This past year became a watershed for me. I marked my 50th birthday in April, and then my daughter celebrated her 21st birthday within days of my milestone. But these weren't the most significant events.
At the end of July, my first love (I guess first crush might be more apt), Simon Ward died. He was a British actor who was a significant player in my hopes and dreams for most of my teen years. (My obsession was a constant nuisance for my family). Within a day of his passing, I was reading about the death of Angharad Rees, an actress who'd been the heroine of Poldark, a British mini-series that I'd watched and loved during this same period.
Then in December, my beloved 88 year old father had a fall and passed away within the space of a week. My daughter and I needed to move out of our house and in with my mother, so that I could care for her in my childhood home. My past was slipping away and these changes were brutal and painful for me.
Obviously, the passing of my Dad was very traumatic. But why did the deaths of Simon Ward and Angharad Rees affect me so strongly? I believe it's because it was finally clear to me that the girl that I was is gone, and all the hopes and dreams that she had were never going to materialize. A tiny part of me had never stopped hoping that maybe my dreams could still come true. Now I obviously need some new ones. But I'm still trying to make my peace with the old ones.
Please allow me to go back to the beginning. For as long as I can remember, I have been an Anglophile. Just the idea that a country existed that had a queen who occasionally rode around in a carriage and wore a crown seemed proof to me that fairy tales were not necessarily fantasy.
And there was dress-up. If we were going to put on costumes and make up stories, I always wanted to play – as I put it - "old fashioned." I loved the idea of the past and history. Having the perfect costume extended to Halloween, of course, and I was blessed with a mother who sewed beautifully. Of course I had to be a queen complete with an elaborate gown and crown one year, and Laura Ingalls Wilder in a prairie dress and bonnet another.
Flash forward another five years or so. I didn't have much to feed my obsession until one Sunday night when I was going to turn off the TV and stopped to watch a man gallop his horse across the screen, greet a foreign princess and welcome her to England. This was the opening chapter in a drama called "The Six Wives of Henry the VIII" and I was probably the only preteen in America who would spend the rest of her adolescence watching "Masterpiece Theatre" religiously.
I was smitten and mesmerized. This was the closest I was ever going to get to time travel and that's when I knew this was what I wanted to do. Even if at that point I thought I was going to do it all – research, write, design the costumes, compose the music, act and direct or even produce historical dramas.
A year or so later, I discovered Simon Ward, a British actor who was the star of a film about the young Winston Churchill. And there was something about him that I really liked. He was blonde and handsome (at least I thought so) and looked like an aristocrat.
Up to that point, I'd never had a crush on anyone. This was the age of pop stars - Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy, etc. They really hadn't done a thing for me. Granted, with my obsession, I suppose it was inevitable that it would be an actor with a British accent. But I remember consciously thinking that it was about time for me to have my first crush (I was always in a hurry to grow up) and this guy would do perfectly.
I spent a lot of time in my room. (My Mom's nickname for me was the Ivory Tower Princess. I decided at one point that my production company would be called ITP productions. Today I have itpwebdesign, instead). In sixth grade, I cranked out a novel about a young woman named Rachel who was a lady in waiting at the court of Elizabeth I. It had no plot line. It would be a few years before I realized that if bad things don't happen to the characters you love, there's no story worth telling. But mostly I wrote screenplays, and scribbled out bits of themes for the music, designed costumes and movie posters, read tons of historical novels and hated doing my homework and studying for tests.
And I had lots of great music to listen to for my soundtracks. Ralph Vaughan Williams, William Walton, Edward Elgar, and eventually George Gershwin and Debussy. And there was also Rick Wakeman's "Six Wives of Henry VIII" and Alan Parson's Edgar Allen Poe album. And I can't forget Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Their stuff was perfect. It was by turns romantic and very dramatic.
Keith Emerson's Piano Concerto No. 1 (I wish he had written more), was the soundtrack for my own Poldark adventure. In the summer of 1976 (which was also the year of my first visit to England), I was a volunteer guide at Rockford, the 18th century home of General Edward Hand. He lived here in Lancaster, was a physician and Washington's Adjutant General in the American Revolution. I had a beautiful gown that my mother had sewn for me for the Bicentennial celebrations, and I wore it for the candlelight tours before Christmas.
But in my mind, I was the young colonist who had fallen for a British soldier, one of Ross Poldark's comrades. After the war, we were unwelcome in America, and ended up on Nampara's doorstep, looking for a safe haven. My husband was crippled by his war wounds (all of my characters' names escape me now) and he did not survive long in Cornwall. With his death, my young American widow was ostracized by the community, and had to deal with the gossip that Poldark was romantically involved with her (they were not), while comforting her in her grief. Unfortunately, I don't remember how her story ended.
In the summer of 1984, I made my second trip to England and finally met my first love. By this time, I was a college graduate with a degree in history and still trying to figure out how to launch a career as an historical researcher and writer. (My dream had almost been completely crushed by my advisor at college. He told me there was no such job). At least I was over the worst of my obsession with Simon Ward (having learned several years before that he was happily married, old enough to be my father and had daughters my age).
But he was so kind and gracious and charming. He just smiled politely when I blurted out that I'd been following his career for years and I hoped to work with him one day. I still remember my mother's comment when I showed her the photo my girlfriend had taken of us – "that's the first time I actually thought he looks handsome."
My last photo is of another bucket list moment in England in 1984. On another summer afternoon I donned an antique nightgown (it looked exactly like a white summer gown from the turn of the century) and hat, and strolled the grounds of Crathorne Hall in Yarm, County Cleveland, England. My childhood friend Linda convinced me to sit down at a table that had been set for tea for a guest at the hotel (and it hadn't been cleared yet) and play lady of the manor long enough for her to photograph me.
In this story, I was Elizabeth Eshton, the American cousin visiting the lord of the manor, Colin Hathaway (played by Simon Ward, naturally). Elizabeth's former governess was making life hell for everyone (because she had her designs on Colin, even though he was married to Amy, a suitable lady). And Elizabeth was going to have a very hard time making her mind up if she was going to fall for and marry Colin's younger brother Jack or the young village vicar. Of course now we could say that I was preparing for my role on Downton Abbey.
Suffice it to say, I'm trying to come up with some new dreams and get back to writing while I open a whole new chapter in my life.