March 4, 2013

War, Love, and the Richest Life: My Friends Marione and Daniel Ingram

My treasured friend Marione Ingram will give an author talk at 3pm this Saturday afternoon, March 9, at DC's most desirable venue for book promotion, Politics & Prose. Her just-published memoir, The Hands of War: A Tale of Endurance and Hope, from a Survivor of the Holocaust, has already earned a Kirkus starred review, a prized accolade in the publishing industry.

Here's the synopsis from the Politics & Prose events calendar:
Ingram was born in Hamburg in 1935; Jewish, she experienced the violence of anti-Semitism at an early age. Surviving the Gestapo, the Allied bombing of her homeland, and the chaotic post-war years, she emigrated to the U.S. and became involved in the civil rights struggle in Mississippi. Ingram is also an artist of international stature and a gifted writer (see Granta 96); her memoir is a powerful and intimate account of some of the last century’s most devastating events.
Marione’s childhood in Germany is certainly a story of extraordinary fortitude and survival. But her years since coming to America have been remarkable, too.

I first met Marione in 1960, when her husband Daniel and I worked together at the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA). We lost track of each other for a few decades, but my friendship with the Ingrams deepened since they returned to DC in 2007.

Since 1956, Marione's story involves her life with Daniel; they are the most “coupled” couple I know. So, for the new author of The Hands of War, we’ll call this part of their saga:

The Hands of Love

I took the photo above at my house, on the occasion of Marione and Daniel’s 50th wedding anniversary in March, 2010. The love that’s evident in this picture is what I see every time we’re together.

A bit vague on the Ingram's early details from over half a century ago, I asked Daniel to recap their history. I know he thought I’d rework his comments, but they’re just too good to amend; Daniel has his own literary panache. Here’s what he emailed me… stylistic shorthand, abbreviations and all (forgive me, Daniel!):

Daniel Describes His Life with Marione 
Met in NYC in '56: m worked at moma for less than $50 a week and i at Pretense (actually Prentice) Hall where starting editors with graduate degrees got $55, exactly half the starting rate for elevator operators (who had a union). PH removed that problem by moving to the NJ gangsterland into a huge one-story plant with a built-in post office so they could ship books without trouble if a strike ever developed. Still we loved the big apple, where i carried a spear at the old Met and promoted John Cage and Merce Cunningham and she made art and saved Carnegie Hall with the help of Isaac Stern.  
Moved to dc and BNA in '60 because it was the best in the business, paid much better, was employee owned and had a union to boot. But racial discrimination was rampant in dc and we became very active in the civil rights movement, which led m to go to Miss. in '64 to promote voter registration and run a freedom school, harassed and eventually torched by the Klan. (pay was $24 per mo. and conditions were dangerous to life and liberty but job satisfaction was priceless. got to know dynamic people like Baldwin, Belefonte, Fanny Lou Hamer, Stokley, Rap, Byard, and many less well known but equally interesting rights activists, civil libertarians and the journalists who challenged and ended press apartheid. Best of all m was able to fight back non-violently and with some success against what she saw as a version of the racism that in Europe had spawned the Holocaust.)  
In '66, just as BNA was about to become hugely profitable as a result of economies imposed by an unfortunate strike, i was given job at UPO of information director for the war on poverty in washington area-- a very exciting, quixotic effort with significant accomplishments but ultimately undone by Vietnam, faulty planning and Nixon henchmen Rumsfeld and Chaney. In seventies and mid-eighties, worked for major philanthropies trying to foster economic developments in low-income communities, worthwhile but largely ineffectual efforts, with a few spectacular successes. unfortunately mismanagement or worse erased 3/4 of pension benefits.  
Editor's note: Daniel omits here a part of the story I love. He picked up a staph infection at George Washington Hospital that put him in intensive care. Marione worried that he was slipping away, so she told him: "You get better and we'll sell the house and move to Tuscany." Daniel got better and….  
Sold our house on MacArthur blvd. and moved to Tuscany in 1985--before it was 'discovered'--into a beautiful farmhouse ($100 mo. rent) on an idyllic vineyard near an ancient hill town with a communist mayor who collaborated with the local priest to make their town a demi-paradise, returning no tax money to rome but investing it all in local amenities. Moved from there in a few years to a tiny island with fewer than 100 people off the western tip of sicily, which had supported life for thousands of years but had obtained motors for their boats and a modicum of electricity only a few years earlier. There for seven years. m made art and wrote and i wrote (on the great american civil rights novel, which may yet be finished and published) and fished with an elderly masterfisherman too proud to let a local help him. (we are now collaborating on a book about the island elders.) 
Moved back to US in mid-90s because m's mother was seriously ill and lived in Ashland OR, home of n. america's largest permanent shakespeare festival and after her death lived a couple of years in Annapolis. 
Moved to Hamburg in 2000 after another few years in Tuscany at the same village, this time house-sitting a huge villa for the director of the Naples opera. Hadn't meant to stay so long (seven years) but we researched and m dug in on and completed her memoir (including half of her civil rights journey which will be published separately next.) We ended that stay with the unexpectedly sensational success of an excerpt published first by Granta, selected for Best American Essays and republished in a Russian literary journal alongside the likes of Vargas and Kundera.  
Returned to dc 2007 (on a freighter from barcelona to panama) to live in St. Mary's Court, two blocks from where we lived in 1960. 
# # # # # # # 

That's where Daniel's narrative ends. I'll add just a little more. What brought them back to DC, even though Bush II was still in office, was the tug of family: their son, daughter-in-law, and two beloved grandsons live in suburban Maryland.

Daniel and Marione’s life together before their 2007 return to DC was rich and rewarding in the ways that matter most. St. Mary's Court, their home for six years, provides federal assistance for low and moderate income households. Residents pay 30 percent of their monthly income for rent.

The nine-story high-rise apartment building stands in the heart of downtown Washington (called "Foggy Bottom"). From there, it’s a short walk to the Kennedy Center and the George Washington University campus and gym. Daniel and Marione make great use of the Kennedy Center's offer of reduced-price -- sometimes even free -- tickets when the Center decides to "paper the house" for a performance that hasn't sold well.

The Ingrams have a nicely decorated apartment with great views of sunsets behind the Kennedy Center. They take full advantage of the many cultural and volunteer activities here. Washington still has marches and rallies, though they're less frequent now than during the tumultuous 1960s. If there's a protest for civil rights or humanitarian causes, the Ingrams are most likely in the thick of it. 

Daniel and Marione lead fuller lives than most of my senior friends in their 70s and 80s -- an important reminder to me that a continuing zest for life matters more than a big bank account. It doesn't hurt that they are as much in love today as they were when they met nearly 60 years ago.

I'm sure Daniel and Marione wouldn't mind if their income grew to the point where they lost their eligibility to remain at St. Mary's Court. I'd love to see them return in my beloved Palisades neighborhood.

So, if you're in the Washington area on Saturday, March 9, drop by Politics & Prose at 3pm. You can hear Marione's story and get a signed copy of The Hands of War. If can't make the event, you'll find the book now available at

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