Diana touched many, many lives and there will be many stories told about the ways in which she did and the differences she made. Her family has shared, and doubtless will continue to share their own stories and memories. I expect her many friends will do the same. For my part Diana did not only touch my life. Looking backward, Diana changed my life.
The long-form blog has given way to shorter formats, or become a platform for voices of more public interest than this one, voices that talk of politics and current events with courage and cowardice, with beauty and ugliness. But this seems the best place for me to share my heart on the topic of a woman whose friendship I'll honor for the rest of my life. Come and walk along a bit with me, and remember.
Arguably, The Booksmith was one of the best-entrepreneurial gifts given to the St. Augustine that existed before the internet, mobile phones, far too many people and far too much Disneyland. (There is also the Flagler College Bookstore, with its own interesting tale I hope someone will tell, but another time.)
Though it began life on St. George Street (another story for another day, my dears) The Booksmith soon moved to the space we all remember, right across from the Plaza. Its nearest neighbors were the common corner it shared with The Trade Winds Tropical Lounge, and, punctuating the other end of the block, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. The front door was a very heavy bronze surety against intruders, beautifully worked, which was opened at 10:00 every morning. The glass swinging door inside that opened to the desk, and a familiar scent of paper and ink, dust and magic, and most days, to Diana's smiling welcome.
My life has been blessed by the presence of many astonishing, varied, smart, talented, funny, sacred, profane, gifted women, almost all sisters in one way or another. If I had a superpower, it might be the ability to cross their paths, or find them or have them bestowed on me. Only as a very small child had I one "best friend"; before I was a teenager the notion of friendship evolved to be one of circles. The earliest such circle began with my friend O'Hare, whose notion of friendship was similarly becoming one of a circle of sisters, of which she was a center until her death at 45. This circle of sisters O'Hare has loosely held together even during the years of her absence.
The notion of an organic circle of sisters came naturally to me, but I think it was harder for Diana. After we had been friends for some years, I referred to her as a "sister of my heart". Startled, she said, "Do you really mean that?" Of course I did, and while the time we spent together in person changed over the years as our circumstances did (children, aging parents, retirement, travel, jobs, and so on) she remained a sister of my heart.
Diana was very close to me when I became pregnant. Even though my husband and I had married, at least partially, out of my conventional desire to be married before having children, I was deeply frightened at the prospect of a baby once pregnancy made having one a virtual certainty. I told Diana I thought I might have made an awful mistake; I wasn't ready; WE weren't ready; what on earth had I been thinking?, and lots more in that vein. Diana, always sensible, said, "If you wait for the right time, it will never come. There's never a perfect time to do anything, especially have a baby. It will all work out, you'll see; everything will take care of itself." And as I shall say often in this post, Diana was right.
Meanwhile my circle grew, thanks to the Booksmith and to Diana's mild but always-honest influence. Along came Su Landry, whose voice was also always honest, lightened with humor, and spiritually confident, perhaps in part from her work with hospice, but certainly from an internal wellspring that was purely Su. Marilyn Bailey, who conspired with Diana to deliver to us a set of Desert Rose Franciscan-ware, estate-sale bought and at that time far beyond my means. Marilyn would later tie to a different part of the circle through her affectionate maternal relationship with my friend Miss Inga. Lauren, who worked for another unique local business called Old Favorites, with which The Booksmith maintained a friendly cross-referential connection - those who searched for books often also searched for music. I would see Lauren riding uptown to Old Favorites with her young son on her bike, his curls blowing in the wind behind her own. Connie, who would write several books following her brilliant debut, Sugar Cage, and would tell me that I had, myself, The Power of the Word, and would change me in ways I could never have foreseen. And Katie, deeply beloved sister of my heart whose life would entwine with mine, whose family would be connected to my own, in a roses-and-English-ivy way, never to be disentangled. (If you haven't been called out, my sisters, forgive me the lapse; I love you no less.)
There were men in the circle, too, albeit with a different, more distant sort of membership, but how could I mention this topic without thinking of Ernie Mickler, whose White Trash Cooking would preserve Palm Valley in my mind before its identity was subsumed forever by local development? ("Dear Angie, I know you are pure White Trash and proud! Love, Ernie".) And perhaps most memorable of all, though I knew him through my family and in other settings than the Booksmith, Gamble Rogers. I will always see him, coming in that swinging door, turning his whole body to the right to make eye contact (fused discs in his neck preventing him from turning just his head) and saying in his Southern-gentlemanly way, "Aaa-ngie", by way of gallant acknowledgement. There was even the exquisitely polite, and by this time, exquisitely fragile, Norton Baskin, who had married Marjorie Rawlings at the St. Johns County Courthouse (today the Casa Monica hotel) and was still interested in current fiction. Irene Allemano, one of the most elegant, graceful women I have known about whom I've written in this blog, brought her artistry and fascinating family into my life through the Booksmith.
But most of all, it was Diana. She taught, by example, straightforward direction, and intuition, how to hand-sell books, an art you will not find in chain bookstores, but to which you may be treated in the great independents that still exist (Chamblin's Bookmine in Jacksonville, Florida. E Shaver Books in Savannah. Powell's, in Portland, Oregon...you can fill in the blanks for yourself, especially if you live in a college town or a big market like New York). She taught this art so well that people would go into the Booksmith with any one of a million tales of woe like this one: "I was in the middle of it. I can't remember the title. No, can't tell you who wrote it. It was purple. What? Oh, it was about a sort of crazy guy who lived in New Orleans with his mother...", and have in hand before the tale of woe was complete, a copy of John Kennedy O'Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces. Happy customers.
Diana was a designer by nature, I think now, though I didn't see it so clearly back then, and she was a master of a taxonomy that might have started out in her head, but which we all learned. She was the daughter of an architect, and her mother, Hortense (called Hortie by all), whom I knew for a few years before her death, had been her husband's partner in business, in which he designed the houses, and she designed the interiors. You could see this heritage in the store, though. Books were shelved and arranged in what Diana described as a complicated puzzle, each shown to best advantage, each placed in the match-made company of books that belonged together. There were rough "sections" of the store, labeled things like "Travel" and (our favorite) "Self Help". In the latter, you would not find "The 12-Volt Bible" or "Spiritual Midwifery", although the store was never without a copy of either.
According to Hortie, who told me many tales the veracity of which Diana might have questioned, young American Jewish women of German extraction (and perhaps of a certain class, though I didn't ask) were often sent to Germany in search of suitable husbands. This was true for Hortie, whose father was a doctor in Harlem, which was a relatively rural part of New York at the turn of the 20th century. Hortie was consequently sent to Germany, met and married the father of her two daughters (one of whom would arrive much later), and joined him in his business. He designed many a house, and this is when she began to serve as the interior designer. Their elder daughter Eleanor was born there. Along with this small daughter, the Wormanns departed Germany in 1933, taking with them few belongings and almost no money, before the ports were closed by Hitler so that Jews could no longer leave the country. They settled in New York, and some 20 years after Eleanor's birth, welcomed Diana. Educated in a Steiner school, Diana developed strong artistic sensibilities, including an intriguing handwriting, which would serve the Booksmith well. Following her retirement, she would find additional artistic outlets, but before she retired she and her husband built a beautiful house on the marsh in St. Augustine. These stories, their details and beauties, leave with those to whom they belong for the real telling. There are so many of them. Most of them aren't mine, or aren't wholly mine. I share them only to remind you, my dears, of the magic of the Booksmith, though some of you surely know this magic better than I do.
So how did Diana Smith change my life? She either taught wholesale, or strongly underscored, these lessons.
*Stay married. It takes patience, and love and a willingness to give more than your fair share of 100% some of the time. Sometimes you give 120%, when your partner isn't able to meet you. But more often, you give and take: you give more when you're stronger and flip the equation when your partner does. But don't give up, because it WILL be worth it. As we approach the celebration of 30 years married this year, I will think of Diana more than I can say.
*Don't peg your children. Don't say, This is the smart one, this one is the artist, this one is the athlete. You can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Let them be what they will. And in these past years, Diana's own children have proven this wisdom.
*You have the gift of the Word. While this message would come to me from others (Connie, Katie and perhaps affecting the future most directly, Lauren) Diana was the one who made me believe it. She was the one who removed the doubt in my heart, and helped me embrace this as part of my forward path.
Thank you, my friend, and sister of my heart. The words of the Nunc Dimittis you might laugh at, sensibly secular as you were. I will miss you, however rarely we might have seen each other, for your constancy and unsentimental, always reliable affection, for the rest of my life.
Nunc dimittis (from the Latin)
Lord, lettest now thy servant depart in peace according to thy Word,
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.
Carl Hiaassen and Diana; mid 1980s
Angie and Hortie, baby shower, late 1989
Quick glimpse of Diana in the foreground at Mac's baptism. Background left: John Winsor; background right: Fr. Tom Walsh
(C) Angela Christensen Please note: This edition is is published without benefit of its usual proofreader and editor, Dylan Christensen. All errors, factual and typographical, are my own. Omissions are also my own, mostly in consideration of space.