Tuesday, August 3, 2010



You know how the smell or taste of food can trigger a memory?  The aroma of a grilling burger can bring back that summer barbeque where you fell in love for the first time w/ the boy/girl next door, or a bite of a tuna fish sandwich can flood you w/ thoughts of your elementary school cafeteria and your 4th grade BFF.

Well, for the zillionth time, I steamed some zucchini last night for dinner. Obviously not a media moment… but for some reason, this time when I took my zucchini –

sliced it –

put it into the steamer –

then served it to Richard w/ butter and some freshly squeezed lemon juice –

I remembered the first time I’d ever had zucchini.

I was spending the weekend w/ my girlfriend Phoebe at her rented beach house in the Hamptons (yup – “the” Hamptons). I always loved being in the Hamptons – swimming in the Atlantic, playing tennis at one of the tennis/country clubs, partying… so when she invited me, I hopped the train w/ my bikini in tow, but I digress…

I first met Phoebe, a single mom w/ two gorgeous tween/teen girls

when we worked together at Talent Associates, David Susskind’s movie/TV production company.

Phoebe and I became friends… We lunched together, went to the movies & theater together, had each other over for dinner – you know - friends. She taught me the visual joy of all things whitewashed. Walls, baskets, furniture, fireplaces… She had a charming, cozy “impossible-to-find-now” rent-controlled apartment in the West Village w/ a fireplace and Juliet balcony in the living room and two tiny bedrooms she drenched in white w/ simple New England accents – woods of pine, dried flowers, white ironstone, white linens and white netting… I know, I know – digressing again.

Talent Associates became Time-Life Films and the company moved from Third Avenue to “network row” on Sixth. We got raises and promotions and Phoebe decided to treat herself and her girls to a month in the Hamptons.

I don’t remember much about my weekend there… I can see her girls running on their long, graceful, gazelle-like legs down the beach while Phoebe and I bathed in the sun… I remember driving around in her borrowed car (no one I knew back then had a car in Manhattan) hopping from one antique store to another and marketing for dinner… but what popped up in my memory last night were the zucchini. When she pulled them out of the grocery bag, I thought they were cucumbers. What did I know?  My mom made a lot of fresh veggies when I was growing up, even summer squash – but I’d never had zucchini.

So that night in the Hamptons I had steamed zucchini for dinner, and the next morning, I had leftover zucchini in scrambled eggs. I fell in love w/ zucchini – steamed, stuffed, baked, grilled or deep fried, I’m a zucchini groupie.

But Phoebe was more than zucchini to me. Raised and educated in Manhattan, she was the quintessential New Yorker. We shared shopping trips to Saks Fifth Avenue – tho I was the Saks & Fifth Avenue girl – she was ever the Village bohemian. We played roof-top tennis after work on a court next to Walter Cronkite (she was terrible, but we had fun). We had fabulous ‘bitch’ sessions about men and our careers (she was also a writer and had produced documentaries). We shared hopes and dreams.  And I was thrilled that she finally saw "Carny" come alive on the screen, a movie starring Jodie Foster that she co-wrote and co-produced w/ her ex-husband.

It was Phoebe who first told me that I was in love w/ Richard as we were jaywalking across Fifth Avenue one day. I stopped short and almost got hit by a bus, literally - as I was getting "hit by a bus" figuratively.  She knew before I did.

Not long after that brush w/ bus-death, Richard and I moved in together.

And, it was coming home from Phoebe’s that we experienced one of our most magical Manhattan nights… It had started to snow when we arrived at her apartment in the Village from ours on 55th & lst. During dinner, the snowfall turned into a blizzard and by the time we left there were no cars on the street. No cabs. No buses. We had to take the subway, something I hated to do after midnight. But coming out of the station onto Lex & 53rd was like walking into a Disney winter wonderland. Everything was whitewashed w/ snow. Lots and lots and lots of snow. Not a human in sight. Nothing was moving. You could hear the snow fall… Our gleeful laughter echoed off the building canyons. We made angels in the snow and threw snowballs as we walked the rest of the way home. It was 2:00 in the morning and the city that never sleeps was ours alone… But, I digress yet again…

It was Phoebe who helped plan our wedding.  It was Phoebe who stayed in our New York apartment when we first moved to Los Angeles. And, it was Phoebe who introduced me to Doris Silverton, a writer on “General Hospital” who became my surrogate mother and writing mentor in Los Angeles…

But being 3,000 miles away, we drifted apart over the years. Her girls are adults now w/ children of their own and I’d learn about them in our yearly exchange of Christmas cards. She fell in love w/ a man I never met. She became sick and he took care of her. Then she was better or, at least, that’s what she told me. And then, in 2007, she was gone.

Thanks for the zucchini, Phoebe. Thanks for the dinners and talks and all the memories… And for being such a fan of me and my writing.  RIP, dear friend.

To read more about Phoebe go to:


Anonymous said...

A wonderful and touching tribute, Lonie....and I love your digressions.


MickMIl said...

Beautiful memory piece about a wonderful friendship. You did her proud!

Susan said...

What a moving post. So well written.
I'd like to see more like this.
I feel I know Phoebe.
It makes you really want to treasure your friends while you have them.
Happy Birthday, dear friend.

ilona saari said...

Thanx so much guys - I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. And thank you Susan for the b'day wishes...

Lana said...

Wow. Reading this made a tear run down my cheek. Thank you.

ilona saari said...

And thank you, Lana, for posting your comment. It means so much to me when I've touched someone w/ something I wrote or made them laugh (or even hungry )

FaithAngel said...

What a beautiful tribute to your dear friend. I am so sorry for your loss ... because, no matter how much time or distance parts us, the pain of their loss never completely goes away.

Anonymous said...
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ilona saari said...

Thank you Tay and Faith - it means a lot if I touched you. I've been trying to find Robyn & Sarah after all these years to send them this tribute to their mom, but have been unable to find them.... I did google Phoebe's name and my piece came up, so I hope they check in and google their mom's name every so often and will find it.