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.”

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 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 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.