Barely out of college—even skipping the usual graduation hoopla—I flew for the first time to New York City, having arranged “to hitch my wagon to a star.”
The invitation came via phone only weeks before I finished college. A college competition editor asked if I was ready to edit the August issue of the then-influential magazine of ideas and fashion, Mademoiselle. I would spend an all-expenses-paid month along with nineteen other winners chosen from a range of competitors, nationwide.
Waiting in every one of our hotel rooms was a green notebook and in it, each guest editor’s, or GE’s, editorial assignment. Opening to the first page I read, “Can a girl from a small town in the Midwest…” and with a mixture of astonishment and panic gaped at the heart-stopping word just below that line: Editor-in-Chief. What in the world had the judges been thinking? The GEs I observed converging on the Barbizon seemed far more creative, smart, savvy, and self-assured than I was. But I had little time to muse about selection principles.
In addition to sudden immersion in the world of publishing, there was a daily, dizzying variety of engagements. We sat in the living rooms of luminaries like artist Peter Max, writer Truman Capote, photographer-composer- author Gordon Parks and others. Met our favorite “Graduate,” a young Dustin Hoffman who suggested that his agent take a picture of the two of us, then, addressing those within hearing range, that his number was in the NYC phone book. There were beauty makeovers and photo shoots—several GEs, including famous-author-to-be Ann Beattie, to be pictured wearing trend-setting styles in the pages of our August issue.
We paraded out onto the stage of Madison Square Garden in matching woolen outfits, advised to wear them, too, in 90-degree heat at Teotihuacan. During the trip to Mexico, along with others, I tried my hand at bullfighting, danced into the wee hours with young members of the so-called jet set, and had a harrowing, first sailing lesson as my instructor only spoke Spanish and I didn’t.
We paid visits to the Ballet Folklorico and must-see Mexico City sites like the anthropology museum, sipped cocktails at the U.S. ambassador’s home. There were pink jeeps, personalized stationery, and individual, private pools readied for our arrival at Las Brisas in Acapulco, a meetup with youthful mariachi band members, a string of over-the-top meals, and seemingly endless margarita toasts. Salud!
Between these adventures, I had long-distance phone conversations with Betsy Talbot Blackwell, the bona fide editor-in-chief, conversing about what worked and what didn’t, revising copy and replacing photos for the coming issue. And back in New York, we attended other publishing and fashion industry events. By the end of that extraordinary, unrepeatable June, most of us felt pretty much like we owned the Big Apple.
A few of us embarked on a rainy walk to reach the farewell party at the publisher’s Park Avenue digs. By the time we arrived, soaked to the skin, we were positively giddy—the August issue successfully put to bed and memories of the month-long dreamlike adventure to hold in our hearts forever. After reluctant goodbyes, every one of us headed off into her respective future.
We were lost to each other for decades. But finally, an especially determined member of the crew began a search to locate as many of the missing as possible. In 2010, forty-two years after that magical month, eleven women reunited at a B&B in Los Angeles. What a thrill it was to be able to dissect the experience in retrospect with the only people who really knew what it had felt like to be introduced to official adulthood in that extravagant, breathtaking manner. Now we were older and wiser, with little need for pretense; one after another confessed that back then she’d privately suspected that all the other GEs were more creative, smart, savvy and self-assured than she was.
We spent lots of time telling each other about what we’d been up to for four decades. Not surprisingly, these women had continued to forge paths and careers that were fascinating to hear about. We explored, too, our complex relationships with our mothers and others, significant in the past and present. We spoke honestly, openly, about life-shaping choices as well as roads not taken. And we laughed, often uproariously, over our varied, improbable past adventures and foibles. Then laughed some more. In other words, we all celebrated having gained some hard-won perspective on ourselves and on life.
During a visit to the museum where Sue Ann is a curator, all happily dived into a group art project. In Gayle’s home, we Skyped with a couple of fellow GEs who couldn’t make the trip. At a little Italian restaurant, it seemed fitting that we’d encounter celebrity Joan Rivers, filming an episode of her reality show. She reached out, equally intrigued about what we were doing there.
All in all, the lot of us had aged gracefully. What’s more, a goodly amount of grace had touched our lives. Surely it was an underlying cause for the celebratory mood throughout a reunion that was an unexpected gift. We pledged to make such an extended party happen again, and a faithful remnant of us did, just last year.
By then, however, challenges, not to mention crucial lessons to be learned, had multiplied for most. Best qualities of the mind and of the heart were being consciously cultivated because we were discovering how essential they are—at this stage in life, especially—in order to not only survive, but thrive. The resourcefulness and creativity we’d sustained from our youth was, thank God, standing us in good stead.
Anne Lamott’s words come to mind: “We start out a hot shot and work our way up to servant.”
And that’s no bull. More about this in my next post…
Top Photo: Becky, one of the GEs in the background who is watching me in the ring later ended up on the ground, thanks to this young bull.
Second: The marvels of the pyramids in this ancient Mesoamerican city were pretty much lost on us as we perspired in the heat in our wool capes.
Third Photo: Here, acknowledging onlookers, I was, tickled to get to wear cowboy chaps; not quite as tickled later when the bull bounded into the ring.
Fourth Photo: Eleven of the Mademoiselle GE crew, 42 years later.
Fifth Photo: Sharing stories and laughter at the B&B.
Sixth Photo: A curious Joan Rivers reached out, then joined us briefly at table.