England Part XIV

 

The curtains were now opened in the upstairs bedroom facing the garden, always Grandmother’s bedroom to me, but in reality Freud’s bedroom until he died, and Anna Freud’s bedroom when she became ill towards the very end of her life and where she died.

Visiting as a teenager, I responded to the light in this large airy room, the painting of Grandmother’s mother by her father, Louis Comfort Tiffany–if memory serves–over her bed. I responded to the cut flowers Grandmother always had in a vase and the photos she had of my father here and there from when he was a boy in Vienna. I liked to go to the windows and gaze out at the garden.

With light now coming into Grandmother’s room, I searched for signs of her. Very little evidence remained, even though this room was hers for over thirty years. I was horrified to see a little placard on a table saying something like: Miss Burlingham was a companion and colleague of Anna Freud for many years and slept here. MISS Burlingham! If she had been MISS Burlingham, that denied the existence of her marriage and of her four children; therefore, of my father, of my sisters and brothers, and of me.

How narrow an opening does one have to adjust a telescope in order to FIX a certain vision for the public to see?

I had some moments by myself sitting on a bench in the garden. It was a beautiful day. The garden afforded breathing room and straightforward enjoyment.

Such lovely roses!

Finally, I went up the side stairs to the top floor, a whole floor–to what was once Anna Freud’s consulting room, now a large office for about five museum workers, containing Anna Freud and Grandmother’s library and archives of their work, primarily of course, Anna Freud’s.

Having never been in this room before, I now saw THE PLACE where my father had come for so many years to, I imagined, lie down on Anna Freud’s analytic couch–which was still there, and do the endless “talking cure.”

I thought, at least there were windows, lots of windows. At least the room was flooded with light. At least…

God, I couldn’t wait to get out of that house!

***
Jesse had come to say goodbye while I was still sitting in the garden. He and Scott were off to see some London architecture.

Paul and I said our thanks to the Freud Museum Director–who had been gracious and quite understanding about my negative responses to the world of Anna Freud and Grandmother from my past.

We walked down Maresfield Gardens and found a pub on Finchley road. Over a clear soup, for my stomach was still unwell, I told Paul, “I just can’t go to Golders Green Crematorium where my father’s ashes reside (along with Grandmother and Anna Freud’s). Even after all these years, it’s all just too weird and painful. I’ve had enough of THESE PARTICULAR GHOSTS.”

Advertisements

England Part XIII

I remembered the feeling throughout the whole house as told by the sign in the backyard:


Sometimes, you shifted weight from one foot to the other for ages before Grandmother and Anna Freud’s cook/housekeeper, Paula, came to answer the door. If you walked into the dining room, it was for a particular purpose. You didn’t walk upstairs unless very specifically asked to do so. You NEVER went into Sigmund Freud’s study. The warmest atmosphere is the house was in the kitchen where Paula made us grandchildren feel welcome with her wonderful cheese straws and Austrian cookies, and outside in the garden–which was tenderly groomed, with a lush lawn and a beautifully chosen and nurtured flowers.

The house was like those Russian dolls that open to reveal another secret doll, and another and another…what secret lay in this doll, you wondered? What secrets were upstairs behind bedroom doors? What secrets were in Professor Freud’s study? Behind what closed door did my father go when he spent so many hours in this house? What secrets kept him riveted to such an atmosphere? Why did everybody act so carefully in this place? Did no one laugh out loud; get excited about ANYTHING in any normal way?

Jeez, it was enough to give you the creeps!

Today, June 30th, I was INVITED into Sigmund Freud’s study; “Spend as much time as you would like,” I was told. I have to admit I was curious. I had a vague sense of the room from my father’s memorial…something about the combination of THE COUCH, the desk, the old books, the oriental carpets, the abundance of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian artifacts had a heavy commanding commemorating-lives-of-the-dead sort of tone.

I walked right in and took it all in.

The couch:

The books and Egyptian mummy masks:

The artifacts:

Some of Freud’s things were very beautiful, such as this sculpture of horse and rider:

A shrine of remembrance, I thought, as I left the room: Sigmund Freud to mythological representations from the past, Anna Freud to her father. How very strange that my father’s life was marked here!

England Part XII

Was it something I ate? Was it not eating anything since my weight watchers one-piece-of-toast-with-one tablespoon-of-peanut butter breakfast and my nibble on an old biscuit? Was in nerves?

Whatever it was, my stomach didn’t feel right. While Paul, Jesse and Scott went off to experience The London Eye, I rested on the hotel bed, hoping my stomach would improve.

At around seven, we set off for an Indian restaurant recommended by one of Jesse’s friends. It took us a while to find the place, which turned out to be small and intimate with no more than eight tables. The waiter fluttered around us making various suggestions. While we were deciding, I asked for water. Then, more water. “Another glass of water, please.” “Could I please have another glass of water?” I pointed to something on the menu, “I’ll have that, and another glass of water.” I thought I saw the waiter raise an eyebrow.

I was in a dire predicament. My stomach was lurching up, down, side-to-side. I was sure I was going to pass out. But right here? Could I make it out to the sidewalk where there was some air? The toilet? Was there a bathroom in this place? I suddenly stood up, grabbed my purse. “I’ll be right back,” I said.

I went round the corner, and gasped towards a waiter, “The ladies’ room?” He pointed to the stairs. I put one foot on the top step and out of my mouth poured the shiny, slimy, smelly greenish vomit like an organic slinky jumping down the stairs. I sidestepped the mess, ran into the bathroom and locked myself into a stall.

God! How could this happen? Now? Here? Over dinner with my stepsons?

I dampened a towel and wiped off my shoes. Took another damp towel and washed off my purse and my knees. Took another damp towel and washed out my mouth. Finally, I peaked out the door. A waiter had just finished mopping up the stairs.

I gave him a wan smile as I passed him on my way up and whispered loudly, “I am so very sorry.”

He nodded his head, as in apology accepted.

***

The next morning, we arrived at 20 Maresfield Gardens–The Freud Museum–just before 10:00 a.m., our appointed time.

I whipped out my iPad to capture my grandmother’s house with my newfangled device while Paul took a photo if me with his own iPad.

My first impression was, well, it is a beautiful house…substantial, even imposing, with such lovely roses in front. And, It’s kept up. Two blue placards stamp its historical significance onto the front red brick facade: one to honor Sigmund Freud, the other to honor his daughter, Anna Freud.

I pressed the intercom for the office to the left of the side door and was buzzed in.
We traipsed up the side staircase where the present offices are, through Freud’s bedroom, which became Grandmother’s bedroom after he died. The shades were still drawn. It was too dark to see anything much. We came out on the landing where there was light and space and I thought…this is a bit better, Paul and his sons can at least see what the house is like.

But, I shuddered as I went down the stairs to the front hall, the scene of so many ice-cold formal visits; the space a visitor (granddaughter) such as myself would be let into after you rang the front door bell. The secrecy of the house came back to me…so many nuanced relationships (alive and dead) for a young girl to contend with.

England Part XI

Back on my own again, I boarded the train to London. I thought about what lay ahead of me: reuniting with my husband, Paul; catching a glimpse of my two adult stepsons, Jesse and Scott, who had just done Wimbledon with their father; visiting Grandmother and Anna Freud’s house in Hampstead–The Freud Museum; visiting my father’s ashes at Golders Green Crematorium; seeing my old grammar school–Camden School for Girls; seeing my old house at 35 Queens Grove, St. Johns Wood. What else? I wasn’t sure.

The closer the train got to London, the colder I began to feel. I wished I could just wrap the warmth from Ann’s home around me and take it with me. Instead, I opened up a little old English biscuit left over from somewhere and gnawed away at that.

It didn’t help. I was REALLY hungry. I could just feel the old undertow reeling me back towards GHOSTS…

***

I heard my husband’s card fiddling with the hotel room door. I smiled inside.

Thank God!

I jumped up and hugged my husband hard, but not amorously for his boys, Jesse and Scott, were right behind him.

The four of us were scheduled for a private visit at The Freud Museum the next morning. I had very mixed feelings about this private visit, but I had set the whole thing up. I had lots of questions. Would it still look the same? Would I feel the presence of Grandmother? Of Anna Freud? Would Sigmund Freud’s presence still be in a shrine as it was when I returned in 1971 for my father’s funeral–the memorial for him in Sigmund Freud’s study? Would I feel the ghost of my father somewhere in that house?

England Part X

The hug goodbye with Diana was sweet and genuine and touched with sadness because I think we had the same thought: we would never see each other again. Tassie said a warm and quick goodbye and went off to work on an upcoming art show due to open in a couple of days.

I tried to focus on the present, which was Ann and Tiggy at Diana’s door, ready to steal me away.

So far my friend Ann and I had shared wine, fish and chips, old memories from our childhoods, and my iPad photos at the table reserved for locals at The Anchor in Walberswick. Now Tiggy grabbed my bag, placed it in the trunk of his fancy car and off we went towards their 300 year-old family farm.

I fell in love with the farm before I even saw it because, as soon as we turned off the main road, there was that peaceful feeling that comes with the privacy of miles of rolling hills of wheat…just like the vast calmness of my uncle’s farm in East Berlin, Pennsylvania.

And then after some minutes, their farmhouse–just as I thought it might be: large, rustic, made comfortable for living; containing the stories of generations of family members.

In I went to their kitchen, up I went to a guest bedroom, down I went onto the soft white eiderdown comforter on the bed, and snooze I did like I had slept over a hundred times. Good thing I did, too, because before long I was whisked out to Ann and Tiggy’s car to meet both their grown daughters and six of their grandchildren, with an age range from about six to sixteen. The fourteen year-old engaged me in a conversation about To Kill a Mockingbird. “So what do you like about it?” I asked him. “The trial scene. It’s quite interesting, really.” I smiled to myself on that one. The husband of one of the daughters, a principal of an elementary school, engaged me with conversation about the American educational system. “What’s this No Child Left Behind iniative?” he asked me. “Oh,” I replied, “a system of dumbing down vitality in learning for any kid with smarts.” It doesn’t work. Everybody hates it; it forces teachers to teach to tests.”

Back at the farm, while Tiggy made a Thai chicken dinner, Ann and I talked about our friendship, “It was sad and lonely for me,” Ann said, “when you went back to America; all my good friends in the village left.” We talked about my cousin Annie, also her good friend. “Annie and I used to go over to your grandmother and Anna Freud’s house to have dinner,” Ann told me. “I don’t remember there being much conversation. I also went with Annie to stay at your grandmother and Anna Freud’s house in London several times.” “You did!” I said shocked. “That’s two more times than I ever did. I was allowed to stay there once when I came from America to go to my father’s funeral. Let me tell you, it was weird!” We laughed, sharing some of the same wacko “Freudian” history. With my seat at the dining room table facing the kitchen, I could see that Tiggy was all ears.

Next morning, Ann looked through old photographs and found some of her marriage to Tiggy. Ah, that was the way I remembered Ann…and that village scamp!

Also, among the photos was one of her and Tiggy with some of their grandchildren when they were little kids.

This photo brought home the way Ann’s and my histories had diverged; Ann lived pretty much in the same area of England her whole life, married young, stayed married and lives a stable life rich with seven grandchildren nearby. I, on the other hand, was born in Johnson City, TN, lived in Hopewell, NJ. Riverdale, NY, London, UK, Princeton, NJ, Beloit, WI, Washington, DC, New York City, NY, Titusville, NJ, and Lawrence, KS, flitted from one marriage to the next until THE ONE (the story of which is in my memoir–Jewels That Speak), had two kids with one husband–not with THE ONE, was a teacher of gifted kids, wrote, and was always searching for answers…answers…answers.

Soon enough a baby grandson arrived for a day of grandparent care. We said a long goodbye chatting about a possible visit to the States while I brought my clean laundry in from their outdoor laundry line and folded it, and chatting some more while Ann gave the baby a stroll down the farm lane in hopes of settling him down for a nap.

An agreement between Ann and Tiggy had been made. She was to stay with the baby; he was to drive me to the station. So once more Tiggy swung my suitcase into the trunk of his fancy car. I settled into the passenger seat next to him and he drove off carefully but fast, like most men who have been in “the carriage trade” and know and love cars.

I don’t like saying goodbye, in fact, I hate it, so I asked Tiggy not to wait for my train–which he would have done because he is a gentleman now, no longer the village scamp…although he has kept that mischievous twinkle in his eye.

The last thing I said to him as he took off was, “Tell Ann I love her.”

England Part IX

On the way to Snape, Tassie chatted about her life; about how she much preferred English country life to living in London. “It’s so much more civilized, fun, and manageable,” she said. She whisked her car to the side of the road when she saw some azure blue sweet peas for sale. The first thing she did on entering her house, was to find an appropriate vase for these delicate flowers and place them on the table.

The outside, and the inside of Tassie’s house were sensational…a blend of old and modern that worked because it honored the aesthetics of old structures by simply cutting out part of an old wall while adding the beginning of a new modern addition onto it. TASSIE RUSSELL is a Suffolk artist whose large paintings illustrate her innate knowledge of form and space: ‘Separation and Distance’, ‘Pieces of Ground’, ‘Limits of Space’, ‘Descent’, ‘Protect’ are the names of some of them.

Tassie darted around her home, garden, and studio in much the same way she used to move as a little girl, her speech also bright and quick as it used to be. In her office in the new modern wing of her house I found a photo of her father, Clifford Russell, when he was young.

How we all loved Clifford! Paralyzed from the waist down as a young man fighting in WWII, he carried on with life with a witty sense of humor, quietness–he painted, and gusto–he could beat us at badminton racing around his back garden in his wheelchair.

Later, at Diana’s (Clifford’s wife, Tassie’s mother), I asked her what she had loved best about her husband. “Diana gave me a big infectious smile and said, “His sense of humor.” I knowingly, smiled.

Diana is another example of an eighty-nine year old woman for me to admire, living alone in her own home (the other was Vida). She said, “It gets a bit lonely, sometimes, but I like my independence.”

Diana chatted about the old days when we were next-door neighbors in Walberswick; both Tassie and Diana mentioned our lively–very American–Easter egg hunts. Diana told me of my father’s intense eyes, and she laughed and said she was always being called upon to go down to the marsh to organize Grandmother and Anna Freud’s horses, which had a tendency to “get away.”

Tassie decided to take me into Aldeburgh to have a bite of lunch before Ann and Tiggy were to come by and pick me up for the visit to their farm in Stowmarket. Over curried fish soup in this sunny seaside town, we discussed her career as an artist.

She knew I was going to London soon to spend some hours in Grandmother’s house, The Freud Museum. She entertained me with the tidbit that part of her training as an artist back in the day took her to this museum to portray her responses to Sigmund Freud’s famous collection of antiquities; it was part of her Fine Arts curriculum.

Hmm, I thought. The last time I was in THAT Sigmund Freud consulting room with THOSE OBJECTS was at the memorial for my father in 1971. What would it be like for me now?

England Part VIII

Invitations had come in through the pub phone, one while I was sipping my Adnams the evening before and taking notes about my little adventures on my iPad.

I slipped behind the bar to see who it was. “Tassie here.” “Tassie, so good to hear from you!” Of course I had spent days before the trip to England trying to track this little blond curly-haired agile girl down–her family our next-door neighbors in the village. What did she look like, now? “I’ll pick you up at the pub round 11:00,” she said with her clipped, crisp English accent. “We’ll go have coffee at my house in Snape. You can see my studio. Then we’ll drive to Aldeburgh so you can see Mum.”

I was excited to see Tassie, to see her art, to see her mother Diana–a favorite person to my whole family, and to hear some memories of my family from them. My friend, Ann, and her husband Tiggy had also come through with an invitation to spent the night with them at their farm in Stowmarket, which is not that far from Aldeburgh. So with somewhat mixed feelings, I made the arrangements to leave Walberswick a day early. Had I really seen everything and done everything I wanted to do here?

After dinner that night, I walked up the main street a ways, then down a side street to check out Grandmother and Anna Freud’s house. My footsteps were slow; I sort of dragged them along, like I did as a kid. The end of the lane was unfamiliar because what was once one large property is now divided into two, one new house standing where their garden used to be. I spent a moment staring into painful memories, these two spinsterish ladies who had–in a way–provided Walberswick, at the same time they had–in a way–taken my father away by claiming him for themselves. No wonder, I wanted to avoid them as a kid.

Yes, I thought, I was just about ready to leave Walberswick, its simple obvious joys; its complex hidden jabs, after one more night…to spend some hours in new places with old friends.

England Part VII

“The ghost of Ibn Gabirol over my shoulder as I wrote!” Professor Loewe influential scholar of Jewish studies and a poet had said. Well, the ghost of Grandmother and Anna Freud over my shoulder as I played in Walberswick village is somewhat how I felt as a kid. For who knew when they’d come clopping down the street on their horses, intruding on a child’s free time, looking like NO ONE ELSE, so sort of strangely embarrassingly not with the times back then–two spinsterish plain Janes.

My gut in a knot, I would wave from my bike, shout, “Hello!” but not stop. I did not want their constrained behavior to constrain me.

It was after five on June 27th. I was thinking of taking the ferry run by Dani Church across the River Blyth to Southwold to see if this seaside town was how I remembered it. Discovering I was too late for the operation of the ferry, I asked the pub’s bartender if a bike was to be had. He lent me his and off I went pedaling down the main street to the river, along the ridged path to the bridge, across the bridge following the sandy path overlooking marshes to the large field and a golf course that led in to Southwold.

In Southwold, I zipped along the narrow streets to the view of the North Sea. Put my feet down and snapped a photo. The bathhouses seemed larger and fancier than in the past but other than that the view comfortingly the same.

I wended my way down side streets, admiring the flowers and quaint shops in alleyways. Passing a pub or two where people were sitting outside enjoying the sea air (no seating outside when I was a kid), drinking no doubt the local acclaimed Adnams, I began to long for a sit down at my pub, The Anchor, with a cool refreshing Adnams of my own to sip. I glanced at my watch. It was seven. I had to admit my legs were sore; time for me to go home.

Pedaling slower now, I made my way back towards the River Blyth to Walberswick.

England Part VI

Not mentioned in the five England blogs before this one–all about my visit back to the Walberswick village in Suffolk from my youth–are the ghosts of two elderly influential women relatives: Grandmother and Anna Freud.

Grandmother was the person sort of hiding in the background of our village life, but the person who pulled strings. At first living just three cottages down and across the street from ours, her presence was “in the air.” Later, she moved into a more ample house at the end of a sidestreet near The Anchor.

We were invited to garden parties at her cottage, rather constrained gatherings; with the stronger hidden yanks coming from Grandmother’s live in companion, Anna Freud. For, if we were trying to please Grandmother, it was Grandmother who was trying to please Anna Freud. In any case, the parties felt like false performances; something we HAD to participate in. We would have much rather been on our own having fun in the village.

But, Grandmother was Dad’s mother. She had bought our cottage for relatives. She owned it, so to speak…in that way, we owed her the time of removing our jodhpurs and adorning ourselves with dresses (my sisters and mother), or smart shorts and ironed shirts (my bothers). My father, if memory serves, could get away with his same old brown corduroy jacket. He could get away with a lot!

Anna Freud is, of course, The Anna Freud, the daughter of Sigmund Freud. It was really Grandmother who was Anna’s live-in friend and companion, Grandmother who had become a colleague of Anna’s back in Vienna, Austria before WWII, not the other way around.

You see this trip back to the magical village of Walberswick is not as simple as it looks; for it has a strong undertow.

England Part V

What would a visit to the past be like without actual people being a part of it?

I was just lying down for a nap on my bed at The Anchor around five or so, when there came a knock on my door. And there was Ann, my gadabout friend from my Walberswick childhood, 40+ years later!

We eyed each other in a friendly manner, eager to get to the root of each other and erase the 40+ years as quickly as possible.

“Shall we go down to the pub?” Ann said. “My husband, Tiggy’s, down there and so is my sister Rita and her husband. Perhaps you’ll remember, Tiggy?”

And as soon as I saw Tiggy, I knew him as that good-looking village scamp he once was!

We sat in the corner seat reserved for locals and Ann and Tiggy treated me to wine (The Anchor has a good selection) and fish and chips (also excellent) while we told stories on each other from the past.

Before they left, Ann made me promise I would visit her mother in the village the next day. I had planned to do this anyway. And she invited me to come and visit them on their farm in Stowmarket.

Next morning, I walked up the village green and down the little street to see Ann’s mother, Vida.

Vida was the person who would welcome me into her family fold on a Sunday after her church and insist that I be included in their special Sunday dinner–usually a roast of some kind, even if it meant her own portion was diminished. Now, living alone in her house since her husband died, she gets many visitors because she was always so kind to everyone in the village in her younger years.

The door to Vida’s house was open, the morning sun lighting the path in. Within a very few moments we were sharing stories and laughing together. And Vida, sensing I think that I like literature, told me about how her mother had not had an easy time of it and had not been able to give her a lot of attention when she was growing up, but that her mother had written her a poem for her thirteen birthday, which meant a lot to her. At eighty-nine Vida proceeded to recite the poem by heart with beautiful diction in the most heartfelt proud manner:

We may write our names in albums
We may trace them on the suns
We may chisel them in marble
With a firm and skillful hand.
But the pages soon are sullied
Soon each page will fade away
Every monument will crumble
Like all earthly hope decay.
But my child, there is an album full of leaves of snowy white
Where no other name is tarnished
But for ever pure and bright.
And in this book of life, God’s album
May your name be penned with care
And may all who herein may write how their names forever there.