Scholar Betty Bennett had written to me with some worries about a new biography of Mary Shelley that had just appeared ... would it be better than the one she was working on? I had replied with what I hoped was encouragement--but was it just patronizing?
Betty replied twelve minutes later.
Fortunately, she recognized my genial intent rather than my presumptuousness: Thanks so much for the (much needed) pep talk—and all your kind words.
On October 23, Betty wrote about her computer problems. She was still using MS-DOS and asked what word-processor I used. She knew it was time to change systems—but didn’t know how to proceed.
I wrote back right away, telling her that I hated Microsoft Word (I did) and preferred WordPerfect (I did)—and gave her the reasons. I told her that I did have Word on my machine, though, because some of my publishers (Kirkus, for example) preferred that format. I offered my help whenever she needed it during her transition.
She replied that she felt too uncertain to change programs until she’d finished her book.
Then, for a reason I cannot figure out from our correspondence, a month-long silence ensued. I broke it: How have you been? The rest, I wrote on November 27, was a newsy note, telling her about our Thanksgiving plans (scotched by snowy weather in Buffalo). We had planned to join the family in Massachusetts, but we ended up, just the two of us, Home Alone with Mr. Turkey. I also moaned about the 2000 election, Bush v. Gore, etc.
Betty wrote back promptly with an account of her busy month—research, meetings, family visits. Glad to catch up—& again be in touch, she said at the end. And in early December she wrote about the failing health of her father, who was 95, the age of my own mother as I type these words in November 2014. She signed off playfully: Your migraned friend …
I wrote back about the still-recent death of my own father in November 1999—too many “firsts” without my dad: my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s. He had a wonderful tenor voice, and when I hear carols I cannot help but think of him, and I weep at the most awkward times (like when I’m sitting in Starbucks and trying to read—or walking along in a mall).
Then, four days later, on December 14, Betty wrote to tell me that her father had died.