On What Matters: Navigating an Interview with Reeve Lindbergh

Interview with Reeve Lindbergh

When Reeve Lindbergh’s parents were young they were, for a time, arguably the most famous people in the world. So great was Charles Lindbergh’s celebrity that  it spawned the first generation of Paparazzi.  As Susan Hertog pointed out in her splendid biography, Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life, when Lindbergh landed in Paris after his historic transatlantic flight in 1927, the overzealous crowd “surged toward him, mauling his plane in a wild stampede.”  

Two years later, Anne Spencer Morrow,  a 23-year-old introverted intellectual, caught Lindbergh’s eye while on Christmas break from Smith College. She was visiting her family in Mexico, where her father, Dwight Morrow, was U.S. Ambassador. 

Packs of news photographers followed the Lindberghs everywhere. When the couple’s infant son Charles Jr. was kidnapped in 1932, the press paid frenzied attention to the crime. The story remained in the headlines for months.

(Among the many heartbreaking artifacts that remain from the kidnapping is a front-page item in The New York Times from March 3, 1932: It’s a brief notice,  stating that the baby had been ill: “In the hope that whoever has taken the baby may see and understand the necessity for care, Mrs. Lindbergh…gave out the diet she had been following.” It included — exposing a young mother’s anguish to the world — “half a cup of orange juice on waking.”)

So as public figures go, one might think that anything about the Lindbergh family is fair game.

But I wanted something different. This podcast is about the way women carry out the most sacred role in their lives. As for the husband, famous or otherwise, there must be a good reason for him to enter the conversation. If there isn’t, I leave him out.

Charles Lindbergh was a complicated man. Historians have documented his respect for the Nazis in prewar Germany. And two years after Anne Morrow Lindbergh died, it was revealed that for many years he had led a double life.

In 2003,  a German woman named Astrid Bouteuil came forward with the news that she and her two brothers were Lindbergh’s children, the result of a years-long affair he had had with their mother. DNA tests confirmed it.

In short order, it was revealed that in the same years Lindbergh was involved with Brigitte Hesshaimer, he had an affair with her sister, Marietta, that produced two other children.  And a third relationship – with his secretary and translator – produced two more. Apparently, he provided for all of the children.  Still, he kept his extracurricular families  a secret from his wife

A book, Das Doppelleben des (The Double Life of…) Charles A. Lindbergh, was published in 2005. (Interestingly, it has yet to be translated into English.)

When the story of Lindbergh’s double life first came to light, the question of how Anne Lindbergh’s children might react was addressed at the time by  A. Scott Berg, Lindbergh’s biographer. ”It’s a titillating story in Germany,” he told The New York Times. “But for four people named Lindbergh on this side of the ocean, it’s a deeply troubling personal story.”

The story of Lindbergh’s secret  lives, it turns out, has been linked – compellingly, I might add – to the story of the kidnapping (see Lloyd Gardner’s excellent book, The Case That Never Dies, from Rutgers University Press).

When I spoke with Reeve,  I chose not to bring any of this up, for what boiled down to a very simple reason .

Asking Reeve to comment wouldn’t merely have cast a shadow over the entire interview. It would have made the interview about her father.

Instead, I urge you to read Reeve’s own writing on the topic.  She has written beautifully about her life as a Lindbergh in general, and about this sordid chapter in particular.  In her 2018 memoir, Two Lives, Reeve reflected on her own  split life, navigating her role as the public face of her family while, at the same time, leading a quiet existence in rural Vermont. In that book, and in her 2009 book, Forward From Here, she writes about her father’s other families. 

“I have the feeling that he was the only person involved with all these families who knew the full truth, and I keep thinking that by the time he died in 1974, my father had made his life so complicated that he had to keep each part separate from the other parts … I don’t know why he lived this way, and I don’t think I ever will know, but what it means to me is that every intimate human connection my father had during his later years was fractured by secrecy.”

At the end of our interview, I thanked Reeve, and she thanked me in return. “This has been a real nourishment for me to be able to talk about her with you this way,” she said.

I wouldn’t have wanted it to be anything else.

A note: Reeve’s word to describe her mother was “thoughtful.” Please visit the Mother Word Cloud and contribute your word to best describe your own.

This week’s episode of Our Mothers Ourselves can be found on Buzzsprout, Apple iTunes, Spotify, and pretty much everywhere else in the known podiverse.

Artwork: Paula Mangin (@PaulaBallah)

Music: Andrea Perry.

Producer: Alice Hudson 

Charming Candor Runs in the Family: Emma Walton Hamilton on Julie Andrews, her Mother.

Emma Walton Hamilton on Julie Andrews
Emma Walton Hamilton on Julie Andrews
She is our Sunshine

“What should I read?” 

“Her memoirs. Definitely the first one.”

That was Emma Walton Hamilton’s suggestion for how best to prepare for an interview about her mother, Julie Andrews.

Julie Andrews’s two memoirs, Home, and Home Work, are at once heartbreaking and awe-inspiring. While reading them, I toggled between listening to Julie’s narration via audiobook and reading words on a page. I was struck by how differently I absorbed the material depending on the medium. That is, when I listened — to that familiar dulcet voice,  made still warmer with age — so thoroughly had I absorbed its calming effect over the years, I found it hard to feel the darkness of the material. But then, when I switched to the words as written, their full weight landed.

How on earth did she emerge from all that so optimistic, her view of the world untainted by her own unhappy experiences? The answer: Because that’s who Julie Andrews is, luminous at her core.

For the holidays, we’re revisiting Katie’s conversation  with Emma Walton Hamilton, daughter of the extraordinary Julie Andrews, about her mom’s difficult childhood and her determination to give her own children stability and, above all, constant love.

Emma, it turns out,  is every bit as radiant as her mother. In our interview, she talked about her mother’s innocence, well into adulthood, a true surprise given the effect that parts of her childhood could have had on her. She talked about the insights she had when read through her mother’s journals. And she talked about the bond that doesn’t quit.

Emma and her mother have written more than 30 children’s books together. (If you haven’t dipped into The Very Fairy Princess series, you haven’t lived.) And they co-host the podcast Julie’s Library.

Art by Paula Mangin
Music by Andrea Perry
Producer: Alice Hudson

Please contribute to the mother word cloud, with your one word to describe your mother.

A very special thanks to Liz Mitchell for permission to use her beautiful version of You Are My Sunshine.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of California Assembly District 79 on her mother, Mildred Nash: “My mother was a woman of tremendous integrity.”

California Assembly District 79

Fleeing a lynch mob in Arkansas; a new life in
Los Angeles; eight children and a giving hand. Unimpeachable integrity.

One afternoon early in 2020, I driving home, listening to KQED (our much loved public radio station here in San Francisco) and I happened to catch the beginning of a fascinating interview. Scott Shafer and Marisa Lagos were on the phone with a state Assembly member of California Assembly District 79 named Shirley Weber. Weber’s voice was strong, her words well chosen, her views as sensible as the day is long.

Weber talked about her family’s journey to California, after her father, David Nash, fled a lynch mob in Arkansas. She talked about the strong influence her elementary school teachers had one her. She talked about her hopes for education and criminal justice reform. 

When I got home, I sat in the garage and kept listening, rapt. Wow. Who is this?

Such was my lucky introduction to Shirley Weber, Ph.D., a retired San Diego State University professor who is now a Democratic assemblywoman and the head of California’s Legislative Black Caucus. 

On Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom nominated Dr. Weber to succeed Alex Padilla as secretary of state. “Dr. Weber is a tireless advocate and change agent with unimpeachable integrity,” he said.

Key word: Integrity.

There was one person who didn’t come up in that KQED interview: Dr. Weber’s mother.  A woman like this must have had a pretty great mother, I thought. 

I called Dr. Weber’s aide, Joe Kocurek, and asked him whether Dr. Weber had indeed had a mother she cherished. Yes she did, was his response. And Dr. Weber would be more than happy to talk with me about her mother,  Mildred Nash.

My conversation with Dr. Weber was my second interview for the podcast. It would be putting it charitably to say I was still feeling my way around podcast production. The quality of our Zencastr recording  was terrible (entirely my fault, for the record),  and Dr. Weber, newly stuck at home thanks to the pandemic, very kindly made a backup recording for me on her phone.

It was an interview I’ll never forget. Here I was, a total stranger, asking her about things from her childhood that she might long since have shelved.  But she was eager to honor the woman who raised her. Each memory she called forth seemed to spark a new one. She told me about her mother’s childhood in Arkansas, where she was raised by her grandmother; her mother’s math skills; her sweet potato cobbler; the ride on the segregated train when the family moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s.

The family settled in the projects of South LA and Shirley’s mother, Mildred, worked hard as a homemaker raising her eight children. Dr. Weber told me about her mother’s superhuman efforts as a mother and homemaker. (“By the time we got out of bed in the morning, my mother had already washed a load of clothes and most had them hanging on the line.”)

Mildred Nash was so beloved in the community that when she died in 1977, the church was packed with mourners, and the flowers at the cemetery were stacked six feet high. To this day, people who know the Nash children — and their children — talk about Mildred Nash.

She lived to see her daughter Shirley receive her Ph.D. from U.C.L.A. She didn’t get to see her daughter’s rise to prominence in the California State Assembly. She didn’t live to see Dr. Weber, as chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, create a law to study proposals for reparations to descendants of enslaved people. And she didn’t get to see her daughter preside over the counting of the Electoral College votes, a count that would put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris over the top in the 2020 presidential election. The count was covered in full on C-Span, and inspired a Q&A with The New York Times,  in which Dr Weber talked about the electoral college, and voting rights.

On the day of the vote count, Dr. Weber’s outfit, a rich dark pink, put me in mind of the color her mother wore at Dr. Weber’s Ph.D. ceremony at U.C.L.A. in 1976. The photograph from that ceremony served as the basis for Paula Mangin’s drawing, which accompanies the podcast.

Mildred Nash would have turned 100 this year.

In the News

(12-22-20) Congratulations to Shirley Weber for her nomination by Governor Gavin Newsom as the next Secretary of State of California.

A Daughter’s Earnest Perspective: Gurki Basra on Indian Matchmaking and her mother, Tanjeet Basra

Gurki Basra on Indian Matchmaking

Gurki Basra on Indian Matchmaking: An Arranged Marriage and Its Evolution Toward Love

Gurki Basra knows a thing or two about dating. She even starred in Season One of the Netflix show Dating Around. One of her dates on that show could well go down in history as one of the worst first (and last) dates ever captured on camera.

Gurki’s mother, Tanjeet, on the other hand, had never been on a date, right up to the day she was married at age  22, which also happened to be the day she met her husband for the first time. As a matter of fact, during this blindest of blind dates, the Punjabi newlyweds hardly spoke to each other.

How do you come to know your life partner after such a beginning? And how on earth to you come to love him? 

I invited Gurki  on to the podcast to talk about her mother, and her family’s tradition of Indian matchmaking. 

I didn’t ask the question straight up, but wanted to know what Gurki thought of all this dating app madness and stress, especially after watching her own parents’ relationship grow into a kind of love that strikes their daughter as warm and comforting. It’s a kind of love born not of fiery passion but familiarity. During our interview,  Gurki offered pearls of wisdom she’s gleaned while bearing witness to her parents’ marriage. She carries these pearls with her as she continues her journey along the rubble strewn path of dating in the 21st century. 

And our conversation made us both stop to ask: might the human heart be spared a lot of unnecessary pain and drama if marriage were simply a matter settled between two sets of parents?

Gurki Basra on Indian Matchmaking

A note: Gurki’s word for her mother: LOVING, which you can find (along with a thousand others)  just around the corner, on the mother word cloud page. Please visit the page and contribute your own word that best describes your mother.

Artwork by Paula Mangin: (@PaulaBallah on Instagram)

Our theme song, Tell Me Mama, was composed and performed by Andrea Perry. 

Producer: David Walters

Web site: Jeannie Stivers