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Summer at Tiffany (Harper Collins Publishers, 2007) is a memoir by Marjorie Hart, music professor, celloist, and former chairman of the Fine Arts Department at the University of San Diego. Memoirs are often about an interesting slice of a person’s life and this one tells the story of Ms. Hart’s (née Jacobson) summer in 1945 when she and her best friend, Marty, both students at University of Iowa, traveled to New York City to work for the summer.

Initially the two pals thought they would have it made working in the Big Apple. Through sorority sister connections they had a place to stay for the summer and they had heard that getting “shopgirl” jobs was a cinch. After much convincing of their families to let them go, Marjorie and Marty dressed in their best and boarded the train headed for adventure. But upon arrival, they discovered getting a job wasn’t a cinch after all. They were turned away from all the best stores – Lord & Taylor, Bonwit Teller, Sacks Fifth Avenue and others. Marjorie asks herself “What was this wild rumor that finding a job in Manhattan was easy?”

Indeed it was no easy task, but once again connections played a role in helping our two heroines land positions as pages at the one and only Tiffany jewelry store on 5th Avenue and E. 57the Street. Wait, it gets better – they are the first women to ever work on the sales floor (WWII is raging and all the men are abroad fighting) AND they are outfitted in custom Tiffany blue shirtwaist dresses topped with leather messenger bags to carry the treasures upstairs to either the credit department or the repair department. And so the summer of adventure beings – dinner dates with servicemen, a trip to the ocean, a brush with Elizabeth Taylor, VJ Day in Times Square.

I have to say, crazy at it sounds, it took me some time to warm up to Summer at Tiffany. I started reading it back when it was first published, but I soon put it down. Although well written and lively, I just couldn’t get into it. Fast forward to earlier this year when I was looking for a lighthearted book to read to my mother. I had been reading to Mom for a few years since she could no longer see due to the eye disease Macular Degeneration. I thought this book might appeal to Mom for the era and the jewelry, however, to be honest, I suspect that by then she wasn’t really connecting to much of anything; she just liked the sound of my voice.

This time around I really enjoyed Marjorie and Marty and all the details of Tiffany and how it operated back in the day. I followed with interest Marjorie’s youthful romance with a young gentleman in the Navy and I enjoyed the humorous misadventures that she got into – like the time a strand of pearls broke and ended up on the elevator floor. What I particularly appreciated about the book was its unaffected tone and the transportation back to a more charming time when women dressed up for dates and wrote letters to their families “back home.”

I enjoyed the book so much I kind of savored it, reading it slowly to linger just a bit longer in Marjorie’s world. I read the next to the last chapter the last afternoon I spent with my mother. She was awake, talking and aware, and I was completely unaware that that would be the last time I read to her.

After she died, I brought the book home and it sat on my desk for weeks. I just couldn’t bring myself to read that last chapter. Somehow, for me, coming to the end of the book was to step further away from those days that I sat with my mother reading to her. The End meant the end for us too.

Once I was ready, I did read that last chapter and I read it aloud. Instead of making me feel more apart from my mother, the act of reading aloud helped me to feel connected. I like to think that Mom was listening from wherever she might be now.

Summer at Tiffany is a delightful visit back in time and just the right read for a sunny afternoon under an umbrella in the garden, perhaps sipping a lemonade or a cocktail. (Maybe you’d like to share it with your mom.)

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