Back in the 1950s, before my father was a spy, he was the Associated Press Bureau chief for the entire continent of Africa. He had a friend and colleague, a photojournalist, whom he admired because he wasn’t afraid to get in close to get the shot. One day my father’s friend was out on the Nile photographing crocodiles. He leaned over the side of the boat a little too far and fell in. My father’s friend was eaten by a crocodile.
As a child I would ask my father about this story. I wanted to know more. To my inquiries he would always say, “Now, Teeny Jeannie, you know it’s not how someone dies, but how he lives that matters.” Part of me knew that this was true…
I am now writing a story about the lives and departures of my father, my mother, my sister Annie and another. I’ve also been hanging out with a crocodile. Together, we are tracking the steps of those I loved, revisiting places I’ve been with them, and to others, that up to now, I have only heard about.
So far, my crocodile and I have already visited a kitchen table in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (on which my father is born one hundred years ago), a formal dinner party in small town Idaho (where my granny wins the prize in competitive hostessing), and a schoolhouse on the Greek island of Crete (where my big sister turns down yet another marriage proposal). I’ve also conjured up my dead loved ones for a meeting.
We’ve drawn out a map and have an itinerary for what lies ahead. There are many things we know: we will witness kamikazes from a Navy ship in Okinawa, we will play in a park along the Bosphorus and we will drink a mean G&T in a kitchen in Greenwich Village.
And like any great journey, there will be surprises. For example, who could have guessed that I would be able to find the original photograph my father took to accompany his first nationally published news story? It’s a portrait of a woman who shot her husband in the head while he slept. I bought it for $7.99 on Ebay. There on the yellowed paper taped to the back of it are his press notes, dated 1934, typed up, I imagine, on his old black Royal.
And so, dear Subscribers, Readers and Friends, near and far, this is what I’ve been up to, what’s keeping me out of trouble, and what I’ll be doing for a while. Thank you so much for your interest and support. Be well! And now, I’ll hop back on my crocodile…