The author spoke on a panel of writers of memoirs at the recent Festival of the Book here in Charlottesville. She writes about her grandmother, her father and herself; the most compelling figure is her grandmother, Rosamond Pinchot, the niece of Gifford Pinchot, appointed by Teddy Roosevelt to be the first chief of the Forest Service who also served as governor of Pennsylvania. Rosamond was "discovered" when she was 19 by an entrepreneur and became famous after appearing in a play called The Miracle. She moved in the most sophisticated circles in Manhattan and married a dashing fellow from an excellent family who turned out to be quite a scoundrel. Rosamond committed suicide in 1938 when Bibi's father was only 9 years old. She writes about the terrible effect on the Pinchot and Gaston families which had echoes over the generations.
There is a local connection. Because of the tragedy, Bibi knew very little of her own family history. After she finished a graduate program in landscape architecture at UVa and was about to leave town, she was invited by a friend to a dinner party at Rosamond and John Casey's house. She was disconcerted to see a print of an ad for a Hupmobile from the 1920s with a lovely model identified as Rosamond Pinchot (Mrs. Bill Gaston). While she was trying to sort that out, John Casey noted to his wife Rosamond (a relative of the original Rosamond Pinchot), that Bibi looked like a Pinchot. Bibi only knew there was some connection to the Pinchot family. Years later the first Rosamond's diaries and scrapbooks became available to her, requiring her to write this lyrical memoir. I found this to be a mesmerizing story; it is so well written that I could hardly put it down.
We have our own little connection: Jennifer gave cello lessons to one of John and Rosamond's children. Although she did not ultimately do this, she was asked to be a nanny to the daughter for a summer at a Pinchot estate in Pennsylvania.