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Gordon Usticke

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Rembrance of Grace - Part One

March 2002

Grace 1965

Grace 1965

In my life there have been many remarkable women, one of these was my Aunt Grace. When she died in 1997, at the age of eighty-six, she was the last person to have known me as a baby and throughout my life. Her death came when I was one month shy of sixty-two years old. When a person with such a long time involvement in our world dies, our life becomes diminished. We gain a new and heightened sense of our own mortality as we realize that we are next in line to depart. April 1 this year will be the ninety-first anniversary of her birth. This picture of Grace I took in 1965. Her husband, my Uncle Val, told me it was her favorite picture of herself.

Grace was a very significant person in my life. I lived with her, neglected her shamelessly, and achieved a rare intimacy with her in the week before her death. She was a woman who transcended a tragic event in her youth and became beloved by many. Although never bearing a child of her own, she was a mother figure to many beginning with my cousin Norbert in 1928 and ending with my great-nephew Brian in the 1996. Almost everyone in my maternal family was taken care of by Grace at one time or another. Grace was the one who nursed my grandmother and grandfather through their terminal illnesses.

Grace 1934

Grace 1934

When I was six months old till I was one year old, Grace took care of me. I find it amazing that I did not know about this until I was far along in life. When I was in my late fifties, I found this out. Grace, one day casually mentioned to me that she had taken care of me from the time I was six months old till I was one year old. My mother had gone off to England to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. I knew about my motherís trip to England but I had always thought it had occurred before my birth. Although I have no memories of this, nor did my mother ever speak of her absence during this vital time, I have often wondered what significance or consequence this absence of my mother might have had for me.

My first memory involving Grace was sad to say quite pecuniary. I remember getting birthday cards from her for several years in the early nineteen-forties that contained a five-dollar bill, a great amount of money for that day. I remember being eager to receive these cards and my great disappointment when subsequently the cards came but they contained no money

I remember traveling by train, alone, to Dayton, Ohio, when I was six years old. Grace met me at the station and she always chuckled at how the duffle bag that I brought was as big as I am.

50th Anniversary

50th Anniversary

Again in nineteen hundred forty-five, I went to Dayton, Ohio again alone and stayed with my grandparents for the two months of summer. Grace did not live with her parents but her future husband, Val Roach, was a roomer there and he and Grace were dating. They married the following year, when Grace was thirty-five years old and went on to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary in 1996. Grace and I spent much time together during this very special summer for me.

My only memories involving Grace during this summer occurred while she was taking care of my four cousins. My cousins Joy, Karen, Marlene and Gary were seven, six, three and one year old respectfully.

These two months in 1945 were the only time, during my childhood, I felt to be a member of a family. So special was this time for me and under the influence of the movie, ďA Song to Remember,Ē I remember wrapping some dirt from my grandparentís backyard in a handkerchief and taking it back to New York City. I kept this dirt, still in the handkerchief, well into my adulthood.

A strong recollection I have of Grace is of her long, dark hair. Her hair was very thick and reached below her hips. Her hair was quite different from my mother. My mother was blond and had very fine hair that never grew very long. Graceís hair was more like my grandmother whose hair was dark, thick and long.

Val, Mother & I 1950

Val, Mother & I 1950

The last time I saw Grace as a child was in 1950 when I was 15 years old. She and Val had come to New York City for a visit. She was the only relative to have ever visited me in New York City, except for my Uncle Jim, who stopped in during World War II on his way overseas.

Grace and my mother were really quite different for sisters. My mother had the quirkiness of my grandfather and Grace had the earthiness of my grandmother. Throughout their lives, Grace and my mother had a strong love-hate relationship. My mother, three years younger than Grace, was more intellectually curious, read constantly, dramatic in style, snobbish, fragile in spirit, eccentric and physically graceful. Grace was energetic and possessed a photographic memory of dates and events. Grace was also psychic, sociable, down to earth, and strong in spirit. Both sisters shared a sense of adventure and strong libidos that frequently got them in trouble in their youth. Grace was forever the caretaker and convivial companion. In contrast, I have no memories of my mother helping or befriending anyone. Actually, this is not strictly true. While I lived with my mother, she told me often that when she died she wanted her body given to a teaching hospital to help doctors to learn. I did this after her death in 1983. A year or two later I received a letter from Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital thanking my mother and me for her valuable gift to medical education.

Grace, James & Claire 1918

Grace, James & Claire 1918

To understand Grace and to understand my mother one must go back to their youth and relate the stories told by my mother and subsequently Grace. In the next part I will do so.
 

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