My father was born in 1919, the beneficiary of vast wealth. He was a grandson of William H. Moore, who, as one of the Moore brothers of Chicago, had made a fortune in corporate mergers at the beginning of the twentieth century. Until he went away to St. Paul’s School, at twelve, my father spent every fall until Christmas at Hollow Hill, a gentleman’s farm in New Jersey. He went to a private school in nearby Morristown, and played with friends he kept for a lifetime, taking long walks and riding his horse on the farm’s hundred acres, tending his dog and his pet roosters, playing tennis and golf. In January, the family migrated to Palm Beach, where they lived in an Addison Mizner villa, Lake Worth on one side of the house and a wide ocean beach on the other. There, between fishing and boating trips with the captain of his father’s yacht and occasional golf with his father, my father was tutored until the family returned home at Easter””to Hollow Hill and to their enormous Manhattan apartment, on the eighteenth floor at 825 Fifth Avenue, which had a view of the sea-lion pond in the Central Park Zoo.
By his fifth form, or junior year, my father was beginning to pray on his own and to ask theological questions. In a diary otherwise marked by adolescent confusion, he is clear and certain when he writes about religion, as when Dr. Drury, the headmaster, gave a “spirited & awfully good sermon.” The idea of confession scared him, he told me later, but there was no question that he would be among the boys who made appointments with Father Wigram, a member of a contemplative order founded during the Oxford Movement, when he visited St. Paul’s in the fall of my father’s final year.
Since I always thought I knew the story of my father’s conversion, I never asked him to tell it. But six weeks before he died, at our last dinner out together, I realized I might not have another chance.
“He was a very, very old man,” my father said, describing Father Wigram. He emphasized the second “very” just as he would have in telling me a story when I was a child, but now I was a grown-up woman and he himself was a very, very old man, his huge, familiar hands frail but forcefully gripping the table where we sat, in the dark-panelled dining room of the Century Club. It was late October, he told me, and the leaves had fallen from the trees. Father Wigram had arrived and was receiving students.
“So you went into the room?”
“Yes,” my father said quietly. “And we talked.”
“About what, Pop?”
“Oh,” he said, his eyes slowly blinking, “about everything.”