I’ve met a lot of wonderful people while touring to promote the paperback release of The House of Mondavi, but surely one of the most memorable was Helen Dufficy.Who knew such a dainty garden setting would occasion talk of "the two Ls"?
Helen, a lively 91-year-old who lives in a retirement community called The Tamalpais, came to the annual fund-raising talk and lunch for the Moya Library/Ross Historical Society in the small town of Ross, Calif., last week. The library is housed in an octagon-shaped building at the center of the Marin Art and Garden Center and is the oldest surviving structure of what use to be the estate of a founding family of the town. Tucked behind a pond near the library is a folly that delighted our sons when they were small – a fairy tale house that looks as if it came from the pages of one of the Grimm Brothers’ stories.
I’d been invited to be the guest speaker for the fund-raiser and had fun talking about my book to a group of 50 or so people which included my mother, several of her closest friends, and neighbors – some of whom I bump into at our small town’s local post office nearly every day. The average age of the group was perhaps 70.
After my talk, we had an al fresco lunch by the pond, and I had the great pleasure of being seated next to Mrs. Dufficy, who explained that her late husband, Dr. Rafael Dufficy, had often been asked whether the nearby town of San Rafael had been named after him (in jest, presumably, since the city of San Rafael dates back to California’s Mission Era). Mrs. Dufficy had been coming to the Art and Garden Center for years. “I’ve loved this place since I was young,” she told me.
Mrs. Dufficy, my mother and I were also seated with Richard G. Torney, one of the co-authors of a new history of Ross, Ross, California: The People, The Places, the History. Six years in the making, it is well-written and filled with funny stories and fascinating photographs. My boys, for instance, loved hearing me retell the story in the book about how “Eddy” – the late Eddie Ahern, who ran the corner grocery where the kids buy candy after school – was accidentally shot by a member of the Ross police department late one night. Eddie’s son, Don, now runs the Ross Grocery, which a generation of Ross School students called “Eddie’s.”
Although it counts only 2,000 or so residents, the town of Ross is planning a wonderfully elaborate centennial celebration on Sept. 20, led by our own Charlotte Maillard – chief of protocol for the City of San Francisco – and Molly Scales Gamble, a hometown girl who’s also a gifted flower designer and organizer. Molly’s parents attended the talk. Her father, Gary Scales, was one of the co-authors of the new Ross history book.
Although she no longer drives and wears hearing aides in both ears, Mrs. Dufficy retains a lively interest in pop culture. She’d heard about a new movie from her daughter, who visits her at least two times a week at The Tamalpais, but couldn’t quite remember the name of it: “Something about the city…,” she started to say. “Sex? Hmm…”
“'Sex and the City'?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s it!” said Mrs. Dufficy. She said some of the other ladies at the retirement home were also interested in going to see the movie, which is based on the HBO television series starring Sarah Jessica Parker. “I said, ‘When you go to “Sex and the City,” please don’t forget me!’”
In this week’s New Yorker, Anthony Lane has a hilariously scathing review of the movie, calling it “more like a TV show on steroids.” (The sketch by David Hughes of the four main characters is worth the price of the magazine alone.)
Unlike Mrs. Dufficy’s request to her friends (don’t forget me!) the cover promo for Lane’s review reads “No ‘Sex and the City,’ please!”
I saw the film last week with several great women friends from my writing group, North 24th. While I’d never watched the television series, going to the movie was a scene in itself – with many members of the audience dressed in “Sex-and-the-City style” and, perhaps more surprisingly, groups of gay men (we saw it at a shopping mall cinema in San Francisco). I was hooked from the beginning, with Carrie’s voiceover explaining “the two Ls: labels and love.”
I was heading off to the James Beard Foundation award ceremony at Lincoln Center and then book events in Washington, DC, and New York; but when I return later this week, I plan to ring Mrs. Dufficy to ask her if she’d like to accompany me to the cinema.