Second Generation Leftist
I am visiting at the home of a friend I have not seen in a long time. Robert Treuhaft, long famed as the attorney who defended the Free Speech movement, who represented civil rights cases in the early 60's, who chuckles with glee over his days as "a subversive", and who is continuing to write and find publication for the works of his equally famous late wife, author Jessica Mitford. Decca, as her family calls her, exposed the greed of the burial business with her best-selling book The American Way of Death. Later, she skewered the prison system in Kind and Usual Punishment. Bob carried on writing the revised version of The American Way of Death after Decca passed on four years ago, and is now working on a book of her collected letters. "After fifty years as an attorney with an office staff, I never learned how to type. I closed my office and learned to type on a computer," he told me. "Decca never used a computer, even though all of her writer friends told her it was the way to go." Irregardless, there is now a web site on her work, www.mitford.org.
Bob Treuhaft settles into cyber-world
I was introduced to Bob and Decca in the early 'seventies by Mary Clemmey, who agented Being of the Sun, initially as a recommendation for legal council, but we quickly became friends as well. During my twenty-five years in Hawaii, I lost touch with the Treuhafts, but Mary reconnected us last year when she also found me the agent who sold the revised Living On The Earth to Random House. She'll be visiting Bob again this summer. I plan to call and meet Bob and Decca's son Benjamin Treuhaft when I am in New York next week. Ben is not your ordinary piano tuner--he's the guy that tunes the concert grand at Carnegie Hall for Steinway. Ben also runs a wonderful not-for-profit organization called Send A Piana to Havana, which is just what it sounds like.
The large old house sits on a shady street just south of Berkeley, and brims with books, art, and memorabilia from the Treuhaft's eventful lives. I am welcomed to set up my lap-top on the dining room table, have a whole bathroom to myself, help myself from the refrigerator--in other words, consider myself part of the family. It feels natural. I am the child of two intellectual Jewish leftists, spent my eighteenth year with another pair of them, have one more as a stepfather, and acquired yet another as a godmother. Mind you, Decca was not Jewish--she was a member of the British aristocracy. But Bob--well, Bob looks a lot like my late uncles Jack and David Martin, and his son recalls my cousin Phil. Not that ethnicity matters to me, simply that I am basking in a vibration that is, well, familiar.
My parents were not very vocal about their views during the McCarthy hearing days. My mother said later, "We knew it was safe to talk again after [San Jose State College professor] Bettina Aptheker told the press she was a Communist and nothing happened." That was in the 'sixties, long after my stepfather Ralph Norman had re-located to Brazil and opened a sound studio to make Portuguese language sound tracks for American TV shows. This, for the brilliant director who made the pilot for I Love Lucy and directed The Burns and Allen Show. But, today, Ralph is not a bitter man. He answers the phone with a big joyous "Hello!!", inviting all to celebrate life with him.
To my way of thinking, liberal politics is not just another social sport. I receive an abundance of solicitations for contributions, and all are about saving people's lives, saving forests, saving waterways and wildlife, stopping human rights abuses, feeding and housing the needy, and protecting the vanguard of these visionary causes from various corporate and military thugs. I wish I could fund them all.