Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ex Libris

It is nearly two years since I last sat in Skyfields, the delightful, peaceful, yet unassuming, Isham home in Sagaponack. A threesome of small buildings surrounded by acres of land and constant breezes. The last time I was there Heyward was still alive, having fought off yet another chest infection and setback. That was May, 2009, and he was confined to bed in the middle room. On that day we talked about Canada geese, Darfur and red wine. (The time before that it had been 1960s Berlin, the Orthodox Church and what to do with old books. And the time before that? Iraq? Usbekistan? Maybe. I can't recall.) He died a month later, and I didn't have to visit the house again, preferring to call on Sheila in her Southampton studio. Until today.

Sheila asked if I would like to spend time looking at the large remnant of Heyward's library, and then take any books I wanted. It was a kind and yet great opportunity, as although the important ambassadorial volumes had been removed (to the official stacks of the State Department and the gentler shelves of his sons) there remained much to consider.

Sheila and I drank coffee until it was cold, over an hour talking. Reminiscing? Of course! A little. We talked about Heyward and we remembered what we had remembered, just two years previous. And she agreed that, as she brought me tea one day, that, yes, "Hey" and I were talking about Usbekistan. And we talked some more, also looking to the future. Sheila moves into her new Sag Harbor home in a little over a month's time. You see, Skyfields has been sold. To a delightful Jewish family. As Sheila joked, "After some forty years it's going from High Wasp to Mount Zion!" I laughed, but sadly, as this would probably be my last visit to a very special place.

The books? Heyward and I shared a love of political and military history, and, of course, the more covert side of events. I left that day with a dozen or more titles to enjoy over the coming months. I look forward to reading them, and in doing so will reflect on the many conversations in that house (and so many other places) that Heyward Isham, being stationed in so many turning points of the twentieth century, brought history to life.

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