Looking at pictures of my Niece the other day, I began to think about Marian Lyttle, the remarkable woman who was my Mother-in-law. I met Marian when I was 20 years old in June of 1971. I was engaged to her son, David, at the time, and had flown to Los Angeles from Boston to spend some time with the Lyttle family so they could get to know me. The petite and ultra chic Marian was welcoming and gracious, and not just a little intimidating to an unsophisticated New England girl. I remember marveling at the immaculate home she had created; white carpets, neat gardens, everything in its place. This home, overlooking the last large undeveloped parcel of land in the San Fernando Valley-the Clark Gable ranch-was such a far cry from my humble roots.
One morning I was startled by the sounds of people scurrying about the hallway;I got up and peeked out the bedroom door to find several Black ladies in white uniforms hustling through the house. It never occurred to me that Mrs. Lyttle had professional cleaning help! No one I knew had a maid service; my family cleaned their own homes and those of their friends if someone needed their help. Later that day I was again surprised when a man walked into the yard as I was sunbathing: he was, of course, the gardener.
I remember the first time I saw Marian’s closet.It was a masterpiece of organization in every way: stylish Rodeo Drive clothing hung on perfect hangers, rows of trendy shoes in their boxes stacked on a long shelf above the clothes, color coordination in everything. I felt as if I had stumbled into Yves St. Laurent’s dream studio!
But Marian’s fashion sense and style were not the only qualities that impressed me.This woman had been widowed young; the great love of her life was taken by cancer in his 40’s, and she was left with three children to raise: her eldest son Larry, David, and my adorable Sister-in-law, Judy. I know that her way of coping was often to withdraw into that cool demeanor that she kept for the world. She read, she travelled, she shopped, she exercised..she was a very hip lady for a Mom in the 1970’s.
Marian’s outward nature was in stark contrast to my Italian Mom’s personality. Marian was Jewish, and not strongly observant. She was dignified, reserved, and calm. My Mother was gregarious, outspoken, and often went off the rails. I was fascinated by this woman from what seemed another World!
I remember times when we went shopping in Beverly Hills, or she would take me to some cutting edge restaurant. We had girl fun together, and she always seemed to enjoy exposing me to new and exciting ideas and perspectives.
Throughout my marriage, Marian was steadfastly supportive and kept her opinions mostly to herself(another strong contrast to my no-filters Mother). She was, I believe, genuinely sad that the marriage only lasted five years. She often wrote to me after the divorce, and I called her occasionally to stay in touch. When, many years later, my daughter was born, she sent lovely baby gifts and was so happy for me.
The last time I was in Los Angeles, we had a great series of visits, and she took me to lunch. Our relationship was still intact. She passed away 7 years ago August. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to her very near the end. I was lucky to be able to tell her I loved her, one more time.
Whenever I think of Marian now, I remember so much that she taught me about how to carry oneself through difficult times, and I remember so much that I wanted to emulate.But what I remember most, was a day back in June of 1974 when David and I were preparing to leave California to move back to Boston so he could attend Harvard Graduate School. Marian and I were in her kitchen. I was starting to get emotional about leaving, and I was telling her how much I would miss her. I was sitting at the table when I started to cry, and she came over to me and put her arms around me.She said”I’m going to miss you so much…you’re my little girl, too, you know.”
As I age, there comes naturally a lot more loss. I am not one who likes letting go at all.But, as I thought about all this the other day, I found some comfort in a new perspective…not new to you, perhaps, but newly felt by me:I realized that when you keep something very close to your heart, no one can ever take it away from you…no matter what.
I love you, Mom.