This post begins a series about people I know who seem to be aging well.
I start with my friends Daniel and Marione Ingram, who remind me that an enduring zest for life matters more than big bank account.
At my cereal and coffee this morning, I found that another post—the Washington Post—had beat me to it with a story about the Ingrams. The front page of the Style section featured an interview with Marione about her just-published book, The Hands of Peace, which chronicles her experience as an activist in the civil rights protests of the 1960s. This new book is a sequel to The Hands of War, her memoir about growing up Jewish in Nazi Germany and surviving the Allies' firebombing of Hamburg.
The Ingrams and me
My friendship with the Ingrams began in 1960 when Daniel left his job as an editor with Prentice Hall in New York City and came to Washington for a similar job at the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA). I became managing editor of the unit where Daniel worked. He was easily the best writer on the staff, but sometimes I worried that BNA was losing out to the Newspaper Guild and CORE (the Congress on Racial Equality) in the competition for his time and attention.
Soon after a lengthy strike in 1966, Daniel left BNA to take a job with the United Planning Organization.
We lost track of one another, although I knew that he and Marione had bought a house in my Palisades neighborhood. I also knew they had a son named Danny, but that was about it.
Fortunately, they reentered my life in 2007, and I learned their fascinating story.
In 1985, Daniel was in George Washington Hospital for a minor ailment when he picked up a serious staph infection that put him in intensive care. His condition worsened, and Marione worried that Daniel was giving up his will to live. So, in a bedside conversation, she told him, "If you get well, we will sell the house and move to Tuscany."
Daniel got better. They sold the house. And they moved to Tuscany later that year.
Their first home was a farmhouse in Trequanda, which they rented for $100 a month. But in 1996, Francis Mayes' huge bestseller Under the Tuscan Sun turned Tuscany into a major tourist destination. Prices—and rentals—went way up.
So the Ingrams moved to Levanzo, a little island with about 200 inhabitants off the coast of Sicily. Later, they spent time living in Hamburg to research Marione's book, The Hands of War. They ended up staying there longer than they expected because they found a gorgeous flat overlooking the Alster Lakes for an incredibly low rent.
Back to the USA
They made occasional trips back to America—to Ashland, Oregon, to be with Marione's mother in her final days, and to Washington, DC, to visit their son Danny, his wife, and their two sons. Their love for their family eventually pulled them back to the U.S.
The couple returned for good in 2007. Since then, they've lived at St. Mary's Court, a residence that provides federal assistance to seniors with low or moderate income. Residents pay 30 percent of their monthly income for rent.
The nine-story apartment building stands in the heart of Washington’s "Foggy Bottom" neighborhood. From there, it’s a short walk to the Kennedy Center and the George Washington University gym. Daniel and Marione make great use of the Kennedy Center's offer of reduced-price—sometimes free—tickets when the Center decides to "paper the house" for performances that haven’t sold well.
The Ingrams have a pleasantly decorated apartment that offers great views of sunsets behind the Kennedy Center. They take full advantage of the many cultural and volunteer activities here. Marches and rallies still happen in Washington, though less frequently now than during the tumultuous 1960s. If there's a protest for civil rights or a humanitarian cause, the Ingrams are most likely in the thick of it.
Daniel and Marione are now among my most treasured friends. If I'm feeling down and need a boost, I call the Ingrams. We’ll have a fun lunch, laughing about their latest escapades.
Not long ago, the three of us left a restaurant and parted to go our separate ways. A minute later, I glanced back and saw Daniel and Marione locked in an embrace, kissing right there on the busy sidewalk. Their love affair is as strong today as it was over half a century ago.
I asked Marione to describe a typical day, and here's her wonderful reply:
"We love each other, and that helps us cope with life in this country. We start each morning with love. I usually get up a bit before Daniel, and when he is too quiet, I bend over him and kiss him, and when he responds I know he is alive. We hug several times before he starts making our breakfast. He fixes a bowl of fruits, tea for me, and coffee for himself. Sometimes we play scopa with our second cup of coffee. Scopa is a Sicilian card game.
Then it is work. Daniel is now mightily engaged in promoting "The Hands Of Peace," and both of us are trying to find the time to finish working on the book about our Italian life. I fix lunch, and afterwards (sometimes before), we deal with the mundane things of daily life. We have no schedule for anything. We eat when we are hungry and go to bed when we are sleepy. This can be midnight or two am. About the only regular activity we have is breakfast, which we never skip.
We read the paper and vent about the news, or lack thereof. When not engaged in our individual writing, we talk or read. We always have too much to say to each other —so much to talk about. Once a week we spend time with our beloved son Danny. I make lunch of his favorites: shrimp in dill or mussels and almost any pasta dish. Sometimes we go out to lunch. Kotobuki is a favorite place when he has the time.
We take a sunset walk along the river just about every evening. We do a lot of protesting and demonstrating and writing letters to the editor, which are never published. I take it they are too critical for publications that seem to prefer pap. We splurge now and then for a lunch out at a favorite place. Mostly it is in celebration of something. Lunch is cheaper than dinner. During the season, our night pleasure comes from the Kennedy Center for music, ballet and theater.
Throughout the day, we get up often to hug one another, and we are aware of how lucky we are to have met in the stairwell on 14th Street in New York City, 57 years ago this autumn. We don't remember the day or month, but we clearly remember the occasion and recall the impression each made on the other. We have been together ever since. Our nights end with love. I am spontaneous. Daniel is thoughtful, and we take chances."
We can all learn from Daniel and Marione's passion for life, love, and simple pleasures shared with family and friends. It doesn't take much to lead a happy and blessed existence.