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“Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.” ― Anne Morrow Lindbergh

My mom wasn’t a big reader when I was a kid, but she bought me books and encouraged my reading. She didn’t have the time for much reading that I can recall. She never had a chance to go to college and she marveled at how many books I would read.

Over the years, I came across a few books that she had read. One big surprise was when she asked me about Camus’  The Stranger.  She had picked up a paperback copy I left in the bathroom. “I didn’t like the way he acted at his mother’s funeral,” my mother told me one morning at breakfast.

One of those books was Gift from the Sea. I thought about it again after all these years when I saw that yesterday (June 22)  was the birthday of the author, Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

I read the book back then. I wanted to know what my mother saw in it.

I went looking in my books to see if I still had the old paperback copy. I have it. I hadn’t look into it since high school, but I saved it.

I went online to find out more about Anne. She was a Jersey girl, born in Englewood in 1906. She was 12 years older than my mom. When she was 20, she met Charles Lindbergh. They hit it off. He took her flying with him. She wrote in her diary: “Clouds and stars and birds — I must have been walking with my head down looking at puddles for twenty years.”


While she was on vacation on Florida’s Captiva Island in the early 1950s, she wrote about her life using the famous shells on the Captiva  beach for her inspiration. The writing was published as Gift From the Sea in 1955.

My mom was 37 that year. I was 2 and my sister was 9. My mom was deep into a lower-middle-class American 1950s life. The book was about American life and particularly American women.   Anne also wrote about youth and age, love and marriage, and attaining some peace, solitude and contentment at the beach.  The beach for our family would be a week or two at the Jersey shore in a rented bungalow.

Gift from the Sea is probably considered ” inspirational literature” these days. It has sold over 3 million copies and has been translated into 45 languages. It connected with people, especially women.

When I read it, I was in high school. I didn’t love it, though there were parts that I really liked. I thought of it as a book for women. I don’t know if the words told me that or I had heard it elsewhere.

I have had a long fascination with another flyer, Amelia Earhart and because after Anne married Charles, he  taught her how to fly, I think I made that connection. She got her private pilot’s license in 1931.  They made a survey flight to Asia, flying over Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Anne used that as the basis for her first book, North to the Orient which became a bestseller. Her published writings include two novels, a book of poems and the essays that became Gift from the Sea.

Anne was a mother of five. My mom must have identified with that. But Anne was married to a famous man. She was a famous writer and an aviator.

I think now that the book about Anne’s escape from modernity and things that complicate our lives while pretending to make them simpler was my mom’s only escape.

I feel more of a pull to the ocean than my mother ever did. Anne’s life started with childhood summers with her family on a Maine island.  For several years, they lived on Maui in Hawaii (where Charles Lindbergh died in 1974). Her life closed in their home on the Connecticut coast. I’m not sure of it, but I would guess that somewhere in between, while they lived in New Jersey, there must have been some trips to the Jersey shore.

Anne-Morrow-Lindbergh-140x195I know that my mother was deeply moved and disturbed by the “Lindbergh kidnapping” when their first child, Charles Lindbergh Jr., was kidnapped at 20 months of age from their home in East Amwell, New Jersey outside Hopewell on March 1, 1932.

It was national and world news. My mom was a 14 year old girl living in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania taking care of three older brothers who treated her like crap. Was she thinking about being a mom herself one day? What would it be like to lose your only child?

The kidnapping investigation ended with  a baby’s body, presumed to be that of Charles Lindbergh Jr., being discovered in May 1933 four miles from the Lindberghs’ home.

My mother would leave home at 16 and go to New Jersey to start over. In a few years, she would meet her Charles, my father.

After the kidnapping, a trial and a conviction and enormous press coverage, Charles and Anne move to England and then to the small island of Illiec, off the coast of Brittany in France.

In their isolation, they became isolationists.  Charles Lindbergh opposed U.S. entry into the impending European conflict with Hitler. Anne supported his views and when the U.S. went to war their reputations were ruined and some Americans viewed them as Nazi sympathizers.

They came back to the United States in 1938 and were still involved in the anti-war America First Committee. But after Pearl Harbor, Charles seems to have changed his views and eventually played a civilian role in the military.

My parents married just before my father, Charles, joined the Navy and went to war. He  came home. My sister and I were born. They bought the New Jersey house where I grew up.

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“One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach.” – Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I think when my mother read Anne’s book, she was reading about that young mother who lost her child and how she had come into her post-war life. I talked to my mom once about the Lindbergh’s attitudes before the war. She said she never heard any of that. Charles Lindbergh was a hero. They went through a tragic thing, but now Anne had found peace.

Looking through that book again now, I still see the appeal of the woman’s perspective, but after more than 50 years, the book is also seen as an early part of the environmental movement and a search for a slower pace that still seems to elude most of us.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh died in 2001, at the age of ninety-four. My mom died in 2011, just before her 93rd birthday. In my mother’s beliefs, they might be on some heavenly beach walking along the shore, talking and looking for shells.

“I want first of all – in fact, as an end to these other desires – to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact – to borrow from the language of the saints – to live ‘in grace’ as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a strictly theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony.”
― Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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