Like Calvin loves Alice

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007 | All Things, Books

I was moved to tears when I first read Calvin “Bud” Trillin‘s posthumous love letter to his wife Alice after it appeared in The New Yorker  in March 2006.

Alice Stewart Trillin died in the late night hours after September 11, 2001 from heart failure — the result of irreversible damage suffered during radiation treatments she received for lung cancer a quarter century earlier. Alice – to which she was always referred affectionately in her husband’s work — was a 38 year-old non-smoker, and in 1976, she was given a 10 percent chance of surviving beyond a year or two. After undergoing surgery to remove a lobe of her lung, she defied those odds long enough to see her two young daughters grow up and marry, to accomplish important work as an English professor, public television producer, author and cancer advocate, and to participate in a long and happy marriage with her Bud. Her obituary in The New York Times during that terrible week, simply stated: Alice Trillin, 63, Educator, Author and Muse, Is Dead.

Calvin Trillin is probably best known for his humorous writings in The New Yorker (where he has been on staff since 1963) and his contributions to The Nation and Time. Food and family served as his inspiration for countless articles and several books, including The Tummy Trilogy (American Fried, Third Helpings and the National Book Award-nominated Alice, Let’s Eat: Further Adventures of a Happy Eater), Travels With Alice and Family Man. To date, Trillin has authored 21 books, among them fiction, political pieces and satirical poetry. And through it all, as Trillin acknowledged in the dedication to Tepper Isn’t Going Out: “I wrote this one for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice.”

About Alice

In his writings, Alice was generally portrayed as the ever-sensible foil to her slightly goofy husband — George Burns to his Gracie Allen. Trillin recounts the story of how their romance began in 1963 at a Manhattan launch party for an ill-fated magazine of political satire called Monocle. That night, young Bud fell under the spell of a blonde beauty who “seemed to glow.” She was an English professor, he a magazine writer. For him, it was love at first sight, and he would dedicate the years until her death to impressing her. The widely circulated photo of the couple on their wedding day, two years later, shows two people very much in love, as it seems they would remain for the next almost 40 years.

Trillin’s 12-page New Yorker essay “Alice, Off the Page” was an attempt to add another dimension to his wife, whom most knew only as a caricature in his light writings. He expanded the piece into a slim volume, titled simply About Alice, from which he was reading that night at 192 Books in Chelsea. (The New York Times  excerpted the first chapter.) We assembled could easily sense Trillin’s wistfulness in talking about his Alice — the love, already evident on the page, came to life in his steady, even reading, leaving many in the crowd misty-eyed for his loss.

Calvin Trillin

Calvin Trillin

The title of this post is taken from a condolence letter Trillin received from a reader, who like so many others, grew to love Alice as he did, despite never having met her. It refers to a query posed in the mind of this young woman in New York, while looking at her boyfriend. “But will he love me like Calvin loves Alice?”

I often wonder the same for myself. Whoever he is, I certainly hope he will. And like Alice, I hope to be just as deserving of that affection.

There's 1 comment so far ... Like Calvin loves Alice

January 18, 2007

I would always conflate Trillin’s Alice with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and The End of Alice even though they’re all wildly different Alices.

Go for it ...