Remembering Anne Marie Niedorf

Take a sad song and make it better.

“That though the radiance which was once so bright, be now forever taken from my sight.

Though nothing can bring back the hour of splendour in the grass, glory in the flower.

We will grieve not, rather find, strength in what remains behind.

In the primal sympathy, which having been must ever be, in the soothing thoughts that spring out of human suffering;

In the faith that looks through death, in the years that bring the philosophic mind…”

(from ” Intimations of Immortality, from recollections of Early Childhood”, William Wordsworth)”

Our friend of more than 40 years, Anne Marie Niedorf, passed away on November 15, 2009, of complications incurred in a severe fall at her home several weeks before. She had been diabetic since an early age, and her 67 years – far too few – were many more than were given her at one time.

She was my very first girlfriend. We met in April 1967 – the year we both turned 25. She lived next to my brother (in St. Louis), who got married on April 2 of that year. I came down to be in the wedding, and  Anne Marie and I gravitated together.

Anne Maries house at 4603 Westminister
Anne Maries house at 4603 Westminister

This quickly became a Long Distance Romance, and I became a frequent flier to St. Louis.

We had many attributes in common: cars, politics, and others. She provided many entries for me into pop culture. Among our warmest times together were seeing the Fifth Dimension live at Leo’s in Cleveland: – a close, nearly intimate environment, and Aretha Franklin in concert in St. Louis. Anne Marie was into live theater, and she loved seeing Sheridan’s “The Rivals” at Karamu, a culturally diverse, integrated theater in Cleveland.  I fondly recall calling her on the first Tuesday in November in 1967 to tell her that Carl Stokes had just been elected Mayor of Cleveland:a link in a chain that led from RosaParks to Nov 4, 2008.  We went to “Man and his World” – the world’s fair in Montreal in 1969, and she was in heaven with all of the culture and foods available.  We also attended the 1969 USGP at Watkins Glen. The environment where she lived in St. Louis was an older neighborhood with a group of artistic, academic, social worker types – much different from my life at IBM.

IMG_3203(We didn’t know it then, but Tennessee Williams once live down the street.)

Anne Marie was always way ahead of the times in feminism, racial equality, and respect for gays.

“A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread-and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness-
O, Wilderness were Paradise enow! ”  (Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam).

In March of 1970, I stopped off in St. Louis to visit her, and she told me in a very gentle, sweet, considerate way that she had found someone else. He was Dr. Saul Niedorf, and they got married and lived in Maine and then his home town of LA. Anne Marie and I remained good friends. Saul was an MD and a psychiatrist.  In 1973, I got married to  Sharon, and we had Allen in 1977 and Valerie in 1980.  Anne Marie was pleased that we had children, and we consulted with Saul before sending them to Montessori school – he was supportive.  (To converse with Saul (aka  Mickey)  was always a calming, reassuring experience – a handy attribute for a shrink!.)

Our daughter (Valerie) and a friend of hers travelled to LA after college where the friend was going to start a career, and Sharon and I were thrilled when they were able to stay for a few days with Anne Marie and Saul: it was interesting for me to have them meet my daughter, and to be there when things didn’t go as planned.  (As she was unable to have children, I was pleased to share our daughter with her.)

I once asked Anne Marie if she still had the beveled glass jewelery box I had given her for a present.  “Of course I do!”, she replied.  She gave me several memorable presents including an original art cell from the Beatles motion picture The Yellow Submarine (which has substantially appreciated in value), and a peace symbol medal. The latter stayed safely in my jewelery box for decades, having been worn in the 80’s by me to a 60’s party, and by my daughter to a middle school 60’s day. In March of 2006, I wore it – with jacket and tie – to a political rally, and took it off my head and put it over that of a visiting celebriity. I told Anne Marie about this in an email – not revealing until the last sentence that the recipient was Cindy Sheehan – outspoken mother of a son who lost his life in Iraq. Anne Marie wrote back a few weeks later that she had been at a PDA fund raiser, in LA, and was seated between that same Cindy Sheehan and Tom Hayden. Cindy was wearing the medal, and Anne Marie admired it. “It was put over my head in Ohio several weeks ago”, Cindy said. “I know”, Anne Marie said: “The man who gave it to you was my last boyfriend before I met my husband, and I gave it to him nearly 40 years ago.” What a delightful journey that medal made, and we were all happy where it landed: connections over the decades and the miles…

Anne Marie was devastated by the loss of her beloved husband in 2008, endured a lower leg amputation in 2009, and shared her final days with a bouquet of flowers we had sent. She is the first close contemporary of mine to die.

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad.
Take a sad song and make it better.
Remember to let her into your heart,
Then you can start to make it better.” (from “Hey Jude”, by Paul McCartney)

Charles Pervo