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Lions Roar : May 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2009 53 room filled with an orange glow from the streetlamp outside my second-story windows as I continued to read. February 6, 1934: “Hours repairing torn music books and they look perfectly hid- eous with adhesive plastered all over them—But what beauty within! My love is so sporadic.” Although written at a time when sex was a subject discussed discreetly, the diary was studded with intimate details of rela- tionships with both men and women. April 11, 1932: “Slept with Pearl tonight—it was beautiful—there is nothing so gratifying as physical intimacy with one you like.” April 19, 1933: “Dear God, I’m sick of this mess! What am I—man or woman? Both? Is it possible—it’s all become so hard, so loathsome—the forced decision—the pain.” What she craved most was to be enveloped in a grand passion that would transform her life. July 3, 1932: “Five hours of tennis and glo- rious happiness—all I want is someone to love—I feel incomplete.” Compelled by the hopes and heartaches, I set out to find Florence, my only clue her name and address on the Forward clipping. Staring out of the sepia newsprint, her luminous eyes would not let me go. Three years later, a private investigator—responding to a story I had written about Manhattan’s last typewriter repairman— phoned me while I was at work at the New York Times. I told him about my hunt for Florence and he offered to search the city’s birth records, where he discovered one Florence Wolfson, born in New York City on August 11, 1915, to a pair of Jewish immigrants from Russia, a doctor and his wife. The investigator led me to Florence Howitt, a ninety-year-old woman living with her ninety-five-year- old husband, a retired oral surgeon named Nathan Howitt. Flor- ence and Nathan had been married for sixty-seven years and had homes in Westport, Connecticut, and Pompano Beach, Florida. One Sunday afternoon in April 2006 I dialed their Florida number on my cell phone. After two rings, a refined voice with the command of a stage actress answered. “Hell-o?” WHEN I MET FLORENCE for the first time in May 2006 in Westport, she hugged me. She seemed an ageless phenom, radiant and full of spunk. During weekly Sunday visits over bagels and lox, Clockwise from above left: Florence Wolfson with her family; her college yearbook photo; wearing a fur-collared velvet coat designed by her mother, a couture dressmaker with a shop on Madison Avenue; the newspaper clipping through which Lily identified Florence as the diary’s au- thor; with friends on the beach in Far Rockaway (front center) during the summer that she received the red leather diary as a gift for her 14th birthday; Lily Koppel with the trunks in which the diary was found.