Tuesday, September 4, 2012

the last book I ever read (Katharine Graham's Personal History, excerpt two)

from Personal History by Katharine Graham:

Many of these habits were overcome when I married Phil Graham, who was exceedingly generous and imaginatively giving. Some habits I have never overcome are odd ones I inherited from my father. Despite the vast scale on which we lived, my father had peculiar fixations on certain small expenses. He preached tiny economies with zeal—using things up completely, never wasting, never phoning if you could wire, or better still, write. The compulsion I am still left with is turning out every light before I go to bed at night. To this day, alone in a house I am totally unable to leave a light on—I will go up and down halls and staircases if I know a light is on. I tell myself to stop, that it doesn’t matter, yet then I go and turn it off.

Some lessons were impressed on me by reverse example. When I was young I perceived grown-ups behaving quite oddly at times. I remember being shocked or dismayed by things I observed and making silent vows not to behave as they did when I grew up. For instance, my mother, when confronted with a line waiting at the movies, would go up to the box office and say, “I am Mrs. Eugene Meyer of The Washington Post,” and demand to be taken in and seated. At that time, she did indeed get in. I cringed with embarrassment and hoped the ground would swallow me up. It had such a lasting effect on me that I have never been able to deal with headwaiters in restaurants who put you “in Siberia” rather than the better part of the restaurant. I just go meekly to Siberia.

As the years went on, my mother seemed to have a more and more difficult time emotionally. She became increasingly engrossed in her friendships with the series of men in her life, only one of which, I believe, may have been a true affair—the one with Bill Ward. She was constantly beset with colds, pneumonia, or various other illnesses, and she reacted to each one with the greatest amount of care, self-pity, and drama, demanding and receiving constant visits, with all of us dancing attendance. In retrospect, I wonder if depression contributed to this intense concentration on her health.

She also started to drink more heavily, sometimes starting as early as ten in the morning, at least during one period in her life. This was a problem that greatly worried my father and was an escalating burden to him and to all of us. Even her drinking was done in a somewhat eccentric way. There was an old-fashioned locked whiskey-and-wine closet in the basement to which only my father had the key, so he would have to make repeated trips to the cellar and therefore knew exactly how much she was drinking. Of course, admonishments on this score never had an effect. The surprising thing is that she never bought whiskey herself or asked him for her own key.

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