She gave a lovely light


April 23, 1992|By Jed Kirschbaum

IT WAS a time of flowers, a time of twilight smoothness and warmth, a time of sweet hair brushing against my cheek. It was a time of youth. It was also the time I met Ann Tunney Priest.

She always wanted me to call her by her first name, but out of respect I could never bring myself to do so.

She held court in her row house, talking about poetry and family. She read voraciously and shared an occasional glass of sherry. The conversations lasted into the wee hours. Many of the world's problems were solved in her living room.

It really was a living room, too. It was a place of ideas, both grand and small. She was never judgmental, but she always had opinions. Her likes outnumbered her dislikes, and all were swathed in her caring.

My memories are pieces of time, puzzling to those who want a distinct chronology. I remember her laugh, her hospitality, her basic goodness, her stubborn refusal to travel and to be photographed. I remember her pride at fresh paint in the living room, her love of baskets, of white flowers, of her lilac bush, of clown pillows, of cleaning sprees. I remember the aura of a person who was very special, not only to me but to friends to whom I introduced her.

She loved candlelight and had a favorite candle -- a u-shaped one that could be burned at both ends. She wanted me to find more of them, but I never could.

The last few years were not kind to her. She had health problems. The weakness in this strong matriarch hurt all of us who knew her.

It is spring again, a time of beginnings, of soothing breezes, of flowers. I think how kind of her to pass away at a time of flowers and blooms and longer days of warm light.

It rained the day after her death. It was a gentle, nourishing rain to soothe and help spring's movement -- a sad, nourishing rain to help us cope with her loss.

She often quoted poetry, and it was then that her u-shaped candle took on special meaning. More than once she read Edna St. Vincent Millay:

"My candle burns at both ends, it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends, it gives a lovely light."

Jed Kirschbaum is a photographer for The Sun.

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