Isn’t this an amazing photo? Reginald took it of Mim and me (I’m the one on the left) on the Île de France, the day we sailed.
Reginald Brightshire was an old friend of mine in New York. He owned an art gallery, and we sometimes traded pieces. Dear man. Reginald (he hated to be called “Reggie”) escorted us around New York for several days until our departure. We went up in the new Empire State Building, and we heard Jane Froman sing at the Ziegfield Follies. Mim admired Morris Fuller Benton’s designs of type fonts, so we visited bookstores and print shops just to look at Benton’s work.
Life on board the ocean liner for usand for about a thousand other passengerswas designed to exude ease and luxury. Once Mim got over her discomfit about being waited on hand and foot, I never saw her so relaxed. Day after day she sat on deck and gazed out into the Atlantic. I wish that Mim’s peace and calm had stayed with her when we met Lillian in Paris, but that was far from the case. Soon after we arrived, we heard that Germany’s leader, Paul von Hindenberg, had died. Adolf Hitler was now completely in charge.
Mim was nervous wreck. I remember her pacing in front of Lillian and declaring, “You are totally crazy, Mama! Dont you realize how dangerous Hitler is? He’s already making life miserable for the Jews in Germany, and he won’t stop there. Mama, I beg you. Come home!”
Lillian finished the last bit of her madeleine and dabbed her mouth with an embroidered napkin. “I am safe enough,” she said in a polite and reasonable way that infuriated Mim. “There is a large community of Americans in Paris. Last week I had the pleasure of watching Josephine Baker prepare for her opera debut. She really has quite a voice now. It tells you something about America’s racial bias that she’s treated so shabbily in her home country. I have a few friends in the art world, and they are very accommodating of me. Would you like to meet Josephine?”
I, for one, would have jumped at the chance. Under other circumstances, Mim would have, too. But she refused to be sidetracked.
“You are Jewish, Mama. Josephine Baker is not.”
Lillian sipped her coffee. “She is a Negress. Does that make her less vulnerable to the Nazis? Miss Marmalade, please, I know you are here with the best of intentions. Let’s enjoy our two weeks together, before you leave.”
We were at an impasse. And the truth is that Lillian looked fabulous. She had found a comfortable apartment near the Bastille and was clearly enjoying every good thing that Paris had to offer. Julius had left her with a comfortable sum, and she seemed to be managing well.
Mim persisted. Lillian resisted. I finally persuaded Mim to let her mother lead the life she’d chosen. Lillian accepted a modest sum to set aside for her passage home, and she agreed to write every other Friday without fail.
“Just a short note,” Mim said. “That’s all I need.” No one talked about what would happen if Lillian’s letters failed to arrive.