The Death of Sam

I am with my Mum this evening and we are talking about her step-Father Sam, who died 26 years ago today. Nonny (my Grand-Mother) couldn’t have moved from East Germany to London without the help of a man – not for his money, but his emotional support which she needed after living away for 14 years.

Sam was married but his marriage was definitely on the rocks. In those days both parties had to agree to divorce, or you had to have strong evidence of adultery, desertion (for 7 years), physical or mental cruelty. Nonny and Sam lived in sin for 3 years before his wife cooperated.

As a teenager Mum & her sister Karen said to Sam, “You’re not our Father and you can’t tell us what to do!” He said, “I know.”

Nonny & Sam married on Euston Road at the registry office in 1967.

Mum said he was a good man, especially for Nonny; he looked after her. She was a bit vulnerable and he had the quality of friendship, as well as being her husband and love. He was kind and generous and easily approachable.

Mum says, “As I grew older, I regarded him more as my Father. My real Father only asked me once to come to East Berlin, but it was on my son’s birthday so I couldn’t. I went there on my Dad’s birthday instead. Usually if I wanted to see him I had to invite myself, which I did.

In England, before they were married I was ashamed of Nonny & Sam not being so, and I didn’t know how to introduce Sam – the situation was unusual.”

Sam knew Nonny & Gramp from way back in the late 40s through the Communist party.

Mum says, “After living in East Berlin I vowed never to join the Communist Party, or any party. You might accuse me of sitting on the fence but I speak from experience.”

Nonny & Sam’s marriage was always positive, favourable and stable. He nor she ever did the dirty. She was 45 when they got together; she had been through a lot, lived in several countries and wasn’t having more children. She was ready for a calm life and he was the right man.

When Sam was younger he was devoted to the Communist Party. He founded and ran a non-profit organisation which sold stationery. He did not particularly share artistic interests with Nonny (she was an artist) nor did he have much taste. Nonny made sure he wore nice clothes and he didn’t mind. She wore the trousers in a nice way.

Sam’s influence helped in Mum’s choice of husband. His caring nature proved enduring and Mum was affected by this. His easy going affability won over the volatility represented by her Father.

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Getting Back to my own Life

Years of taking my clothes off for artists has brought me to a point of wanting to change roles, to find my own model to work out poses with, and then take my time finding his essence and bringing that out.

Just over a month ago I found an artist I wanted to work with individually as his muse, and grow with him in a new artistic relationship. This is proving mutually beneficial and he has honoured our dialogue by getting undressed for me too.

In the Summer of ’89, my Grandfather, John Wolfard, had saved up enough money for a visit to his homeland. He had left the United States in 1948 when on attempting to marry an English woman and bring her to live with him, the FBI intervened. Both John and my Grandmother-to-be were members of the Communist party, and in his case, the only people who knew (in the US) were his ex-wife, and the friend who had signed him up. These were cagey times, and after Mary’s entry was denied on this count, and there had been some interrogation, John knew the only thing was to quit his home and head for Europe. He couldn’t get more than a travel visa, but he was hopeful. As it happened, Mary and her Communist connections were able to find him basic work, and later, when no renewal was afforded, migration became the modus operandi.

Gramp, as we called him, said that this one and only visit home after all those years, was the best thing that he had ever done. He stayed with his brother Hilton and spent time catching up with his 1st wife (there had been 5 in all) Olga. They had married young, but meeting in their 70s, it was sad to feel how bonds were still there, and yet, by then it seemed too late to go back for good. East Berlin was his home and would be the place where he died, if only physically still part of the East.

He left the US for love – of a woman. Political beliefs came into it massively, but without the promise of her it could have been more tempting to remain as many did, and lie low during the witch-hunt season.

He also left an academic career which could not be grafted on to the East German system or indeed any in the 2nd world which was his oyster. Sure he could translate materials bound to leave the East, but this jolting move was not one he had planned on.

To me it seems a shame to never fully settle after so many years; due to lack of choice, so that when that option finally came when Gramp was a pensioner, he was no longer able to wholly appreciate it. In order to just visit the old country he had saved money by each year crossing the Berlin Wall (which pensioners were allowed to make a day trip doing annually) and receiving the sum which the West Germans had put aside for the souls who braved the crossing; a welcome gift. This had been stashed for a few years until enough was made for the plane fare. Ironically this all culminated in the same year that East Germany ceased to exist.

From this tale my Mother’s life began, and in her migration to London I also find parallels in my own life. Time seems to  quicken. With the speed of communication now, repeated family patterns may emerge sooner.

I felt I was exiled from life a while, removed from my natural group and stuck in a limbo, unable to settle. To be able to reconnect now with a vital development of my self from bygone days makes me feel more whole. The man I model for and who also poses for me, is part of an old friendship group. It feels like coming home. Such a joyful feeling to achieve that. Even the room he lives in carries old energies that remind me so strongly of our youth – he has lived in it (and so have some others) since the time that I too had a room like that. A room with narcotics bouncing off the walls, freaks at every turn and sex coming up from the floor! A den of such proclivity. It excites me. How sorry I was when I had to leave my room like that, my underground flat, 12 years ago. But at least this remaining one has daylight. And although everything seems more fragmented than I imagined, people are still there – sparks in the air waiting to fly.

Aaron England