Sunday, October 20, 2013

I Had A Moment

The way people communicate has changed.  Once upon a time news was spread by letters, then telegrams and then telephones.  More recent avenues have been Email and Chat on the internet.  My most recent significant news came by way of Facebook in this post by my father:

My Dad used to quote Telly Savalas, " You're always a kid, until your old man dies." I'm not a kid any more.

And this was how I found out my grandfather had passed on.  He did send an email as well, but most people I know are on Facebook more than on their email inboxes.  I didn't mind.  In fact, I remember telling someone not long ago that Facebook was a marvelous way to make sure everyone knew what was going on.  I am friends with all of my family that has a FaceBook account, so when anyone has a heart attack or a baby or other life-changing event, that's the fastest way to spread the word.  

It's also the way I got to see all the wonderful obituaries and pictures I've never seen before.  Grandpa was a man of stature in his world and news of his death was published in many, many places.   Most of them said pretty much the same thing, like this one from the New York Times, or this one from Playbill, or this one from Broadway.  My favorite one so far though is from The Scotsman, with language colorful enough to do the man justice.

There were also links posted to some of his work: As Time Goes By, his last American film Nothing Lasts Forever (unreleased), and even a video of the 1967 Tony Awards where at about 21 minutes in you can see him accept his Tony for Best Actor from Lauren Bacall!

The Tony was for his role of Max in Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming."  That was also what he was doing when my mother met him for the first time.  She wrote:

The first time I met my father-in-law remains seared in my brain. Jan and I took the train from Thomasville to NYC , where Paul was appearing in "The Homecoming". I had never met him before, and didn't know what to expect. I was a little country mouse, experiencing a dizzying number new things. We arrived the day after the biggest blizzard in years, were met at the station by my step-mother-in-law, Roz, and little Emma. We rushed back to the hotel (my first taxi ride) to get ready for the play. Paul was already at the Theater. I slipped on the ice and fell down. On the taxi ride to the theater, we slid into a snow bank. Our seats were 4th row, center, so I quickly lost all sense of separateness, and became like an invisible part of the action onstage. I was paralyzed in my seat as the horrifying action unfolded, and terrified by this menacing man not 20 feet from me. At a particularly scary point, "Max", trying to hit "Lenny" with his cane, whacked the couch with such force that the tip flew off and just missed my right ear as it whizzed past. My startled yelp caused people to turn to look in my direction. After the show, we went to Paul's dressing room where he was holding court, dressed in a robe with Johnson's baby cream slathered all over his face, while his dresser, Robey, puttered around hanging up costumes. Hume Cronin and Jessica Tandy were there, raving about the performance, as were several other notables I forgot to note. I cowered near the wall, speaking only when spoken to. These glittering people must have thought I was a dolt, if they noticed me at all. Afterwards we went to Sardi's for a late supper. Paul as totally charming, but I kept expecting him to turn back into "Max", so I wasn't the best dinner companion. People kept coming to our table to congratulate Paul, including Tony Randall, Robert Vaughn and Julie Newmar. It was an amazing night, and later I fell into a coma-like sleep and didn't wake up until noon the next day. Darling Roz put me at ease right away, and it was the beginning of a long, wonderful relationship with my dear in-laws.

My brother Andy has recently been doing a fair bit of acting and posted this on Facebook:
While working on the film, "Solace", I had the opportunity to meet Sir Anthony Hopkins. As is his habit, Sir Anthony took time to speak to people on set, between takes. He struck up a conversation with me, and I mentioned that he knew my grandfather, Paul Rogers.

His eyes lit up, and he asked if he still lived in Highgate (Sir Anthony had been to the old man's house)... he then took me by the arm, and led me down the hallway, where he relayed the following to me:  "As a young boy in Wales, the first play I ever saw was a production of Julius Caesar, starring your grandfather. After the performance, I waited by the stage door, and got his autograph!"

Sir Anthony turned to me, took me by the shoulders, and said, "Imagine my excitement years later, to actually work with a man that I consider to be one of the giants of the theater!" 

He passed along his warmest personal regards, which were returned from London before my work on the film was finished.

Sir Anthony was in 2 films with my grandfather. "The Looking Glass War" and "The Tenth Man".

He was a man, bigger than life.  

But as amazing as all of that is, none of that is my Grandpa.  I mean, it IS, but to me, this was just his job.  The man I named my son after was a great gust of wind that blew into our lives from time to time with his silver mane, magnificent teeth and the most amazing eyebrows I'd ever seen.  Being children, we'd ask him about his hair (did you use "suddenly silver?" - answer, no - this is what color my hair is) and found out that he had a little kit with a brush, comb and some kind of gel that he used to tame his eyebrows when necessary.    He'd bring us odd little presents from time to time.  I still have my chinese pin cushion that he brought me once and the silver collapsible cup he got from Harold Pinter.  

It was always exciting when he and Roz came to visit - there were trips to the coast for sailing or to the Wildlife Refuge to check out the alligators.  My mental snapshot of my grandfather is of him standing at one of the pullouts at the Refuge, microphone in hand, arms up to record the sound of birds and crickets and the windblowing.  He had the greatest smile/look of concentration on his face.  It's hard to describe and I have no picture of it, but it's burned into my brain.

I went to London to visit after I graduated high school.  Dad took me - I think to get me away from my boyfriend as much as to visit family - and we stayed with my uncle in Twickenham (Vincent Van Gogh stayed in that house for a while).  My grandfather's house was much too small to accommodate guests, but he loved to have people over to visit.  He had a lovely little garden out back and a diningroom table large enough to fit several people around.  I remember him taking me to one of his pubs, just me and him, and we had drinks and talked.  Actually, I talked and he questioned and listened.  He was always much more interested in hearing about other people than talking about himself.  
A couple of years later, he was on Broadway doing "The Dresser" and came to Tallahassee to attend my wedding and read from the Song of Solomon.  

Grandpa and Roz arrived the night before just in time for the rehearsal.  He showed up with his long hair and in tennies.  His arm was in a sling, having fallen in the Botanical Gardens in New York.

Crazily, these are the only two pictures from the wedding.  There is one more, but he's in the background and barely visible.

He and Roz came to visit us in Oklahoma:

I think even then he wasn't all that thrilled with my husband (and I was getting there).  

After the divorce, I moved back home and a year or two after that, he came to visit.  I clearly remember washing dishes at my parent's house after dinner and he leaned up against the counter by the dirty dishes and, eyes twinkling, asked how my love life was going.  (Answer: quite well at that point, but ultimately a doomed relationship)  It was strange, but we had some very interesting and personal conversations over the years.  We talked about smoking and love and the nature of people.  He was a walking contradiction of old world gentleman and contemporary.  Maybe it was his work that kept him that way.

For a few years, he and Roz would come every October to visit and most years the family would rent a house down on St. George Island.  Corky was on the scene by then and Grandpa thought he was just lovely - and perfect for me.  

Corky had the idea for this photo - we call it "Album Cover".

 Here we are... three generations of Rogers.

I went to visit in 2004.  It was the last time I saw him.  A couple of weeks before our darling Roz died.  I have pictures from that visit somewhere in my house, but I can't seem to lay hands on them at the moment.  I am so grateful that I got to go at that time.  He was busy and stressed in caring for Roz and we visited by his rules so that no one would be overtired.  It was lovely to see them - even under those circumstances.

And now, Grandpa has died.  I am so sad, but was handling things well.  The memorial will be in November and I didn't think I would be going.  It's a crazy time of year for me.  The cost is a stumbling block.  I'm okay with it up to a point but then the number becomes large enough that other things come into play like needing to get braces for my kid and a replacement for my oven.  Corky put it into perspective for me though - he said that we could always make more money, but this is not a trip that can be done later.  Grandpa is gone and we are gathering to say goodbye.  That won't happen again.  But the other factor is that I'm also going to see my grandmother while I'm there.  She's 95 - how many more chances will I get to do THAT?  Probably none.  So I'm going.

As I walked into church today, I had a moment.  I was thinking about the trip and all the people I would see and it suddenly hit me - I would not be seeing Grandpa.  Never again would I go to London and see him.  Up until that moment, his death was a fact, but not a feeling because in reality, not much was going to change for me.  He hadn't visited here in years.  I hadn't been there in years.  He didn't like telephoning because he couldn't hear you, and while I would write to him on occasion, he rarely wrote back anymore.  But now?  I would be doing something that he would normally be front and center for - and this time, and all the times to come, he won't be.  The shock of that realization undid me for a bit, but I'm okay again now.

When I die, it won't be world news, but I would like it to be shared on FaceBook, if it still exists.  It helped me piece together the life that was my Grandfather's.  Maybe it'll help the people who knew me piece mine together in a similar fashion.  We will live forever on the internet, my Grandpa and I.


Anonymous said...

You have been very fortunate to have all the information coming in from all over. And that Paul was famous so there is more out there to find. Remember him for who he was to you and go to the places you shared; who know he may still be walking those same places and you meet again in your dreams. :) hugs and love my friend. Stephanie wilkinson

joanygee said...

Beautifully written and such amazing memories. Thank you for sharing. You inspired me to look online to find out about your wonderful grandfather. Safe travels.

Jill said...

Crazy stuff. My parents had me when they were older, and their parents had THEM when they were older so all my grandparents are gone. We cherish letting our girls spend time with their own grandparents (and my husband's grandma and step grandpa) because we know it won't always be the case. We don't know anyone famous, but someone is always famous for something. A recipe passed around workplaces, a sense of humor in a joke told and retold around the world-- even if they don't know it.

karmyn R said...

That is the best Memorial I've ever read. There is more I could say but after reading this all I can truly say is I wish I'd have gotten to meet him.

Anonymous said...

I don't know you and I didn't know your grandfather - but I enjoyed his work on screen. Incredible to think he would have been 100 next year. We are all getting old!