Lea Lane

Lea Lane
Florida, USA
August 26
author, Travel Tales I Couldn't Put in the Guidebooks, available at Amazon.com and on Kindle
“I’ve discovered the secret of life,” Kay Thompson, the eccentric entertainer and “Eloise” author, once said. “A lot of hard work, a lot of sense of humor, a lot of joy and a lot of tra-la-la!” And that's been my life: As a travel writer for over 30 years, I've been around the block (more like around the world), and I write true stories about interesting people and places. (Check out my travel site, Travels With Lea.) I've lived an unconventional life in conventional trappings. Been a corporate VP, worked with foster kids, acted in an Indie ("Nurse 1"), was on Jeopardy!. I've been managing editor of a travel publication, written for the Times, and authored books. OS is my home, but I also blog on The Huffington Post, and I've contributed (mostly anonymously) to everything from encyclopedias to guidebooks. Married young, divorced late; married late, widowed early, I dated lots in-between -- and survived a scary illness. After being happily, peacefully solo for many years, I'm now happily married again. I founded and still edit www.sololady.com, a lifestyle Website for single women. I'm truly grateful for each precious day, each well-earned wrinkle, my family, my cat. Truth, laughter, friendship, late love. And this blog -- on this wonderful site!

Lea Lane's Links

JANUARY 17, 2013 6:44PM

My Small Encounter with Abigail Van Buren

Rate: 36 Flag
Many years ago, when I was a teenager, I met Pauline Friedman Philips from Sioux City Iowa, who died on Wednesday after a long bout with Alzheimer's. Known to her friends as "Popo" and to America as Abigail Van Buren, "Dear Abby" and her twin sister Ann Landers were big deals post World War II, pre-internet -- when people for the most part read newspapers, remained optimistic and conciliatory, and were willing to follow columns from non-therapist women of a certain age dishing common sense.

Their heydey was the 1950s through the 1970s, a time when snark was more a quip than a shaft, and ironing was more valued than irony. Women were restlessly discarding aprons, blacks were marching on Washington, and gays pointed a tentative toe out of the closet. We believed more in therapy and redemption back then, and the homilies of moderate Midwestern women who could easily be your well-off aunts were taken to heart by much of the country.

Ann Landers was the homier, more traditional writer; Abby was the wisecracker. She wrote things like:" If you want a place in the sun, you've got to put up with a few blisters." And  "The less you talk, the more you're listened to."
Identical twins who had both married into money and who both wrote advice columns, Ann had a nose job and Abby retained her original proboscis, and as someone conscious of the bump on my own nose, I admired Abby for her non-vanity as much as for her writing. I knew that Ann didn't speak to Abby when Abby  had followed in her advice-giving footsteps, so the shunned, nosey underdog was my columnist of choice. 

One day in the late 1950s, when I was editor of my high school newspaper, I was told that I would join a bunch of other teen writers to meet Abigail Van Buren at a press conference. I was duly excited, as she  was one of the most recognized newspaper women in America. 

She was about 40 but looked much older, and strode into the room in her plummy silk suit, with heavy makeup and stiff tresses locked down with hairspray. She reminded me of one of my rich friend's moms. I was writing a column at the time for The Miami Beach Sun about high school life, and to me she seemed a put-together role model.

Abby spoke for awhile about writing and life and I can't remember what she said, but I do remember her strong Iowa twang. I was excited that there would be a question and answer period; I had written my question on the purple notepaper with my monogram that I kept in my purse. 

She was handed the questions and she began answering them in serious tones. Most were variations about how to become a successful writer. And then, near the end of her talk, I saw her lift my purple paper. My question was: "How do you think your advice differs from your sister's?" 

And she read the question. Except she read something entirely different. Something she wanted to be asked so that she could answer what she wanted to say. She read it with poise, as if she were reading it from my writing. She had no intention of answering my question.

And naive me was shocked that she hadn't confronted the obvious. Shocked that she was acting with duplicity. I learned more from Abigail Van Buren's action than from what she said. The world had changed for me in that room, and thanks to her I walked out a lot less naive.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Very interesting, insightful piece. You know the saying? Never meet your idols...or future icons.
Lea, thanks for sharing this story about Dear Abby! Who would have guessed there was some duplicity associated with her? While I never met her or her twin sister, I had a classmate and friend directly across the hall in the freshman dorm at art school who was a nephew of the twin sisters. I don't know how his career path developed, but I can say he was an avid collector of vintage Fiestaware back in the early '70s!
What a cool story! I like the way you learn from each encounter . . . I think it says a lot about the way you approach life . . . always learning . . .
What an interesting life you've had.
I wonder what she would have advised about seeing a mentor act in a duplicitous fashion.
It was duplicitous, but it was also understandable. We were a bunch of kids who couldn't get the nuances of the situation. She didn't want to bother with it, and didn't think she'd get caught, either.
Wow Quick thinking on her part. I can see the dilemma. Great story.
I love your stories, Lea. Such an interesting life you lead! ~r
Goodness, your writing is extra sharp on this one! I read both sisters regularly, but I too preferred Dear Abby. And for what it's worth, this Midwestern girl used to laugh like crazy at that twang of hers. Just like in the South and other regions, those twangs differ wildly from state to state.

I never read Abby but Ann Landers' column was syndicated in my local paper when I was a kid. I think this is a crummy story! I so wanted her to read your question, then look out to the assembled crowd and ask, with a wink, "who wrote the best question today?" That's what I would have said. Great story! /R
What a telling story. Thanks for sharing.
In conversation here a short time ago I heard how my wife sat across from Dear Abby at an elegant dinner party in the city around 1979 and had quite a conversation. A post for another day!
Designanator, your wife's connection is far more personal than mine. I was merely an audience member with an incident to report, about 20 years previous.
Yet another zelig anecdote Lea. I enjoyed how you described the quick awakening when someone you look up to, especially someone famous, shows themselves to be just another flawed human.

Fwiw, growing up I preferred Ann Landers. Her no-nonsense approach appealed and what you saw as wisecracking, I saw as glibness. The nose news is new to me. Dunno if that would have changed my opinion.
i knew soon as i saw the headline that this was your post. you have had the most interesting life. i am sorry she disabused you of some innocence, and glad you didnt let that bother you too much.
I started piano lessons at age 5 and within a couple of years decided I had had enough. However, since I had some talent, my parents emotionally coerced me to continue for another decade or so, despite my really not wanting to. Dear Abby was known for saying that kids always eventually thanked their parents for making them take piano lessons, but I never did and, as a young adult, I wrote her a polite and respectful letter telling her that and letting her know that my relationship with my parents was damaged by their following her advice. She never acknowledged my letter and I believe I saw at least one more serving of her piano related tripe in her column. I had no use for her column after that.

Great story! Rated.
Ooh! I can't believe no one has asked: What did you ask and what did she say? I was surprised that the story took this twist. I expected a nice, neat ending and was taken in by what it did not say.
I didn't see the ending coming either, but I love your reaction. How disappointing though that the grand dame of advice and often relationship arbiter (how many questions from readers said "we'll abide by whatever you answer is") couldn't rise above her own damaged one with her sister and treat her as a colleague or competitor instead - and answer your question directly.
If we could sell our experiences for what they cost us, we'd all be millionaires. 
Abigail Van Buren 

That would have sent me down the tube knowing she had faked the question. But you learned something- that people are never truthful. That is always been a hard thing for me to consume but in this day and age I guess we should never expect 100% of the truth- even in those days.

One of your best. Well done. Avoiding the answer by re-directing the question... or better yet avoiding the question by substitution. So DC ish.
Love that second paragraph! Says it all about the era with concision and wit. Reminds me of the advise a politician once offered: don't answer the question you are asked;answer the one you want to answer. R
I guess the saddest part is that today I wouldn't be the least bit surprised by anything that happens. I have become a cynic. (OK, a happy cynic, but one nonetheless.)
Wow! This is so so very interesting, not to mention perfectly penned. A short coming of age story in such few words. R
Lessons learned are always valuable, I suppose. Thanks for another story from your tremendously fascinating life.
amazing story. My hometown newspaper carried Ann Landers. I never admitted I read her column because I would have been ridiculed by my brothers.
What a great story, what a wake-up call. I have been thinking a lot about Dear Abby and the World of Dear Abby which is gone, gone, gone.
What an amazing moment in time that truly must have been. I have had a few moments like that myself, when everything seemed to fall away and I saw life as it really was. I suppose it was her choice not to get into that kind of question, but how much better to have just answered it honestly or not answered it honestly, just to ignore it, well that is something that we do learn too isn't it?
Fascinating story, Lea. I was always an Ann Landers person. Abby seemed to me a little snide. But their legacy is apparent.
Great story Lea. "thanks to her I walked out a lot less naive"
Great lesson learned.
Great story.

Don't know what this says about me, but I admire the quick-wittedness she showed (and her being a vulnerable AND snotty human being - "None of your damned bizness, kiddo.") I wonder how many of the questions she answered were real...
I like your spirit, Myriad!
Lea, this post is why I am glad to be back at OS. I read Ann Landers every weekday in grammar school and high school and nothing made better sense in my crazy world. Dear Abby came later. The only other real world wisdom came from Cosmopolitan Magazine. My, how our worlds are shattered by duplicity, reassembled through life experience and topped off with the cherry of understanding in our senior years. I am looking forward to the years when I don't have to give a shit.
Love your comment,Z. I think I'm already where you want to be.
Wow. I read Ann Landers religiously as a teenager, and believed that everything she wrote was gospel. I can't imagine the shock I would have felt to know that she could knowingly lie about anything! I was reading the book, "Don't Lie to Me," and miserably failed the 'can you spot a lie,' testing. I guess I'm still naive. So....those reality shows??? Thank you for your story! What a worthwhile use of my time...reading you!
I think nothing is too small when it comes to having anything to do with AL. Thanks for sharing..
........(¯`v´¯) (¯`v´¯)
............... *•.¸.•* ♥⋆★•❥ Thanx & Smiles (ツ) & ♥ L☼√Ξ ☼ ♥
⋆───★•❥ ☼ .¸¸.•*`*•.♥ (ˆ◡ˆ) ♥⋯ ❤ ⋯ ★(ˆ◡ˆ) ♥⋯ ❤ ⋯ ★R
You nailed it, Lea: "women of a certain age dishing common sense." I would add civility. Qualities in short supply these days. Wonderful article.
Dear Abby, I will miss your wonderful advice and wisdom. And, Lea, your nostalgic memory of this columnist's impression upon you is equally as wonderful. Thank you.
Here we go again, Lea. You've got me, 30-love. And I do love this story. You could have taken over for her and brought that column roaring into the 21st century... your way.