The Books: Locked Rooms and Open Doors: Diaries And Letters Of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1933-1935

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Next book on the Memoir/Letters/Journals shelf is Locked Rooms Open Doors:: Diaries And Letters Of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1933-1935

An exhausting read, the third volume of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s diaries and letters, cover an insanely busy two-year period: 1933-35. Her introduction is essential to understanding the subtext, because often she wasn’t writing about what was really going on, in her letters or in her journal. In 1932, the Lindberghs had just had their second son, Jon (after their first child, Charles, had been kidnapped and killed). The publicity surrounding the Lindbergh kidnapping was, of course, intense and white-hot, and the Lindberghs continued to receive threats and scares for as long as they lived in America. One of their journeys, as a couple, was to find a place where they could feel safe. Where they could feel safe raising their children. In the meantime, in 1933, when their new baby was only months old, Charles and Anne set off on a months-long trip, searching for a proper air route from America to England. They were gone for months, flying over rugged terrain, testing landing sites, etc. They were pioneers, going where no plane had gone before. It was just the two of them. It was an exhausting itinerary.

Anne’s diaries and letters are more like a bullet-point travelogue, and you don’t get the sense of what might be going on for her. That is why her introduction is so important. She explains that her natural inclincations were to be somewhat passive and contemplative. But on this trip, there was no time. She was the radio operator, she had a big job (and set the record, at that time, for long-distance communication between the air and a service operation on the ground. It was rigorous, important, detailed work, and left her very little time to do what she so yearned to do: stare at the sky, nature, write thoughtful things in her journals. Also, let’s not forget: her first baby had been murdered, and she had just had another baby, which she left at home in the care of her mother. For MONTHS. Anne Lindbergh hadn’t even begun to process her grief at the loss of her baby, and had almost no time to enjoy her new baby before she and her husband took off. It was obviously a way to cope with the harrowing experience they had been through – there was literally no time to THINK on this rigorous trip, but it took its toll on Anne. Flying in those days, too, was a dangerous and brand-new thing. They weren’t landing at properly set-up airports. They were improvising. There were times when they could not take off – for sometimes a week at a time – because the wind was wrong. By the end of the trip, Anne was almost in a state of hysteria, wanting to just get home as quickly as possible, to see her new baby, and try to relax for at least 2 minutes at a time.

But once they finally arrived back in the States, things heated up in a different way. The Lindberghs moved in with her mother (her father had died the year before), and it was stressful in ways that Anne couldn’t even admit to herself (but which she admits in her Introduction). Anne experienced a total regression. She became a child again, in the presence of her mother, who basically ran her grown-up daughter’s life, keeping her busy with social activities, all things that Anne found stressful and annoying. But she didn’t feel she could resent her mother. Also, to add to all of this, the trial of Bruno Hauptmann was coming up, and the publicity, which had already been nuts, got even more so. Both Charles and Anne would be testifying in the trial, which was an absolute circus.

Anne, who had already had no time to grieve her son, now felt like a child herself – unable to make proper decisions for her new family, because her mother was taking over. Also, Charles and Anne had a pretty intense security detail with them at all times, bodyguards and cops, so Anne got lost in the shuffle. She was working on her first book, and felt totally lost. She needed time and space to finish the book, but nobody seemed to realize how important it was for her to have her OWN thing going on. Any time Charles and Anne and their new baby, Jon, were alone – Anne wrote in her introduction that everything calmed down and evened out, and it felt good and right. She says with the gift of retrospect that this should have been a clue to her: You need to tell your mother to back off, and you need to be alone with your family. But Anne grew up in a tight knit family, and such thoughts were seemingly forbidden to her at the time. She was probably suffering from depression, stress, and post-traumatic issues, and she suffered in silence.

You do get a glimpse of some of this in her letters, especially during the times when they could take off from this or that location, and had to wait. She was nearly clawing her eyes out with impatience. Here she was, in beautiful locations like Greenland, Africa, other places … and she couldn’t enjoy it. She had not yet found the balance she would need to survive her own marriage. It couldn’t only be about Charles’ priorities. She had to find her own space within that. I think it was a lifelong struggle for her. And her mother being more than willing to treat her adult daughter like a helpless teenager did not help matters.

These journals are only two years in time, but it feels like a lifetime.

Here is one episode from their time in West Africa in 1933, first with the French colonialists and then with the British. They had trouble taking off from Bathurst, repeatedly. It’s a real cliffhanger.

Excerpt from Locked Rooms Open Doors:: Diaries And Letters Of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1933-1935 (A Harvest Book)

Sunday, December 3rd

Called at 3:30. Up and dress, coffee from thermos bottles, hard-boiled eggs and bread and butter. Mr. and Mrs. Parish get up to see us off. Good-bys. She is very sweet and is, I think, really concerned about us. We are rowed out to the plane. A bright moon. We are all packed up and it is still dark, pink streaks in the sky.

We start off about six and taxi miles out in the bay. Very little wind. More wind farther out. The ship is terribly heavy – the floats way down in the water. It heaves from side to side as we taxi, looking to me as though the wing were touching the water. I start having indigestion from excitement.

“All set?” — “All right.” Terrific roar, terrific spray, all over the wings, streaming down for hours it seems, but not bumpy. Then C. pulls back the throttle. Can’t do it. I look at my watch: two minutes only. I start breathing again. We go back and try it again. Same thing.

Finally we go back to the dock to take out gas. The pump won’t fit into the gas tank; we have to siphon it with a small tube. We try pumping to start suction, then one of the boys sucks and spits and gets it started slowly. Then C. sucks and spits to try to get it faster. Finally we use our bilge pump. It takes a long time. C. looks over the pontoons. The anchor box is full of water. He can’t get at the back compartments (under water), so he gets a boy to lift up on the tail (from the rowboat).

We start out again, but the wind has dropped to nothing; it is better and we get up on the step – but we can’t get off. Finally we go back to the wharf. It is 9:30 and the sun is hot now. We decide to wait for a wind. We go back to the house where the Parishes wait for us, and have a good breakfast.

I lie down until twelve. Lunch. After lunch I sleep a little. At four we go out to the “Cape”, a lovely house on a cliff, overlooking the sea. It is delicious and cool. We sit on the terrace and watch the stars come out. The skies are calm and clear; quite a wind blowing here. C. thinks we might take off at midnight by moonlight. We walk out to the point after we get back; a wind on the pier. At 9:30, get ready to go down again. Work on the plane pumping out pontoons, etc. Taxi out into the bay. Mr. and Mrs. Parish are on the wharf.

“All set?” — “All right.” Terrific noise, spray. I hold my breath; think we’re going to get off, absolutely tense and terrified. Can he see well enough? Can he control it – so heavy? Couldn’t a wing hook into the sea? Would we be thrown? Drowned? (Balbo’s accident taking off.) Watch the end of wing – fire? No, the red wing-tip light. He pulls back the throttle. We can’t do it. What is wrong? I wish he would tell me – something, anything. But he only turns the ship, heavily bouncing in the waves, and goes back. He will try again.

I feel rather sick. I don’t want to be sick. Why is it we always start under the worst possible conditions? I look up at the stars and wish they could give me the calm that they did this evening on the point. The feeling that human misery is small, human life unimportant. I will try to name them. That big circle – the navigating stars. Castor and Pollux? There is the Southern Cross – points to what? The ship bobs up and down. I get out the watch and try to see by moonlight. I can quite well.

“All set?” — “All right.” He tries again – same thing – and yet there must be a wind, a good wind. He turns – why doesn’t he tell me something? He cuts the switch. “What are you going to do?” — “Don’t know – thought we’d think about it. It almost gets off – almost.”

I don’t dare say anything, don’t know which way to swing things. Shall I say, as I long to, “Let’s not take any more chances … go back to bed,” or shall I force myself to say, “Let’s try again.” I say nothing. Finally C. says we’d better go back and get a good night’s rest and think things over. I feel relieved and tired. “We’ll try again on the way home.” We do, trying to rock it off. No use.

We taxi back to the lights of the town. I try to think what it means. He said he would not take out any more gas – that would be taking too many chances. We had a good wind and hadn’t got off, with a load we’d taken off with before. Would we wait and wait for wind? The moon was waning now. Would we tear every unnecessary thing out, floor boards, etc., and try again? Would we move to another place – Portuguese Guinea? Could we get off at all with enough load to make it? Go home by boat? After this preparation and fuss, how would C. feel?

It would take time, anyway – weeks perhaps. Christmas, and getting home, and the baby vanished, and I felt very tired – infinitely weary of the whole thing. And yet I mustn’t give in to it, at least not ostensibly. C. felt worse. His ship had failed him. He couldn’t understand it. We seemed to be at the wall, at the last margin, and what was he to do? What was there left to do?

We hardly spoke, put things away. C. got the buoy fixed. The little boat with the boys was there. I got out the bags. There was still someone on the dock – I hoped not the Parishes. I couldn’t bear to see them or anyone. It was about one o’clock. We were rowed back to the dock. A nice Englishman who had stayed helped us up, without saying much. “What was the matter now, Colonel?” — “Don’t know. Overload, that’s all. Don’t understand it – it’s taken off with that much before. It must be different down here in the tropics.” — “It’s been very damp today,” he said comfortingly. The Governor’s car was waiting for us. “Well, we thought we’d sleep on it.” — “Oh, yes … always wise.”

We drove home in silence. No one on the streets, a few huddled forms asleep on stone benches. We stole quietly into Government House. C. said, “It’s better not to get too tired, then you begin taking chances. A grew many accidents have happened that way.” His mouth was rather set. “We’ve still got a few tricks we can pull.” Then to bed, without talking about it at all.

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4 Responses to The Books: Locked Rooms and Open Doors: Diaries And Letters Of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1933-1935

  1. Doc Horton says:

    Love the stripped-down-to-fragments writing style, the repeated “All set.” – “All right.”

  2. sheila says:

    I know, I like that too. The next entry – where they actually achieve lift-off is a masterpiece. Terrifying. It goes on for about 10 pages.

  3. Patrick says:

    I read the Scott Berg biography of Lindbergh several years ago and was amazed at how much they did in any given year of their lives in the 1930’s, they were, as you say, insanely busy, they (or was it just Charles, can’t remember) did more in one year than I think I’ll do in my entire life. I read something or other about Charles leading a double life, I don’t think it was a very happy marriage for her as things turned out.

  4. sheila says:

    Patrick – that Scott Berg bio was amazing, wasn’t it? Yes, they were always on the move in the 30s. I think finding a place where they felt their kids could be safe was always a problem. But I think, too, Lindbergh, as an aviator, was used to traveling light. He was a wanderer. I know Anne struggled with that. She liked to stay put. I get the sense that she always put her marriage first – over any other consideration (even her kids – a couple of them have written memoirs, and they describe the complex thing going on between Charles and Anne – a powerful bond that even they couldn’t enter into) – and she paid a price for that.

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