I’m basically gregarious. But Yeats once said that one should put on a mask of the opposite of one’s self. For Pres, that was going and seeing people in Europe. For me, it was being reclusive. It was good—I got a lot of work done. I’d bike over to the studio and be alone for several hours, and we’d have tea in the afternoon.
We played tennis every day. We biked two miles away, then we’d bike to the ocean—I’d swim and Pres would read. I’d fix lunch. He read to me every night. It was a wonderful life. I didn’t feel cut off from anything because he was so brilliant.
I painted in a barn owned by the L’Engles. Their house was an old Cape—very old, 1790 or something. The house had a big barn with a studio attached, where Lucy and William L’Engle used to paint. After he died, she asked if I might like to rent it. We rented it from 1967 until 2001. Pres and I would have lunch and then I’d bike to the studio, year after year after year. Even in the snow sometimes.
The portrait assignments just came—I didn’t pursue them. I was getting $30,000 for a portrait in 1990, then we’d live off of that until I had to do another one. Beyond that, I wasn’t showing or doing anything in particular. Just painting. Preston was interesting, just a wonderful mind. I’d rather have been with him than anybody else.
I had gotten so much publicity (in my youth). Then I stopped showing and just did portraits. By 1990, I think they thought I was dead.
Another husband might have said, “Okay, you’ve got this talent. Let’s go down to Palm Beach and make a killing.” But Preston didn’t care any more about money than I did. If the portraits floated my way, I’d do them. Otherwise, I was doing all of these other things—battle scenes, myths, religious paintings. And political ones.
There’s a friend of mine whose family bought a house in Truro in 1930. She’s in her 80s now, and she remembers when there were dirt roads everywhere and maybe five people on Ballston Beach. So she hates it because it’s changed. I wasn’t here that early, so to me, it hasn’t changed. Maybe there are more people on Ballston Beach now.
I used to swim in the ocean for about 45 minutes. I do less now, about 30 minutes. The other day I was at Ballston Beach. Nobody was on the beach at all. I swam a ways down and came back. Coming back, I was breathing out toward the sea. And as I got back to where I was, a seal was four feet away from me, swimming alongside me. That happened twice. There was just the two of us on this empty beach and I backstroked out.
In early December I get out of the water for good. I don’t wear a wet suit, just a bathing suit. I’m used to it. It’s cold on the beach, but your body adjusts. When you come out, you don’t feel cold for a while. But each little grain of sand feels like a needle. And on the way home you’re shivering uncontrollably.
I don’t know the other parts of the Cape too much. I go to church in Brewster—I just started again after Pres died. I know a lot of people that never travel beyond Wellfleet, and I never did either. If it weren’t for the church, I’d only be here and in Provincetown.
I don’t really know much about the Cape south of Wellfleet. And maybe they don’t know much about us. Maybe they think we’re like the hinterlands or something.