Sunday, March 22, 2009

Like Fine Wine

I have had occasion this week to consider aging.

As my 47th birthday approaches, I have been feeling the march of time - mostly all over my back. I now have a greater appreciation of my husband's occasional bouts of back pain and my father-in-law's daily battles with back and hip pain.

It all started Friday morning when I dared clamber out of the shower. And cough at the same time (still recovering from that virus). Suddenly, I couldn't stand up or sit down. The feeling passed in a moment and I thought I'd gotten off scot-free. But no. By the time I got to work, my right leg was useless and my foot was flopping at the end of it like a nearly-dead fish. And it caused immense pain to drag that leg around. Getting out of the car was fun.

I finally got to my office, where I called Darling Man and asked him to bring my cane to work. I hadn't had to use that thing in a long, long time and it was buried in a closet somewhere. And I sat in my chair at my desk until he arrived, unable to get up out of it. I thought I was feeling sorry for myself then, but a trip to the bathroom opened up a whole new world of pain. I pretty much had to just grit my teeth and reach when I was all done. Thank goodness for handicapped stalls and their handrails. But what would I do when I got home????

Today is three days later. I'm walking better. The stairs are easier and my leg is working again though still painful. Lots of ice. Lots of heating pad. Some ibuprophen. Lots of ginger movement. I don't know how long it takes to feel normal again after one of these things, but I am feeling downright ancient at the moment.

Apparently I can look forward to YEARS and YEARS of feeling ancient (and young) if my family history has anything to say about it.

My maternal grandmother died of a stroke or heart attack at age 84. She was a Christian Scientist, so there were no doctors, no medications - and she STILL made it to 84. 84 GOOD years.

And both my paternal grandparents are celebrating birthdays this month.

My grandmother was first, celebrating her 90th birthday on the 9th of this month. She is an amazing woman. Born in India, raised in Japan, she started out her life as an actress, married an actor (my grandfather), then decided that the acting life was NOT for her. She had two sons and a divorce when divorce wasn't the norm, and made her own way in the world.

When my father was 16, she came to America to live with her cousin Frederick and figure out what happens next. Being the feisty woman she was and the one raised with much diversity in her life, she regularly angered the local Klu Klux Klan chapter, eventually having a cross burned on her front lawn for giving a black man a ride home after work. She scandalized our little piece of the South by wearing shorts (unheard of then), and was, in fact, wearing them as she served lemonade to the mayor, leader of the KKK. Through everything, she always came off as a proper lady as only British women of a certain class can.

She is still as blunt and as engaging as ever and I love her dearly as both my grandmother and as a role model. My father says that I am practically her clone and that all my mother did was incubate me. Obviously, this is not true (I have my grandfather's nose and there are times when I look in the mirror and my mother looks back), but somehow, much of the attitude and confidence that belong to my grandmother made its way into me.

Jocelyn Jocelyn2

Back in the early 70's (I was 11, I think), we went on a family trip to England and Wales. It was my first bomb threat - the plane landed in Miami and was throughoughly swept while we waited out in the field in sweltering heat, my first train ride - complete with ginger beer from my grandpa (think Harry Potter's train rides), my first exposure to a culture other than the one of the South. We visited Grandma J up on the mountain, where she lived in a little house across the driveway from the family's "summer house". It became the main residence during WWII when Grandma fled the bombing of London with my father to live in the relative quiet of North Wales until it was all over.

Glyn Artro
This is Glyn Artro, the "summer house". It is a bit over 800 years old. When I went back to the farm in 1980, they were about to build a new kitchen onto the back. Much of the time Dad and I were there, we were helping scour the mountain for rocks to build the kitchen with. The bigger rocks were made smaller by "Daffyd the Bang", the local dynamite guy. We all went out one afternoon to watch him blow up rocks. He set the charge and we all took cover behind the trees. There was a rockin' explosion, after which my grandmother stepped out to see what had happened. "Get back behind the tree, Joy! It's not the bang that kills you!" yelled her brother.
When I returned again, 24 years later, I asked to see the "new" kitchen. After a puzzled look from my great aunt Pip, she ushered me back to a lovely, large room with a great window looking out over the near pasture to the stream and piggery at the back of the meadow. It was lovely.

Granny Gwynedd
More proof of longevity in my genes. My grandmother's mother - Great Grandma Gwynedd. She lived to 99.

My uncle Piers sent pictures of Grandma J's birthday party. As a woman who's lifelong motto was "Don't make a fuss," she shocked everyone by asking for a small dinner party.

Jocelyn and John
Grandma and her younger brother John. He and his wife Pip still run the farm, raising sheep.

Jocelyn's 90th party Jocelyn over wine

It was quite the crowd. My uncle Piers (right picture, far right) and his wife (whose nose can be seen just next to Uncle John), their daughter, John's kids and their families - it was quite the gathering! Most unusual for Grandma J.

Jocelyn portrait
My uncle's final statement in his email about the whole affair:

Was it worth your risking life and bank balance to attend? No, not really -except perhaps for mother's face when I delivered her home at the end of the evening, an elderly white mouse with the sparkling eyes of a young girl..

Yes. Exactly. Happy Birthday, Grandma. I'm sure you will have many more.
Chekov Theatre Company
This is a picture taken from school in 1937, where my grandparents met while both were a part of the Chekov Theatre Company at Dartington Hall. Grandma is third from the left, kneeling, on the bottom row. Grandpa is standing, last person on the far right.

And tomorrow is my grandfather's 92nd birthday. I have written about him recently, here and here, but now have a scanner that is working, so I can actually show you pictures of him!

Grandpa Paul Grandpa Paul 3 Grandpa Paul 2
Handsome devil, wasn't he?
These were taken in the early 70s, when my parents went to New York to see him in "Sleuth". He is standing on the terrace of Sir John Geilgud's apartment overlooking Central Park.
I don't have a lot of pictures of him. But we always managed to stay in touch, and he would show up from time to time. The last batch of pictures I have with him are from my trip to England just before his wife Roz died. They are in a box I can't get to with my back like this, so I'll have to save them for another time.
Roz, Me, Rick, Grandpa Me, Grandpa and Roz
Grandpa and Roz (in the hat and brown dress) flew down from NYC for my first wedding. He'd been growing his hair long for his roll in "The Dresser" (later made into a movie starring Albert Finney). His arm is in a sling because he slipped and fell in the Botanical Gardens there. I wish I'd been able to spend more time with them then, but I had a honeymoon to go on and they had a play to rehearse.
Dad, Grandpa, Me Album cover
I don't think Darling Man and I were married yet, or perhaps we were newly married... When Grandpa and Roz came to visit for the last time. Every year they came, they would rent this house down on St. George Island and bask in the Florida sun for a few days in October. At left, Dad, Grandpa and me. The picture on the right is one we call "Album Cover" since it looks very U2. Dad, Grandpa and Darling Man.
I'm not sure when this picture was taken. Probably in the 70s, sometime, when Grandpa was working so much in New York and would drop in on us in Tallahassee whenever he got the chance. It is one of my favorite pictures of Grandpa - he's relaxed and enjoying himself and being just who he was.
Grandpa Sails
Happy Birthday, Grandpa! I wish I could be there to celebrate with you.

Update: This is why I love blogging. Other people can read and make corrections to stories or add to them. Since this is for my son - a history of us, I was quite happy to see an email from my father with a few corrections to the stories that I know:
I loved it.
A couple of teensy-weensy corrections. Glyn Artro came into the family in 1947, after WWII, bought by Gwyn with an inheritance from her sister Amy. During WWII we spent long periods of the summer on Mochras Island and tented around a structure called The Boat House. The Boat House is actually a wooden shack, still standing, on the estuary side of the island, facing Moelfra.
My Mother fled Colchester to Plas Wynne, located in Glyn Ceiriog in Denbeighshire (?) The reasons twofold--bombing and the fact that Grandpa Paul was called up into the Royal Navy. He went in as a seaman and left the service as a Lieutenant (equivalent of an Army Captain) and was the skipper of his own ship. If you go to Google Earth and type in Glyn Ceiriog you can see the Plas, if you know where to look. It is about 2 miles from Llangollen on the River Dee. Your Aunt Pip came from Chirk. If you look at a map you'll see they are all clustered together.
Second, the photos of Grandpa on the roof. He was appearing in Sleuth at the time--not the Homecoming. Homecoming was in 1968, after that was Photo Finish with Peter Ustinov, Here's Where I Belong(?) then came Sleuth, finally The Dresser all of which brought him back to New York quite frequently. That apartment balcony, incidentally, belonged to Sir John Geilgud who rented it out when he was not in New York--they shared an agent.

October 11, 2013
And now, another correction from my aunt Emma:  I have a teensy-weensy correction of my own. Photo Finish came before The Homecoming. I was about 3 for Photo Finish we stayed in Rita Gam's apartment on 5th Avenue, and about 7 for The Homecoming. 


Floridacracker said...

Neat! Very interesting Sayre. Hope you are feeling better.

Liane Michel said...

I know you can see your mother when you look into the mirror. I totally see her.... totally. And it's amazing since you have always had that "Rogers" look about you.

Mariposa said...

Hope you're better!

Love this post so much...and cheers to more good years, it's in the genes remember?! ;)

Sandcastle Momma said...

What an interesting family you come from! Your grandmother sounds like an amazing woman - it couldn't have been easy to buck society like she did. We all have women like her to thank for the Girl Power we have today!

Hope your back is better soon!

HoosierGirl5 said...

Wow, I love the old pictures. You took a lot of time with this post and it shows.

Sorry your leg was bothering you. I know it totally sucks to be getting older. One of my teenagers reminded me that in 5 1/2 years I will be 50 and I was truly depressed for the rest of the day.

Happy Monday!

♥~♥ Tracey ♥~♥ said...

Wow! You certainly come from hardy and talented stock! I love the story about your grandma and the KKK. Happy bday to your grandparents! I wish mine were still here.

margaret (the misanthrope) said...

Good comment will follow what appears to be spam :-(

Anyway...happy birthday to your grandparents! Your grandpa was indeed quite the handsome fellow! And your grandmother - now that is the lady I want to be. What a bunch of great stories to have in your family history!

I am so sorry to hear that you have been grappling with some health issues of your own. (But I loved your hilarious description of the march of time!)

I'm still thirtysomething but already I'm seeing signs of the genetic "gifts" (ahem) I got from my parents...wonky knees and flat feet are among them. *sigh* Here's hoping we are all doing better soon!

Faye said...

I've had only one serious bout with back pain and remember it feeling like my spine melted into a pool of pain. Hope your back rights itself soon, Sayre. Warning: do not walk the seven hills of Tallahassee! I did that last week and it nearly did all of me in--including back!

I love this family story--you have such an interesting heritage. Makes me want to write the same.

hulagirlatheart said...

Fascinting. I so enjoyed this post and learning about your family. What a rich history you have!

Pamela said...

"Daffyd the Bang"
now that is what I would expect from the Brits, for some reason.

Lovely post. Lovely, lovely.