Saturday, February 27, 2010


Soon after the beginning of WW2 my family, and several of our neighbors, moved from New York City to the suburbs of Long Island to work in defense plants and grow Victory Gardens. It was a bit of a culture shock for all of us who were used to the urban lifestyle. My adjustment was slower as I could not find any friends among my new classmates. I was an oddball by their standards. So my afternoons were spent at the local library where I sat for hours reading about people and places strange and wonderful.
The classic image of a librarian -- stern-faced with glasses, a tight bun of hair at the back of her neck, and wearing sensible shoes -- did not apply to Mrs. Mills.
"Millsie" -- as she became known to me -- was a young woman with short blonde hair and bright blue eyes, who dressed in chic suits purchased at Bonwit Teller in NYC. In the months and years that followed our first encounter she became my greatest intellectual influence and best friend.
She allowed me to read the ADULT books kept in a closet behind the front desk. Classics deemed too risque for children -- including Gray's Anatomy. She encouraged me to read more than any 16 year old normally would. She encouraged me to write which my teachers did not. I was a poor speller and never mastered the rules of grammar to their satisfaction.
But, best of all, Millsie terrified my Mother. Every time Millsie would drive up in her classic red MG sports car and beep the horn, my Mother would fret and say "What does that woman want with you?" I might have wondered the same thing but not for the same reason.
As it turned out, Millsie was just as lonely and isolated in that sleepy town as I was. We challenged each other -- me with curiosity and she with astounding revelations.

We remained friends until she died a few years ago. She was really only a few years older than me and was married to Jack who was five years her junior and only three years my senior. He was a tall, handsome "jock" with a winning smile and an easy laugh. He was not an intellectual by any stretch of the imagination. Theirs was romantic love and it lasted a lifetime.

I asked Millsie about it years later and she said that she might have married a brilliant man and possibly had a romantic affair on the side but that didn't interest her. She married for love and wonderful sex. And she had intellectual "affairs" on the side. Her group of bright students and professors that she spent her free time with.

After her death I was surprised to discover that several of my school mates were, like me, her intellectual lovers.