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.