EM Forster chose to highlight these words on the frontispiece of his 1910 novel Howards End, and of course they embody its central theme. When the novel’s protagonist, Margaret Schlagel, actually speaks them, she has in mind connecting writing with passion. Forster surely had that connection, and so did Sally: not a professional writer, she had graceful epistolary skills, as demonstrated by the excerpts Jamey read at the wedding, and she wrote with passion. But I imagine that when most of us who are familiar with the novel consider this phrase, we have in mind Margaret’s determination, and ability, to connect people with herself and with each other. In that sense, Margaret’s stance and the theme of Forster’s novel presage the manner in which Sally conducted her life. One felt connected with her, and she connected people with each other. And so I come to reflect on the multiple, remarkable connections between my life and Sally Booth, the kind of connections which I’m sure many of you have.
I was the Booths’ neighbor long before I realized it. The house my parents built on South Glenhurst in Birmingham is in the block between Midvale and Lincoln, and it looks east. The Booths’ house on Larchlea, two streets away, is in the same block of that street, and has the same prospect. But it wasn’t until I met Peggy Wilson that I recognized this connection. One of the benefits (and there are many) of marrying a daughter of one of Sally’s oldest friends is that one acquires Sally and her family as friends, too. It wasn’t long before Peggy and I were walking over to Larchlea from my house on Christmas Eve to take part in that wonderful party to which Sally and Fred opened their doors each year. The walk there to join others in support of the family on the day of Tim’s death felt much longer.
Who knew that Roeper would become another connection — or that a certain serendipity was involved? I was the second choice for the English teaching position I applied for there when Peggy and I returned to Michigan from the East Coast. I feel grateful beyond measure that the first choice turned it down. Roeper was the second of two schools where I taught, and really the more central, that was seminal in forming my feelings about how one ought to work with adolescents. In my time there I certainly knew about Sally’s many connections to the school (I think by that point she was on the Board), and one of my prime mentors there, as with so many, was Mariann Hoag, who might as well have been Sally’s sister, prime evidence of that visceral connection being the way they argued with each other (neither had an opinion from which they would readily step down). What I didn’t know until the service was how much Sally’s influence had shaped the Roeper “philosophy,” and the manner in which students and teachers there treated each other. If I’ve been able to operate in that way as a teacher over the years, and I believe I have, Sally is a prime connection.
Lastly (lastly for the purpose of some brevity in this recollection, because the memories go on), there’s Leland. Though I grew up in the state, I don’t think I ever saw Lake Michigan until I met Peggy, who had been coming up here (I’m in Leland now) throughout her life. For a long time, coming to Leland for us meant staying with Peggy’s grandmother, then her mother, and that in turn meant seeing Sally and Fred and “the boys.” Like many others, when we visited their Leland Woods home with the red garage door we couldn’t sit on their lovely window seat because of the stack of New Yorkers on it, but when we entered, we always imbibed the fragrances of Sally’s cooking. Now owners of our own Leland place, we have a battered wooden spoon which we call “the Sally spoon” on our kitchen counter. Like so much else in our lives with Sally, it came to us by connection: Sally originally gave it to her god-daughter, Peggy’s sister Linda, and Linda passed it along to us. Whenever I cook something that needs stirring and want it to taste good, I use the Sally spoon.
In The Great Gatsby (forgive a second literary reference), Nick Carraway says of the title character, “He smiled understandingly — much more than understandlingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may have come across four or five times in life. It faced — or seemed to face — the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor.” Sally had that smile, had that view, made me feel that way, as I know she did so many of us. But between her smile and Gatsby’s, there’s a difference. His was fake. Hers was genuine.