November 1219, 1998
Reeve Lindbergh, the youngest daughter of infamous aviator Charles Lindbergh, avoided writing a memoir about her family for years. An author of several novels and children's books, she has published fictionalized accounts of life in the Lindbergh family. It was only after her sister Anne died that Reeve, 53, decided to write a memoir, wanting to preserve her memories of the family she grew up in. The result, Under A Wing (Simon & Schuster), offers a portrait of an American hero who was also a protective father who scrutinized his children with checklists the same way he would carefully examine an airplane's inner workings. Reeve's mother, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, was also a writer who published her accounts of life in the Lindbergh family. Both mother and daughter have gone through the unfortunate experience of having a baby die. The former was the result of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping (which resulted in many impostors coming forward to say they were the "lost" baby) and the latter from a seizure.
Do you find yourself making checklists like your father used to?
[laughs] I find myself always being amused by lists. My sister and I always thought lists were very funny because of my father. I like lists, but I don't treat them with high seriousness which my father did. I think, for him, lists were a way of life and probably saved his life. It was amusing to me that life was a list for my father. I remember with my sister, we created this intergalactic list and we'd put millions of silly things that we should or shouldn't do on it, such as tearing off the tags on mattresses.
What was it like reading your mother's published diaries?
Fascinating. I've read them over the years, but it was especially interesting re-reading them while I was writing this book. For instance, reading about her experience losing a child. I looked at her diaries from that time and my diaries. What astonished me was the similarity. It is a universally horrendous experience for any woman.
How did you start writing children's books?
I wrote my first children's book the day my son died. I was waiting for my family to come and meet me and I just sat there and started to write this little lullaby for Johnny. That was the first of 13 books that have been published and there are a couple more coming out. So it was my son Jonathan who gave me children's books.
There's a scene in Under a Wing where a Lindbergh baby impostor comes to the door and your father seems to be very polite with him.
I was surprised when that happened because I was used to my father not wanting strangers around. If somebody came to the door unexpectedly he'd usually disappear into his office. In this case he went out to the young man, put his hand on his shoulder and was talking to him the way you would talk to a student or a nephew and I was surprised by the kindness. The impostors that I've met seem very lost and sad to me, not mean or aggressive. Some people say they're just doing it for the money. I don't believe that. They seem genuinely confused and believe that they are [the lost Lindbergh baby].
There's a famous picture of your father with Hitler. What's it like to see that?
I think the worshipful attention of my father from the public was an excess and the negative attention was also an excess. To a large degree, the desire to destroy his image was politically engineered. He was the strongest voice against intervention [in World War II]. It's pretty clear that about 80 percent of America was for isolationism and my father was spearheading that view and being quite effective. His opponents thought he had to be stopped. And yet I think reading some of the remarks he made, they sound anti-Semitic. I never knew him to be that way, but when you read those phrases in retrospect, they look anti-Semitic. And I think there was a lot of casual, anti-Semitic ethnic bias in this country at that time and I don't think he was any more than anybody else. But I don't think he was any less, either, and I think it's understandable that he was accused of anti-Semitism.
Did you notice any of your habits changing after you moved out of the house?
I think after I left the house I became more apt to follow my parents habits. My father always turned the lights off when he left a room. I used to think "What a pain." Then I went to college and I would turn the lights off like mad saying "It's a waste of electricity." I wouldn't have been caught dead talking like that in my own house because my father did. But I seemed to absorb quite a bit of his teachings despite my defiance.
Reeve Lindbergh will read on Friday, Nov. 13, at 7:30 p.m., Borders Books, 1727 Walnut St., 568-7400.