D'Ann Fago is my soul sister: a small town girl who, in a break for independence, made her way to New York; there she developed herself as an artist and met the love of her life. Her crowd in New York included some famous names: She once served her friend Billie (as in Holiday) canned salmon overturned on a bed of lettuce. On Saturday, we sat at the kitchen table in her old Vermont farmhouse and ate bread, cheese, a sliced avocado, and a whole tin of anchovies—which I happen to LOVE. Her studio, which occupies a wing of the farmhouse, is a world of marvels: Paintings and drawings testify to a life richly lived. During my visit, she brought out one of her children's books, published by Golden Press—the little scene above is cropped from one of its illustrations (shown in full after the jump). I was struck by the title: "The Merry Train." The childhood memoir that D'Ann has been working on is a bittersweet reminiscence about loneliness and self-discovery, and it begins with a train ride:
My first memory is of being held, wrapped in a blanket, in my grandmother’s arms on a passenger train from Atlanta to Lexington, Kentucky. I was three months old. Nauna, my grandmother, had been visiting my parents in Atlanta. My mother was ill with influenza—this was 1917, the year of the famous epidemic. Later, my mother explained that she didn’t want my grandmother to be lonely, so, since she already had one small child, she gave me to my grandmother to raise.
I remember heavy curtains surrounding the berths in the Pullman cars and angry people complaining about the noise I was making, which probably encouraged me to yell even more—which I did. Being somewhat stubborn is a characteristic that I’ve held onto through most of my life.
They tell me I can’t possibly remember these things from when I was three months old, but as far as I’m concerned it’s about as real as any memory I have: being handed to my grandfather and being held in his arms at the train station in Lexington. “Daddy” was what I called him forever after.