eb white


there was a friend at the house the other weekend who lost his reading glasses. though we searched the house and the garden, the specs were not to be found. last seen on his nose over eb white's 'one man's meat'. he loved that book, his discovery from my shelves. we'd been talking all about white's writing and the work of his wife, the famous editor then at the new yorker.


some long time ago i attempted a book of my flower photographs. i planted a garden especially to take pictures of rare old roses, the likes redouté painted in the early eighteen hundreds. for this i imported plants from as far as japan, germany, france and of course england. a much loved friend designed the eventual book we called 'mille fiore'. to have it best published i was to get someone famous to write an introduction, or some epilogue of sorts.

katherine white's book, 'onward and upward in the garden' was posthumously published just then and i was so very enthusiastic about her fabulous accounts doing a garden. whether it concerned her disdain for dahlia-like new roses, or her love of the many plant catalogues, a garden's history or her knowledge of british made pitch forks; as someone said: 'she writes as formal as an English manor house garden, as sensible as the burpee seed catalog, and twice as delightful as either'. 'to think of katharine white simply as a gardener', cautioned eb white in his introduction to the book, 'would be like insisting that ben franklin was simply a printer'. her love for the garden, her timeless essays have kept this book around on my many shelves, for me as a reference, or if only, for the sheer pleasure of reading her prose.


eb white's 'here is new york' was a gift when i first came to this city, where i would live and work for some thirty-five years. his essays became favorite reading, 'the elements of style' tried fiercely to shape my own writing. and so it came as a natural to have him write the preface. i knew from his stories that he lived in a place up in maine. against the advice of practically everyone i simply flew into bangor one day, rented a car and headed south to the small town of brooklin. over and around a bend down that country road was a church and a man with a hat and a collar mowing the front lawn. i stopped and he was kind to explain how i would find white's house. 'couldn't miss it, it's the one with the two large oak trees up front, about a half mile into town'. a house keeper there scolded me and wanted to send me on my way. just then an old man and a boy came up from the lake carrying fishing rods. the man was eb white. i'd come from new york to show him my book and see if he might want to do me the introduction. he shook his head, all the way from new york? to show me a book?


we sat on his stoop. he looked at my paste-up closely and said sadly over and over: 'my katherine, she would have loved your book'. he also said he wouldn't write any more. the work's too hard. i'm old. he looked up in my face and turned my pages again. but come on in, he said, let's  have a drink. some martinis and much time later i was to leave. i can't remember all we talked about. but we surely did talk a lot. what a beautiful, gracious man he was. and he did sign over his essays: 'for michael geiger, who showed up suddenly and was good company'.