Thursday, July 3, 2008


I confess that I had to be reminded by a friend that yesterday was the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. Of course, July 2nd was also the day that my cousin Margaux died and while technically I was alive during the lifetimes of both of these people I never met my grandfather. I was 10 months old when he killed himself, whereas I knew Margaux.

In the summer of 1971 I spent a month out at my Uncle Jack’s house in Ketchum, Idaho. Margaux was 16, five years older than me, and very much a rebel. Someone who, if I’m to believe what her younger sister Mariel was telling me, liked to hang out at cowboy bars and open beer bottles with her teeth. She was tall and athletic, but not yet the stunning beauty that the world would find out about a few years later.

She liked to provoke people and to draw and I remember once that she showed me, in the presence of Mariel, some sketches she’d done of male nudes with all their family jewels “ben in vista” as the Italians say. It was the sort of thing that she knew would get little sister riled and Mariel went running upstairs screaming to her mother that “Margaux was showing those dirty pictures to John!”

Later on, when she became famous I think that I was more surprised than most people to see her face on the cover of magazines. I still had that rebellious image of her from when she was sixteen and the transformation from cowgirl to fashion goddess couldn’t have been more complete.

The last time I saw her was at the height of her career in 1977. I was in New York City staying with my father and his wife Valerie at their small apartment on East 95th street. My dad had just moved back from Fort Benton, Montana, having given up on his first attempt to start a practice in that state. He was clinically depressed and I was being sent to various Prep Schools around New England to see which, if any of them, would take me. While I was waiting to find out where I would go to school I ran into Margaux on a street corner. It was in the morning and I had gone down to a delicatessen to get something for breakfast and walking back to the apartment and waiting for a light to change I looked up and there she was.

“Margaux?”, I asked.

“Yes?” she said.

“I’m your cousin John.” I told her, and she couldn’t believe that it was me. She remembered who I was, of course, but the last time she saw me I was 11 and now I was 17. She asked me what I was doing and why I was in New York and I told her and remember thinking how tall she was and pretty. The magazines didn’t exaggerate her beauty, not at all.

Then she asked me about my mother, if she was doing OK?, and no one ever in the family ever asked about Alice, because everyone knew that she wasn’t. She was paranoid schizophrenic and her frequent breakdowns and episodes where she’d start to hear her voices and they would tell her that we had to be given to the Catholic Church or abandoned or some other such fantasy was one of the major reasons why I was constantly being bounced from one relative to another during my teens. But Margaux asked and seemed genuinely concerned. I’m sure that she knew what everyone else knew about my mother, but she was the kind of person who can’t help but care about the fate of others.

She had a generous heart and I’ll never forget her.

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