Thacher Longstreth: The Icon in Winter

He’s left his wife of 62 years. His kids aren’t speaking to him. He’s estranged from old friends. He’s engaged to marry his chief of staff. And despite his health problems, 82-year-old Thacher Longstreth plans to run for another City Council term

Leaning on a cane, supported by his chief of staff and fiancée, Melanie Hopkins, W. Thacher Longstreth descends from a white SUV parked in front of Rouge at 12:15 on a sunny Thursday. The 82-year-old city councilman looks frail, shrunken from his famous height of six-foot-six, a shadow of his quirky, outgoing self. Trembling, his gait hesitant, he shuffles along the Rittenhouse Square boîte’s gauntlet of trendy people at sidewalk café tables. Hopkins urges him on nonchalantly — "C’mon, Thach!" she says, blank-faced — and he moves with dignity to his window table.

Longstreth’s face is pink and mottled, frozen in parts by the effects of Parkinson’s disease, from which he has suffered for eight years, and by his concentration upon walking. (Since breaking his hip in April 2001, he often uses a wheelchair.) There is a bruise on his forehead. His blue eyes are distracted. Still, he is courtly and elegant, dressed in a khaki-green suit and his trademark bow tie. Once seated, he is charming, focused on the conversation, though he speaks slowly. Over gazpacho, he tells entertaining stories about the past — his runs for mayor in ’55 and ’71, his tour of duty in World War ii. He also talks about the present, including his good relationships with mayors John Street and Ed Rendell, the latter of whom he calls "the best mayor Philadelphia has ever had."

In startling contrast, next to him, is dramatic, dynamic Melanie Hopkins. Besides serving as his chief of staff, she is his business partner in their consulting firm, mlw Associates. She is also his paramour. She and Longstreth are scheduled to marry when — or if — his divorce from his wife of 62 years, Nancy Claghorn Longstreth, becomes final. Wearing a stylish red and black suit, a wristful of bracelets and a large sapphire ring, Hopkins is perfectly made up, with large, catlike blue eyes and dark hair. She is athletic-looking, youthful for her 62 years, and she appears cool despite having had a fender-bender earlier in the day in Longstreth’s city-issued truck. Over lunch, she is hugely enthusiastic, pronouncing her asparagus ravioli "Awesome!" and waving to Georges Perrier, who beetles in and is, by Perrier standards, politely reverent toward Longstreth. Passing politicos and lawyers hail Longstreth when they see him in the window. One man runs in to whisper that Buddy Cianfrani, the now-deceased South Philly pol, has had a stroke. "That’s terrible," says Longstreth, visibly upset.

All in all, even if the black-clad waitstaff doesn’t seem to know who he is, Longstreth is treated with the respect befitting a half-century of public service and a lifetime of boosting Philadelphia and its causes. But one has the uneasy feeling that lunch at Rouge may be more exhausting than enjoyable for the fragile councilman.

Longstreth has just come from one of the final Council sessions before summer break. Days before, he returned from a month-long jaunt with Hopkins to South Africa, Morocco, the Canary Islands and Portugal. He still regularly attends parties and fund-raisers. It seems like a grueling schedule for anyone, let alone a man in Longstreth’s condition. (In fact, a couple of weeks later — days after Hopkins wheeled Thach over from the $1.6 million apartment they jointly own at the Rittenhouse to the $1,200-a-couple Ball on the Square — he would land in Pennsylvania Hospital for more than a week, undergoing tests and medication adjustments.)

Still, Thacher discusses the trip and appears to have enjoyed it. I’ve heard of his great pride in his family, and as he orders dessert, I ask if he has great-grandchildren. He brightens even more and says slowly, "Yes, five."

"My grandchildren consider Thacher a family figure!" Melanie jumps in, interrupting him. "They stay with us and won’t let Thacher get up without his cane." Longstreth is silent as Hopkins paints this domestic scene — perhaps reflecting on the unlikelihood that he will see his own family anytime soon, since his adult children are distraught over his leaving their mother, who has suffered from multiple sclerosis since 1949. In fact, beloved as he is, Thacher’s life over the past two years has become a melodrama of estranged friends, family imbroglios, a weird political flip-flop, and a diminishing profile in City Council.

Some friends cast Hopkins, Longstreth’s gatekeeper, scheduler and caregiver, as the villainess, a controlling Cruella de Ville who forced her lover to file for divorce last year. Others, unable to deny that Melanie is devoted to Longstreth — she spends every minute of the day and night with him — fault her for keeping him on a work and social schedule they think he cannot handle.

But the story isn’t quite as simple as that, as Longstreth himself makes evident. Toward the end of lunch, he recounts publishing his memoir in 1990 and promoting it with the help of Hopkins, whom he’d just met. Gazing at Melanie over his crème brûlée, his mouth trembling a bit, he says roguishly, "One of the great things about that was — it led me to her."

It is hard to think of a figure more iconic to and closely associated with Philadelphia than Thacher Longstreth. He is our favorite blue blood, but despite his pedigree (his great-grandfather founded Provident Bank; his grandmother was a leading socialite and owned a thread mill), his mien has always been patrician without being off-putting.

In the 1980s and ’90s, Thach was the one throwing out the first ball at Phillies games, donning an 18th-century costume to serve as an extra (with Melanie) in a production of Die Fliedermaus, singing "Makin’ Whoopee" at a fund-raiser. Even after being defeated in mayoral races by Richardson Dilworth and Frank Rizzo, Longstreth, a Republican, was a force of unity in a staunchly Democratic city. It was Dilworth who said that Longstreth didn’t know how to play dirty, and that set Thach apart, endearing him to colleagues and constituents. "Thacher is an unusual Wasp," says former mayor Ed Rendell. "He has a great love for people, not disdain. He has as good a heart as anyone I’ve ever seen in public life. He’s someone who cared about the city more than anything."

Which is why some Council members and observers have been so saddened to watch Longstreth over the past few years. Often in Council sessions he has seemed barely awake, or confused, or simply exhausted — a shockingly different man from the vibrant Thacher whom friends adored and the city embraced.

During his earlier years in Council and as Chamber of Commerce president, Thacher was funny, wacky, known for never donning an overcoat even in blizzard conditions, for always wearing his tattered Princeton black-and-orange scarf, and for cadging rides to work. ("I used to pick Thach up in Chestnut Hill," remembers Frank Rizzo Jr., "wearing argyle socks, no boots.") He once auctioned the argyle socks off his feet for $50 during a charity event. For a Republican, Longstreth had rather liberal ideas that sometimes raised eyebrows. In 1992, concerned about the aids epidemic, he introduced a bill to make condoms more widely available in bars.

In his autobiography, Main Line Wasp, he writes admiringly of how his Quaker-bred father worked until age 88. Thach himself has always been a plucky sort, hawking violets around his neighborhood as a child to help buy food, selling sandwiches to pay expenses at his beloved Princeton. Though for a time the family lived in wealth on a Main Line estate four doors from Merion Cricket Club, Longstreth’s father lost everything in the crash of 1929, when Thacher was nine, and the family, which included Thacher’s younger brother Frank, never really recovered financially. They moved into the carriage house on the Haverford estate to save expenses. At 17, Thacher met his future wife, Nancy, at dancing class at the Warwick Hotel, and was instantly smitten. He praises her smarts and character in his book, and really liked her looks, as he describes: "She was a year younger than I and absolutely stunning — the most gorgeous girl you#8217;d ever want to see in your life, five feet seven inches tall, 125 pounds, built like a showgirl with long perfect legs."

Four days after Thach’s graduation from Princeton, where he was a starting tight end, the two married. He saw plenty of action while serving four years in the Pacific in the Navy. (He shipped out on an aircraft carrier called, of all things, the USS Wasp.) Later, he and Nancy raised their four children in Chestnut Hill, and Thach sold advertising for Life magazine before becoming president of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce in 1964. (Nancy established herself as a leading Chestnut Hill real estate agent and social leader.) He found financial security later in life, from serving on advisory boards (for Packard Press and Tasty Baking), consulting, and doing endorsements for La-Z-Boy and Channel 10. In the 1980s, he sold his family’s Haverford estate, the main house of which had been rented out as a nursery school, for about half a million dollars.

Concerns about Longstreth’s finances have prompted some of his old friends to view Melanie Hopkins with suspicion. These friends worry that Hopkins, Thach’s $71,800-a-year chief of staff, will encourage him to finish out his current $80,000-a-year term, and even to run again next year — so that she will have her job and they will have their salaries. In fact, Hopkins denies pushing him to run again, insisting she’d prefer he take some kind of ceremonial position.

Hopkins and Longstreth also have their consulting business, MLW Associates, which provides entrée to key politicians and businesspeople for clients who are new to Philadelphia. Thach and Melanie run the company on their own — "MLW" stands both for "Main Line Wasp" and for "Melanie Louise Wuest," Hopkins’s maiden name. The two use their condominium as mlw’s offices, and have three current clients — a computer software company, a telephone billing system, and a hearing-aid manufacturer. "How much of the business being generated [by MLW] is because of the name Longstreth?" asks one observer. "All of it!"

Longstreth was never a perfect spouse, and it was understandable, friends say, that he would discreetly stray. "He was publicly the devoted husband," says a former colleague. "But Nancy was not an easy person, whether she had MS or not." In Thacher’s autobiography, he wryly recounts their early marital fights, which sometimes ended with her screaming, "Thacher, you son of a bitch!" He characterizes their union as a happy one, but as Nancy’s movement became more limited during the ’80s and ’90s, the still hale-and-hearty Thacher was often out at social and political events without his wife.

He had at least one pre-Melanie long-term affair that those close to him seem to have accepted. It lasted more than a decade, but was never flaunted by Longstreth or the Philadelphia woman. "They would go to parties together, but leave at different times," says one Philly executive. "They had class."

When Melanie Hopkins and Longstreth got together, at a Fox Chase Cancer Center event she organized in the late 1980s, there was instant chemistry. Thacher was at the time more vigorous, and clearly a willing and able participant in the relationship. She was good-looking, outgoing: "She’s vivacious," an insider says, "and she’s great fun. In his waning days, that must have been very attractive." Hopkins loves to travel, likes to entertain, cooks well, flirts well, and can schmooze with politicos and Rittenhouse Square socialites with equal ease. She alternately coddles and badgers her boss/fiancé — there is an oddly maternal quality to her rapport with him. "Melanie obviously answers some deep need in Thacher," says another friend. "There’s a whole side of him that no one knew about."

Through Longstreth, Hopkins sprang from Jenkintown into the ultimate establishment, at the side of a man who’d worked closely with Princess Grace of Monaco on charity events, who knows presidents and society doyennes, whose pedigree is as polished as his Princeton athletic medals.

Hopkins and Longstreth promoted Main Line Wasp together in 1990 and ’91. She became an aide, and by 1996, when she was made his chief of staff, they were openly attending events and traveling together as a couple, with Longstreth less and less in residence at his home in Chestnut Hill. He began spending more time at an apartment Hopkins rented at the Rittenhouse in 1995, and the two purchased their first apartment together, in the same building (for $915,000), in 1998. They became engaged in 2001.

Friends probably would have accepted Melanie as Thach’s mistress, given his wife’s condition and his relative vitality in the early 1990s, but, says one, "I’ve never heard of anyone getting divorced after 60 years." One of Thacher’s best friends says that the Longstreths separated their financial assets several years ago. The divorce has dragged on for more than a year, and there have been rumors of political maneuverings to try to get the judge to speed up or slow down the proceedings.

Hopkins says the delay has been caused by the opposition of Nancy Longstreth and her children to the divorce, and adds that it will happen after April 2003 with or without their cooperation, as the Longstreths will have been officially separated for two years that month. Pennsylvania courts accept that as a basis to proceed with a no-fault divorce. After that, the divorce can become final relatively quickly — if it’s not further contested.

As longstreth’s personal life has become increasingly complicated, his health problems have grown. Nowhere has that been more obvious than in City Council meetings held over the past year. From September through December 2001, Longstreth said only two words in Council sessions, while Michael Nutter, the chattiest member, churned out 49,229 (according to a transcription service). Yet Nutter says he views Longstreth as making a contribution. "I would certainly be the first to say that how much you talk is not the only indication of how effective you may be," Nutter says. "He seems to be in good spirits; he appears to be up-to-date on the matters at hand in Council sessions and committee hearings." Ed Rendell, likewise, calls his recent conversations with Longstreth "substantive. He is as lucid and clear as can be."

A widely held view, however, is that Longstreth should retire. "Anyone who sees Thacher now remembers him the way he used to be — bright and glib," says one political insider, adding sadly: "During the last session of Council, I saw one of Thacher’s aides literally peeling a banana for him." The situation is not Strom Thurmondian — Longstreth is more alert than the 99-year-old South Carolina senator — but no one wants to see Thach lose his dignity. And some friends and colleagues fear that is exactly what would happen should Longstreth run again in 2003 — as he has promised to do.

"I hope for his own reputation of a half-century of public service he would retire gracefully before the end of term, or certainly not run again," says attorney and former prosecutor Dan McElhatton, who served on City Council from 1992 to 1996. "He’s obviously not well," says Councilman Frank Rizzo Jr., who adores Longstreth. "I try to make sure he’s never embarrassed, or caught short. He is aware. But I can see that sometimes he’s in a tremendous amount of pain."

The question of whether Longstreth will run again would be of merely human interest were it not for the fact that he generally supports John Street, and his vote is an important one. In March of this year, Longstreth infuriated his longtime protégé, Chamber of Commerce president Charlie Pizzi — whose post Thacher held for more than a decade in the 1950s and ’60s — by staying away from key Council hearings on cutting Philadelphia’s wage tax. Longstreth was absent for the actual vote in April, when the cut was passed, after Pizzi publicly excoriated him in newspapers. "In the early 1970s," Pizzi says, "Thacher said that the increase in the wage tax was the single biggest detriment to the city. To have him not take a stand on it was a disappointment.

"I have put that behind me," Pizzi adds — but he confirms that he hasn’t spoken to his former mentor since the vote. Longstreth responds simply, "After I had time to study it, it seemed John Street’s position was the stronger position."

Hopkins, meanwhile, apparently has been an effective employee. "Melanie does a great job," enthuses Ed Rendell. "She’s smart, able, well-spoken, and totally devoted to Thacher." But she does tend to stir up her own controversies. Take the accident in the city car — Hopkins’s twin grandchildren were in the vehicle, which is meant to be used for city business. In addition, she has defended herself against accusations that she asks her colleagues to sign her in at Longstreth’s City Hall office when she isn’t physically present. And she denied knowing anything about a letter signed by Thacher that sought to help the couple jump the 1,000-person waiting list at the exclusive Lombard Swim Club. Her manner can be brusque and off-putting, according to a core group of Thach’s oldest friends. "His best friends hardly ever see him, because it’s impossible to see him without Melanie," says one sadly.

Fellow Council members are careful in their comments about Hopkins in her role as chief of staff. "She’s very loyal to him," notes McElhatton. Rizzo says he’s had very few dealings with her professionally. "I think she loves him," he offers.

On the sunday afternoon after the Fourth of July, Melanie Hopkins looks tired, having spent much of the past week at Pennsylvania Hospital with Longstreth. Still, curled up in a huge leather armchair in a cozy sitting room in their vast spread at the Rittenhouse, she exudes vitality. As we take a quick tour of the apartment, she moves with easy grace, sexy in a long brown cotton dress and flat sandals, bracelets sliding up and down her tanned arms.

One moment she is charming and funny, dramatically punctuating conversation points with broad arm movements; at others, she wells up with tears, or flies into fits of rage — especially when she talks about Thacher’s future and Thacher’s family.

"I don’t want him to run again," Hopkins insists in her deep voice, her eyes brimming. "I want him to do something where the eyes of the public aren’t on him, to be some kind of ambassador for John Street. He has a wonderful relationship with the Mayor." She would like Thacher to pen — or would like to write herself — a "spicy sequel" to his first book, and she sees him assuming a ceremonial role for the city. "We could host events right here," she says, gesturing toward the extensive living room.

Though they’ve lived in their new home for just two months — they upgraded from a smaller condo in this building — the place is luxuriously decorated. Hopkins says she might like to do some interior design one day. On a wall is an oil portrait of her clad in a plunge-necked blue dress; a small brown poodle sleeps by her chair.

Longstreth’s Princeton athletic medals are in a glass case in the entry hallway, and his mementos are everywhere, as are pictures of the couple together — Melanie and Thach with Clinton, Kissinger, Tom Ridge, Rendell. His grandfather’s Civil War sword hangs in the living room. Melanie says she has created a "museum of Thacher’s accomplishments, and those of his ancestors." But this place, with its overt plushness, feels very, well, Melanie.

Despite the serene surroundings, Hopkins becomes increasingly emotional during our conversation. "I fell in love with Thacher when we started working together," she says wistfully. "We don’t hang on each other; we’re both independent. We spend all our time together — work and play. Thacher is the star. I’m the opening act." She smiles, running her hands up and down her arms and tucking a foot up in the deep chair.

Hopkins says that in the early 1990s, she at first resisted the attraction she felt for the horn-rim-wearing, 70ish councilman. "I told him I had never been, and wasn’t, interested in being with a man who was taken. But I began to feel so sorry for how he was living in Chestnut Hill. They didn’t have anyone taking care of the house, or of him."

There was another matter: Melanie was married, too, to lawyer Richard Hopkins, and was living a very different life in Jenkintown. She had once taught sixth grade in Abington Township, had raised a son and daughter, and was running a fund-raising business with her daughter. But she and her now-former husband, whom she calls a "wonderful man," have remained so amicable that he visits her and Longstreth on holidays, and the three spend time together at neighboring condominiums they own in Naples, Florida.

At first, Hopkins worked with Longstreth hawking Main Line Wasp, but she was soon shuttling him around in his city car. When she decided to move into town from Jenkintown, she reports, "John [Street] said, ‘You should hire her. She’s good.’ That’s how I got hired by the city." She began scheduling for Longstreth, and a turnover in staff left her as de facto head of Thach’s office. "I was doing the job of chief of staff," she explains. "And so we named me chief of staff."

Hopkins sits bolt upright when asked where the Longstreth divorce stands — and whether she’s pushing for marriage, something she denies. "I just desire a divorce so he’ll never have to deal with that awful woman again," she says. "It’s very stressful to watch someone you love in such turmoil. I’ve had a wonderful life with Thacher. I’d like to be married because it’s very complicated to manage Thach’s medical life without being married."

According to Hopkins, Longstreth’s son William, a Seattle doctor, agreed to talk to the rest of his family about making the divorce happen. "[Thacher] filed for divorce because his son told him they would go along with that," she says. "Peter [Thacher’s oldest son, the chairman of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation] accepted delivery of divorce papers and didn’t give them to his mother — he held it up for one month." (Peter Longstreth declined to comment for this story; William Longstreth did not return calls.)

"He’s given her more of his life than he should have," she wails over the soft music playing in the background. "I want him to have some peace. And all this works against Thacher’s disease, which is out of order when he is stressed." Longstreth is "usually fine" to travel, Hopkins insists; his condition is better away from Philadelphia and the stress of dealing with his family. Given the acrimony she has engendered and Thach’s deteriorating physical shape, does Hopkins have any regrets about allying herself with him? "No, he’s been wonderful to me. My reservations were that he was taken. My children were furious. But I said he needed me. I want him to have a happy life for once," she finishes.

Hopkins believes that marriage to her will make Longstreth happy, but doesn’t expect his current union to end without a fight. "The wife has said that she wants to see Thacher dead before she sees him married to me," Hopkins says.

Nancy Longstreth lives in a lovely French-style stucco house on a quiet, beautiful street near the Philadelphia Cricket Club. The garden is colorful with beds of impatiens, well-tended, with espaliered ivy framing the front door. Mrs. Longstreth still tends to business on the Fairmount Park Commission, working there several days a week. When she speaks about her husband, her tone is not angry, but resigned. "I love him," she says, pain resonating in her cultivated voice. "I can understand how he originally started this: I wasn’t able to fill the bill. I can’t whip in and out of ballrooms."

A beautiful woman from a privileged family — her grandfather was a Strawbridge, and she grew up in a Chestnut Hill manse — Nancy is called by Ed Rendell "a remarkable person. In some ways, more remarkable than Thacher. Nancy’s done a good job of creating her own life. If anyone worried she’d go to pieces — she hasn’t." Nancy was tolerant of the Thach-Melanie situation for years — astonishingly so. She knew about it, and Thacher continued ostensibly to live at home while spending more and more time with Hopkins. "What I wanted and what he wanted could probably never work," Nancy says quietly. "He would spend three or four nights here, and then three or four with her." Her voice falters. "I wasn’t really willing to accept that," she reconsiders. "I wanted him here every night."

As for her husband’s public life, Nancy Longstreth says he shouldn’t run again, and expresses concern about his health. She is desperately sad about the fracture of her family — "The children are tragically bitter about this," she says. "They will never speak to him again over this dumb woman." Peter Longstreth was extremely close to his father for most of his life. "Peter and Thacher had the optimal father-son relationship," says one of Thacher’s longtime confidants. "They were such good friends, it was like one person." Now, they don’t speak. Thach’s daughter, Ellen Goodwin, a successful Realtor, says only that it’s a "very sad situation. I love my father."

Nancy and Thacher are still in touch. "We talk on the phone," she says of her husband. "I don’t see much of him. That’s not my choice. The woman he lives with is a control freak. And when he broke his hip, that was her excuse to keep him forever." Nancy also says of Hopkins, "I’m sure she’s good to him," and calls her "smart and capable." But if Thacher wanted to come back, Nancy would reconcile.

"I feel terribly sad for him," she concludes. "He really doesn’t know what he’s doing."

There have been conflicting reports on what Thacher feels about the division of his family and his life in exile in the Rittenhouse. "Thacher is ambivalent," says one source who has been privy to the details of the divorce proceedings. "He feels very, very torn. He doesn’t want to lose Melanie. Neither [woman] will let go of him, and he isn’t strong enough to fight them."

Longstreth’s condition fluctuates day by day, week by week. He failed to recognize John Street one day recently when the Mayor stopped by. Melanie says this was because Thacher was upset: Nancy Longstreth "got through to Thacher, and he was scared of what she might do to him. She stabbed him once." (A friend says the stabbing tale is technically true — but it’s an old chestnut, from decades ago: "Thacher and Nancy both tell that story and laugh about it," he says, adding that Nancy was making a point, gesturing with a paring knife at the kitchen table, and accidentally nailed Thacher in the hand.)

On a Monday morning in late July, several days after he has been released from another hospitalization, Longstreth is tired, detached and barely monosyllabic. He looks as brittle as a marionette, so thin that the delicate bones of his face jut through his skin.

One week later, perhaps because his medications have been fine-tuned, Longstreth is enormously improved. He looks as if he’s gained weight, is alert, and is sitting up in his deep leather chair in the study, polishing off a bowl of shrimp soup and a double-decker club sandwich. He and Melanie are chatting; she reclines in her chair, her head thrown back like a 1940s movie star’s. Longstreth is nearly his old handsome self, rather spunky and at times defiant.

"My plan at the present time is to continue to act [as councilman]," Thacher says.

Melanie jumps in: "Tell her like it is, Thacher. He knows what I want, and what he wants."

Thacher responds flirtatiously, "What I do depends entirely on my relationship with this young charmer you see there." And he gestures to Hopkins.

As for his chances at re-election should he run, Longstreth says, "That’s going to be determined by the populace. You can be sure that in any election where there’s an older man and a young crowd, they’ll use his years against the older man.

"I’m not going to have a problem," he adds in an even tone. "I’m an incumbent councilman who has 24 years’ prior experience. I will stay healthy, stay active, and expect the people who have re-elected me by comfortable margins will continue to do so."

Melanie jumps in again, suggesting jokingly that Thacher may have to run so they can make ends meet: "We may have to work to keep our house!"

Thacher seems eager to get back to work, and to take a fall trip Hopkins has planned to Ireland and the Arctic Circle. "I enjoy traveling tremendously," he says, digging into a mocha-chip sundae with chocolate sauce and cookies, which he’s asked his health aide, Margaret, to bring him. "We both do. We’ve had fun traveling everywhere."

And here, with the buzz of Rittenhouse Square silenced by the enormous plate-glass windows of his condominium, miles from Chestnut Hill and his former life, Longstreth is ultimately nothing less than ardent about Hopkins. He is charmingly old-world, gentlemanly about it. "We were both immediately attracted to each other, but not in a ‘Gee, I want to go home with you and spend my life at your bedside’ way," he says slowly. "As we spent an increasing amount of time together, we weren’t very happy unless we were together. It was easier for us to fall in love as we worked together, to be very conscious of each other as a man and a woman, as well as being a working couple.

"Since events have prevented us from getting married, it is increasingly frustrating that we have had to wait so long for a divorce," he continues, finishing his ice cream. "When you have a contested divorce, and a number of sons and daughters involved, and a 20-year differential between couples, it becomes increasingly long and frustrating. Because you haven’t got the time."

When asked whether he thinks he might ever reconcile with his children, Longstreth hesitates. "Could you rephrase that?" he asks.

Melanie jumps in. "We pictured having family relationships," she says. "They’ve been very difficult. He would certainly like to see that happen. He told his son in Seattle and his daughter in the presence of lawyers — what did you tell them? That you wanted to get married."

"That I loved you, and I wanted to get married," Thacher says, quite definitely. "The sooner, the better. I’m led to believe that as soon as these important personages nod their heads, we’ll be married right away." (By this, he means the judge and the lawyers.)

Melanie leans back, looking happy, and says, "We have the rings! We even have our song. What is it, Thacher?"

In a strong, clear voice, Longstreth gazes at her and begins to sing:

This is the end of a beautiful friendship,
it happened a moment ago.
This is the end of a beautiful friendship,
I know ’cause your eyes told me so.
Now we’ve always been like sister and
brother, until tonight when we
looked at each other.
That was the end of a beautiful friend-
ship, and just the beginning of love.

Melanie, tears in her eyes, springs across to his chair and gives him a kiss on the lips. "I love you," she whispers.