11 May 2009

A Sad Week In Lucindaville

In a world of mass production and flash mobs it is hard to be the proverbial, "one of a kind." Last week, news trickled out that the world lost two marvelous women who were, each in their own way, one of a kind, Eleanor Perenyi and Maxine de la Falaise McKendry.

Eleanor Perenyi, whose single book on gardening, Green Thoughts, was an opinionated and delicious abecedary of garden wisdom, died at 91. Eleanor Stone went from a school girl at National Cathedral to mistress of 750 acre Hungarian estate and she never looked back. She wrote books, edited magazines and all the while she gardened, marking the ebb and flow, the fertility and decay and she wrote of gardening where the flowers were always full and found that, "eternal bloom led to ennui.”

Maxine de la Falaise McKendry, the woman Cecil Beaton described as "the only truly chic Englishwoman of her generation" died at 86. She was beautiful, in that eternally inquisitive way that makes women timeless. Her mother was said to have cooked fish stew to feed to her roses and her father was a painter. It is no wonder that food and fashion held a theatric air for her. As food editor for Vogue, she wrote Food In Vogue, a compilation of recipes by the famous faces who inhabited the magazine. It is a favorite here in Lucindaville where we featured Lotte Lenya's Meat Loaf.

It is the unenviable job of the obituary writers to sum up a century in a few words. Writer. Muse. Gardener. Model. Wife. Mother. Autodidact. Trendsetter. It is hard to capture in words those intangible moments that a life has to offer. John Donne in his oft-quote Meditation XVII reminds us, no man is an island, but few remember Donne's admonition that, all mankind is of one author. He says: "when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language."

The chapters of Eleanor Perenyi and Maxine de la Falaise McKendry have not been torn out of my book. Every day in the middle of most ordinary; seeing a toad, turning the compost, or making a meatloaf, the story of my life is merely a translation of the lives that have informed me, brought me joy, made me think and laugh and smile. I speak a richer, fuller language because of these women and that doesn't translate into an obituary.

Eleanor Perenyi's Obituary.

Maxine de la Falaise McKendry Obituary.

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