The Lees’ home was a bland three-bedroom, but its furnishings made it a paradise. Ann’s sister, Nancy Dietrich, an antique dealer, squired Ann to auctions, and together they filled the house with beautiful old things—an imposing rosewood hand-carved Voss piano, a rich red and blue Persian rug, a ruby velvet sofa and cobalt velvet Lincoln chair and rocker, and a round solid oak table and chairs. Paintings, photographs, and sculptures abounded, and the strains of classical music, the soundtracks of Oklahoma or West Side Story, and pop singers like the Association or Nancy Sinatra added to the sumptuous atmosphere.
But books were the home’s foundation. Novels. Paperbacks. Encyclopedias. Picture books. Tomes on art and history, photography, psychology, sailing, and anthropology. They were crammed on bookshelves and spread across the floors. Books tottered on shelves in the narrow hall, making for a perilous trek from the living room to the bathroom, where there was a magazine-loaded rack and books and newspapers strewn on the floor, toilet, and sink.
Ann and Chuck, Barbara’s stepfather, were readers. Chuck’s liberal leanings seemed at odds with his brush cut and frequent railing against “creep-agers”—his pet name for teenagers. Though he could be intimidating, I found the courage to join the family’s conversations about books and ideas. The dishes remained in the sink and the beds unmade while we carried on discussions about Inuit culture or Leonard Bernstein over potato-leek soup and pistachio pudding.