to give to the have-nots.

Looking back on the year that will soon pass, a few dreams came true for me, and I feel really, really blessed. I was able to buy a house in a place I love in northern California, so I’ll be sending a check to Habitat for Humanity, to contribute to someone else’s home. I thank God I have a certain freedom of speech, so the ACLU get a check, as will the Natural Resources Defense Council, because I want to support advocacy on behalf of our natural environment (and besides, it’s great to get that letter from Robert Redford). I’ll be sending a contribution to organizations that care for abused horses, and to the Humane Society of the United States, and I’ll also pop something in the mail to Medicines Sans Frontieres . And I’m thinking I might go to the CARE website and adopt a child again - that $20.00 a month goes a long way in Africa, or India ....

Which brings me right back to Audrey’s “Holly Golightly” dress. Apparently, proceeds from the sale will go to the charity City of Joy Aid, which helps India's poor. In that case, I hope it’s gone to someone who will wear it – may she feel every cent of that one million dollars. Me? Well, I’ve got an old pair of black pants, a black turtle neck and some ballet flats somewhere.

“We’re after the same rainbow’s end ....”

PS: Didn’t get around to taking new pics of Sara this week, but will do so soon – promise.

*PPS: No sign for the British pound on my computer.


  1. I think governments are spending so much on space progra so the politicians who have mucked up the world beyond repair can be on the first commercial flight out of here.

    I commend you for donating to charity instead of exchanging holiday gifts. I do that, too. It's always fun to see who my friends have gifted each year in my name and vice versa, I'm sure.

  2. And Jackie, I can just picture you in your black pants/turtleneck/flats!

  3. from Jacqueline

    I may have the black duds, but I don't think I can carry off that quintessential "Audrey" look.

    And donating to charity is so much better than gifts in many ways - it instantly solves the question of what to buy. I remember the first time went back to the humane society where I adopted my dog - it was to take in our holiday donation the year after she came home. She had the check tucked inside the big red bow on her collar, and she was as proud as punch to be going back with an owner in tow!

    Patty - good point about the escape plans of our so-called leaders. Trouble is, the mess will be cleaned up and they'll want to come back - now that's probably the point at which the shuttle should be grounded Or someone should spike their spacesuits!

  4. Let's agree. Once they leave, the welcome mat is withdrawn.

  5. I adore Turan's reviews, even when I disagree with him about a movie. He just writes so darned well.

    And gotta love the TSA at work. Getting matches on a plane in this era is a pretty neat trick.


  6. Oh, my Huckleberry Friend, does that mean you will be leaving Ojai for points north? I enjoy driving through Ojai and saying, "Jacqueline Winspear lives here." It's sort of like "Being here on the street where you live."

    Met a lady last week whose daughter's name is "Maisie." I told her about your books (she hadn't heard of you), and she said she was going to get them for when her daughter grew up.

    And to continue my orneriness today: I have mixed feelings about the space program. The money certainly would be better spent on people (but some would say money sent to the Humane Society, which I contribute to, would be better spent on people, as well); however, some of the things we enjoy today, while they may have come about anyway at a later time, are the result of the space program: the personal computer, for one, which is a vital tool to the medical profession today.

    We just can't please all of the people all of the time.

    Tom, T.O.

  7. from Jacquelne

    No, not leaving Ojai, just able to spend a bit more time in the Bay Area, in a broom-cupboard size house.

    Yes, those questions of what is best spent where are truly challenging. I remember the first time I had to wear a Holter monitor to assess the extra beats my heart was throwing out - that monitor actually had "NASA" imprinted on it, so there's one good thing that came of the space program.

    We probably just have to give in a manner that reflects our values, and do a little bit to make up for expenditures we believe to be ill-considered, whether those expenditures are on wars, space shuttles, or precious artworks purchased for the national good.