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For Ralph de Toledano

I met Ralph de Toledano only last year.

I had come back to Washington, after many years and was reading his book “Notes from the Underground” when I found this passage:

Oct. 18, 1960

Dear Ralph,

The Montero is marvelous. [I had sent him a recording of Germaine Montero reading Garcia-Lorca’s “Lament on the Death of a Bullfighter,” his greatest poem.] I scarcely expected at my time of life to have the kind of experience that occurs at my son’s age: something new and wonderful, since what the young woman is saying in the tone (more than any words) is what has always been there. I thank you for bringing this young creto-iberienne to our house…


Suddenly, I had to meet him.

However, after the death of my grandfather, Whittaker Chambers, our families had not kept in touch. Fortunately, Ralph was not hard to find and was delighted when I called. He suggested we meet at his old stomping grounds at the National Press Club. At the appointed time and date, we met upstairs on the fourteenth floor, in the members’ bar.

Ralph was a tall man, nearly 90. He had survived intestinal cancer, though not without scars. While a bit unsteady, he was still bright-eyed and was warmly welcoming as we sat down. Lunch was on him, of course: It was his treat to his old friend’s grandson.

It was hard to know where to start talking. Conversation was hampered partly by the deafness of age. Part of it was due to the memory of Whittaker Chambers that played across his face faster than he could utter words. He started to tell stories several times but quickly broke off in mid-sentence, all the time smiling. I knew he missed my grandfather, and the memories were happy.

Then Ralph asked me whether I had read “Notes from the Underground.”

I had come because I had read the book, I said — and to thank him.

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