Protean Press, 2010. ISBN 978-0-962-57804-5.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 05/20/2010
I grew up on the plains of Texas where most folks were newcomers and some were just passing through. My mother and grandmother taught me that it was rude to ask too many questions about a person's background or family. There might be things that it was just as well that we didn't know. (The days of the horse thief on the family tree were not to far away.) A woman (or a man) was judged on her (or his) own merits.
The world of Anne Cabot Wyman, self-described blue-blood and Boston Brahmin, is as foreign and fascinating to this still-Texan as Margaret Mead's work on the Trobriand Islanders. I read this memoir of her father—scientist, diplomat, artist, adventurer—as if it were an anthropological study.
For Wyman, names such as Cabot, Forbes, and Lowell are familiar, not for their appearance in history books or society columns, but as relatives and friends. Descriptions of individuals are often accompanied by a brief genealogy, not only parents, but grandparents, sometimes more.
Still, families are families. Dad reads aloud to the two children every night. Mom and Dad practice small economies. They share bath water before donning their dinner clothes and Mom does lots of the sewing. But there is always a cook, a nanny and a maid.
Nevertheless, no family is immune from tragedy; the Wymans were no exception. In 1943, the mother succumbed to cancer and the father to grief. He farmed the children out with various relatives as he would continue to do until they were grown. (Wyman was about 13 when her mother died.) Jefferies Wyman took off. His daughter likens him to a cat that Rudyard Kipling said "walked by himself"; hence the title of the book.
Wyman has applied her skills as a professional journalist and produced a story that is close and personal without being over emotional or self-pitying. She chronicles with apparent love and a clear eye the life of an exceptional man. Jefferies Wyman was a Harvard scientist; he served the Army and then the government throughout the world before becoming an accomplished artist. She incorporates her own story and that of her younger brother, describing both the isolation of their youth and the coming together of the family in later years.
I enjoyed the book on many levels. I know much more now about Boston blue-bloods; I've met a fascinating character; and I have been a witness to the workings of a family. There is a bonus: an abundance of photographs and a color appendix of some fascinating painting by Jefferies Wyman.
Long-time journalist Anne Cabot Wyman has traveled the world but continues to live near her roots in Cambridge, Massachusetts. For nearly 30 years a travel writer and editorialist for the Boston Globe, she now devotes her writing life to chronicling the adventures of her father. In addition to writing this memoir of his life, she has edited two volumes of his own writings: Letter from Japan and Alaska Journal. Like her father, Wyman is a painter. Learn more about her and about Jefferies Wyman on her website.
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