May 17, 2018

Dad’s Senior Living Facility

And I managed to arrive in one piece in Seattle… It also happened to be the day of the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry to Meagan Markle. For whatever reason, I used that as a springboard to a family story. In writing that, something clicked in my need to tell stories. I think it was the realization that, without Tommy, I had somehow lost what little local family I had and that if I did not start to tell stories of me, my life, Steve, and Tommy, that the stories would die with me and I didn’t want to see that happen. And once I opened the lid to this particular box, little did I know what was likely to come out.

Dateline – Seattle, Washington

2800 miles and 5 days of pretty continuous driving later and I have arrived at my destination. I am currently ensconced in bed in my father’s senior living facility apartment. After six years of visits (and free lectures on elder health to the residents), I am fairly well known and allowed to more or less come and go as I please without comment. I can think of worse places to retire. Two bedrooms, view of the creek and walking distance to the shopping mall, cineplex, transportation hub to downtown, and multiple restaurants.

Today’s drive was pretty uneventful. Rain throughout the mountains of Western Montana which made the views rather dull and gray. The Idaho panhandle and Eastern Washington were sunny and warm, but unexciting other than the Columbia River gorge which is somewhat grander than I remembered. I used to cross it routinely in med school, particularly the year I spent in Pullman at WSU but it seemed rather ordinary then. Having been away for a while, the scope of the west becomes much clearer. It grayed up again ascending the eastern slopes of the Cascades and I could have done without the hour delay at Snoqualmie Pass while we had to wait for blasting as part of the enlargement of I-90 around Lake Keechelus.

Not sure what all I will be doing the next few days. Still have some old friends in the area whom I may get together with and the whole family is getting together Sunday night at my sister’s place. My sister (the tattoo artist) is becoming pretty insistent that I should get some ink this trip (I have resisted so far) and a permanent memorial to both husbands of some sort may be in the cards. If it happens, it’s going somewhere where it only gets shared with those who need to see it…

I’m vaguely thinking of heading to California middle of next week, then working my way back to AL across the southern US in a great circle route, but that may change.

I’m working on various things for Tommy’s memorial while I am gone. If any of you have pictures or video of him to share, please pm me and let me know. I’m scouring various archives and computer files as well.

Prince Harry and Meagan Markle

A family story for the Royal Wedding day… (My Saunders cousins are more than welcome to offer corrections as my grandfather was well known to stretch and embellish the truth..)

My grandfather, John Bertrand de Cusance Morant Saunders, was born a British colonial in South Africa during the Edwardian era. His father, Frederick Anastatius Saunders, was a physician from a large Victorian family in suburban London with a knack for self reinvention and marrying well, who had originally emigrated there after his first wife developed Potts disease (TB of the spine). Her health required a more salubrious climate so off they went on a steamship to Grahamstown, South Africa. She eventually succumbed and he returned to England in search of a suitable replacement. His second wife, my great grandmother, came from a prominent Scottish family and went out to South Africa to get married after the usual 19th century arrangements had been made.

John Bertrand de Cusance Morant Saunders

World War I ended when my grandfather was 15 and, the following year, he was called into his father’s study, told his trunks were being packed and he, like all relatively wealthy colonial boys of good family, was shipped back to England to boarding school and further education. He did not see his family again for more than a decade.

During that time, he matured from a gawky teen into a handsome athletic man. He was tall, well educated, just exotic enough to be interesting and became the sort of extra man that was invited to country house weekends to fill out the numbers and he mingled with the Bright Young Things set in Edinburgh and London. He was a prodigious golfer and placed highly at the British Open several times.

He continued with his studies, at the University of Edinburgh School of Medicine (where he eventually met and married my grandmother, but that’s another story) and through his Scottish family, mixed and mingled with his various cousins, including two of his generation, Oliver and Margaret Messel, grandchildren of his Scottish grandmother’s sister. In his comments to me in later years, he quite liked Oliver (who became a famous London stage designer), but found Margaret a bit pretentious and a calculating social climber.

Margaret did well in the marriage department. Her first marriage produced a son, Anthony Armstrong-Jones and her second marriage, to the Earl of Ross, produced a title. Little Anthony grew up to be a bad boy photographer in swinging 60s London where he caught the attention of Princess Margaret Rose, the Queen’s sister. They married unhappily ever after in a 1960s royal wedding where nobody got what they wanted other than Lady Ross who saw her social ambitions realized.

The devastating portrait of her in the Netflix series, The Crown, is quite accurate as far as I can tell.

The moral of the story: Royal weddings are not always the end of the fairy tale. See Act II of Into the Woods.

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