Beth Wilbur

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Greta got to meet many of my old friends on this trip, but only one old girlfriend. Beth and Greta had actually met once before, when Beth was in Eugene on a business trip and came over to our house for dinner, but Greta had no memory of this, as she was at an age where she was still playing happily in the bath tub, as Beth recalled.

Beth and I met in Boston in 1980 (a prime support of Bill McGowan’s claim that he had introduced me to all of my girlfriends on the East Coast). We lived a few blocks from each other across the Beacon Street Cambridge-Somerville border, (in that district which used to supply incredibly cheap housing to broke graduate students and recent college grads), in a ground floor apartment with a constantly-changing cast of roommates, all of whom were smart, young, beautiful and charming.DSCF3615

Beth had grown up in Concord, attended Bowdoin, and in Boston was leading a life revolving around involvement in the arts – she played the flute, sang in choirs, and seemed to spend all of her waking hours drinking coffee and reading books. This interest in the arts led her through a series of jobs – on the staff at Boston’s classical radio station, and then as manager for a number of performing arts ensembles. In later years she directed programs at the humanities center at MIT, and then worked in the education department at the Museum of Fine Arts.

I was working in an architect’s office in Boston, and we spent our spare time doing what young professionals in that demographic do – hanging out, eating brunch, talking about the meaning of life. Beth’s ancient VW Beetle allowed us to take day trips to beaches,Other054

and she even taught me how to drive a stick shift in that car with the miserable clutch. I met Beth’s mother early one Saturday morning, when she dropped in to visit while Beth and I were eating breakfast; she never dropped in unannounced again. Despite that inauspicious meeting, and the time that I almost capsized her dad’s Dark Harbor 17 sailing in Maine, her family was always wonderful to me, and getting to know them was a very nice part of the package.

We had met just after I had applied to architecture graduate schools, and in the fall I moved to New York to attend Columbia. So Beth and I had a commuter relationship for more than a year, taking Greyhound buses back and forth a couple of times a month. The older and wiser version of myself wishes I could have informed my younger self that this almost never works (a viewpoint confirmed by over 25 years observing young adult architecture students in relationships). We were both determined to make our way in our widely-separated career paths, and so we split up, contentiously, but not irrevocably so.

We stayed intermittently in touch, and I was pleased to receive reports from our mutual friends on what they knew about the not completely prepossessing guys Beth was seeing. (You may not want old girlfriends who’ve dumped you to be miserable, but you don’t want them to be too happy either.) This changed when I began to hear rumors about this Brian Donoghue, who was well-known as a theater director in Boston and around the country. He sounded impressive, the relationship sounded serious, and I eventually got to meet Brian at their wedding in 1991, during the Summer When All of My Old Girlfriends Got Married. The ex-boyfriend doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with the groom at a wedding, but I liked what I saw.

Brian had taken a job as the director of the performing arts center in Carmel, and they moved out to Carmel Valley, along with Brian’s son, Ryan. It was a radical change of life for Beth – her first home outside of New England, removal from the arts world where she’d spent her whole career, and raising a son through a high-intensity adolescence. Beth switched gears professionally, and entered the world of textbook publishing, where she is now a VP and editor-in-chief for biological and environmental science at Pearson. (All of her old friends find this astounding for a music and English major, someone whom the College Board wanted to study, as the spread between her verbal and math SAT scores was amongst the highest they’d ever recorded.)

Brian retired about eight years ago, and Beth splits her time between working in the San Francisco office (and a small apartment in the Marina), and her home office in the backyard of their house in Carmel Valley. The house is spectacular – everything an iconic California house should be (even if the driveway did present the most extreme trailer-backing challenge of the trip, with an S-curve overlaid on two compound diagonal slopes with a gate in the middle).DSCF0824

It is built of concrete block, wood and glass, designed by Mark Mills, an employee of FL Wright’s who moved to Carmel to superintend the construction of the famous FLW house on the water, and then stayed on to start his own career. The detailing, materials, spaces, sequences and views out to the oak savannah hillside are amazing. Even more amazing is what Brian and Beth have done to restore it – when they bought it, there was wall-to-wall carpeting on the concrete slab floors, and three levels of window treatments obscuring the views. I am an incredible stickler when it comes to design decisions and workmanship in a project like this, but the work, which Brian has largely done himself, is sympathetic to the original design and impeccable. One bathroom, which Brian gut-remodeled with stone and a large skylight, beats out the campground in Apalachicola for our award for the most beautiful bathroom of the trip.

We had a wonderful time staying with Beth and Brian, in a beautiful environment where we felt at home and very comfortable, after months mainly spent in a tiny trailer. There were a few long, talk-filled dinners, including one where they had invited their lovely friends Kate and Richard, who had heard about our trip and wanted to meet us. It was great to see how good their life is, with a happy marriage and interesting careers, in a beautiful place surrounded by friends.

Brian didn’t know whether Greta had heard about our past history, so he was planning on being circumspect, until Beth told him it was okay. Beth and Brian now have two granddaughters, so they are well-attuned to teenage girls, and they and Greta hit it off instantly. As has happened before on this trip, I was pleased to see Greta make a good impression and acquire another surrogate aunt and uncle. For myself, it was wonderful to reconnect in a friendship with Beth that has lasted over half of our lives, and to spend enough time with Brian to figure out that we are now friends too.

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