There will be a private Celebration of Christine's Life held on December 20, 2015, and her ashes will be scattered at sea off the coast of Santa Barbara on December 21, 2015
When she walked into a room, everyone turned. Red hair flaming, she drew them in with her English accent and her larger-than-life theatricality. She was the center of attention – always.
She and Daddy threw parties for their friends, for the cast members of the plays she was in. My brother Bruce and I would fall asleep to the sound of their laughter as they played charades and sang around the piano that she played so beautifully. She threw wonderful birthday parties for us as well – always with a theme, always with some unusual decorative features. And that didn’t end when we grew up and moved away. I was home for a visit on the occasion of my 24th birthday, and Mummy presented me with 24 gifts, the 24th of which was a 24-carat necklace – made out of 24 real carrots.
She tended the most beautiful garden when we lived on Modoc Road in Santa Barbara. There were roses of red and yellow, and there must have been some cross-pollination, because one year, we noticed some peach-colored roses popping up in between the reds and the yellows. There were hanging baskets of crimson fuchsias that attracted humming birds with their iridescent breasts shimmering in the sunlight, and there were purple and red bougainvillea plants clinging to and wrapping around the wooden posts that held up the roof of our home. There was a waxy vine right outside of our kitchen door, with flowers that had an inner wax-like star shape surrounded by petals that felt like velvet. There was a purple passion plant, twisting and clinging to the slats of wood at one corner of our fence that was visited every year by hundreds of monarch butterflies, producing an explosion of undulating color. Mummy never stopped gardening – outside her little apartment where she spent the last two decades of her life, she created a fairyland of colors and scents reminiscent of an English garden in miniature.
She grew up in England, an only child of privilege, with nannies and governesses, but not much attention from her mother or her music professor/concert pianist father. When her parents separated, all the trappings of wealth disappeared, and the next experiences she chose to speak about were the memories she had of living through WWII in England. After the war’s end, she and her mother left England for the States and ended up in California. There, her teaching career began, and she taught, on and off, for many years.
She was an elementary school teacher, she was an art teacher, and she was a theater teacher. When she taught second grade at the Howard School, she was forever insisting that we save milk cartons, bits of string, walnut shells, orange peels – all for the magical projects she would invent to engage her young students. Later, in her studio at the Modoc Road address, she gave classes in oil and watercolor painting, often helping a student transform an amateurish painting into a masterpiece with the suggestion of just a single brush stroke here or the gentle smudging of paint there.
Her own paintings, which she exhibited for several years at the weekend Cabrillo Boulevard arts and crafts show, numbered in the hundreds, and her paintings probably still hang in homes all over the county. She painted oils on canvas and on Masonite, and while her subjects were varied, she had a real love of windows and doors. She also painted watercolors, and those paintings tended to be sunnier and lighter, with an emphasis on examples of nature’s bounty. She also worked with pen and ink and, late in her life, she created a series of drawings of anthropomorphic mice for use by a friend who was opening a little gift shop filled with mouse-inspired trinkets.
For many years, Mummy was an actress well-known to Santa Barbara’s community theatergoers. She set the stage on fire with her roles in The Women, The Boy with a Cart, Hello Dolly, The Chalk Garden, The Rose Tattoo – just to name a very few of the dozens of productions in which she had starring roles.
Everyone who knew Mummy in the last decades of her life knows how much she loved her precious dogs – Shelley, Sammy, Roxy, Ginger – but what they may not know is that Mummy had a place in her heart for all animals. When we were growing up, we had cats, guinea pigs, turtles, goldfish, but we also had a Mexican collared lizard who always greeted Mummy by lifting his chin up so she could stroke his neck. And we had a squirrel monkey, Mr. Higgins, who provided hours of entertainment for the entire family over a period of several years. She never said no to us when we asked if we could bring yet another pet into the household, and all of the animals we ever had gravitated toward Mummy, because she showered each one with such loving attention.
Mummy met our father at a USO dance in 1951, and they didn’t stop dancing together for the next 29 years. They created a joyful life for us when we were children, as only the very best parents do. When the music ended for them as a couple, Mummy just kept reinventing herself for the next four decades. She taught theater, she directed several plays, she taught painting at a retirement home, she continued gardening, and she began writing poetry. She self-published a book of poetry and, at the time of her death, she was still working on a second collection of poems.
Mummy’s death has left a hole in our hearts that can never be filled, but she has also left behind memories of a life well-lived, a life of vibrant colors and inventive games, of laughter and music, of theater and beautiful poetry.
NOTE: If you would like to post a comment, you will have to register first. Sorry about that, but if you don't mind registering, it would be great to hear from you. Thanks!