This is hard to write; I’m afraid I will do it badly, and it should be done well.
For the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of going to Jim and Jane Feather’s apartment in downtown Washington every few weeks or so, there to be regaled with both food for thought and food for body. I always looked forward to it, to the elegant meals Jim prepared, and the talk and inevitable laughter.
Jim died last Thursday. I idolized him and am inconsolable.
He was an editor of incomparable skills. He was a gentle man and a gentleman of the old school, a Brit with perfect manners who managed to make erudition appear both effortless and unthreatening. He was the only person I’ve known who could offer a university-worthy lecture on the dangers jellyfish posed to the power grid, while simultaneously cooking a rack of lamb and simmering a saucepan of caldo verde. He quoted classic writers in Latin and I pretended to understand. He would pretend not to notice and translate into English, or sometimes French. Our lunches would last long into the afternoon and the conversation never flagged.
Jane is a New York Times bestselling author, and, after more than a half-century of marriage to her husband, she claimed to have heard every tale he had to tell. I suspect this might be true, but it never stopped him. Stories could end with a bad pun, a spoonerism, or a bilingual malapropism that mixed French and English.
Jim and Jane enjoyed good wine and traveled incessantly, pausing to catch their breath in Washington before setting off for an Asian tour, a barge trip in Beaujolais country, or a celebration overseas with their children and grandkids. I always missed them when they were out of town. An afternoon with the Feathers invariably cheered me up, even when the subjects discussed were far from merry. After he was diagnosed, Jim and I often spoke of illness, since we shared a disease, and doctors and chemo and treatment and death, and we debated on when one should decide to simply let go.
Yesterday’s service was quiet, with the smiles reserved for a friend who has passed on and left only the very best of memories. There were occasional bursts of hushed mirth, and songs by Francoise Hardy. There were a bottle of Jim’s favorite cognac and a bowl of gold-foiled chocolates. The older grandchildren were somber and fully aware of the importance of the day; the younger ones galloped about with flying shirt-tails. It was the sort of afternoon I think he might have enjoyed.
I left after starring too long at a photo of a young Jim gazing at a glass of deep red wine with obvious appreciation. My own eyes were full of tears and I suspect they’ll stay that way for a while whenever I think of him.
I have very few friends. Now I have one less.