This is a warning: if you’re a neighbor of mine and you stop by in the afternoon for a cup of tea, you may well end up interviewed here. That’s what happened to Elisabeth Abrahams, dancer and dance therapist, playwright and yoga teacher, who lives just up the hill. Born and raised in England, Elisabeth is in her 80’s now. I’ve chosen to break my conversation with her into two parts; this is the first.
We sip black tea with milk on the deck and I ask her the same questions I asked Tom.
“On a routine day in your life, what makes you happiest?”
“What makes me happiest?” Elisabeth reflects for a moment. “Oh, when it gets to be around 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon, I like to sit down with a cup of tea – my latest tea taste is China Oolong tea – I don’t have milk in that – and some kind of a biscuit, a cookie.” It is exactly 4:00 and I wish I had some cookies, biscuits, in the house, but no.
photo credit: Susan Pyburn
She laughs to herself asking, “Should I say this?” before going on. “The other thing I really like to do – this is earlier in the day – the tea thing takes place at about, you know, tea time – the other thing is to draw a warm bath in the morning,” she sighs contentedly, “and sink into it and plan the day.” She smiles. “But usually what’s happened is the telephone goes, and my husband walks in with the telephone in his hand, and I have to get out of the bath,” she laughs, “and answer the telephone.”
(Take note: avoid Elisabeth too early in the day.)
Joe is 97 and going strong. They met on a blind date in San Diego is 1978 and they’re still dancing. When I met them a few years ago they were both retired from Atascadero State Hospital where he’d been a psychiatrist and she a dance therapist.
Elisabeth and Joe cutting the cake for his 97th birthday
I ask her, “In general, what activities give you the greatest joy?”
“Dancing,” she says right away. “Dancing of several kinds. I love to go to a ballet class, do the barre and do the moves to the music. I like to go the Madonna Inn and listen to music of the 30’s and 40’s and 50’s – and the 20’s! – and dance with Joe. I like to do a modern dance class if I can find one. That hasn’t happened for a while. And we love to dance around the house!
“I also like to read plays,” she smiles broadly, “and I should say, the best thing I’ve done in my life was to take the play I wrote to Edinburgh. I felt like a star.” Elisabeth is glowing. She takes a long sip of her tea and sets down the cup firmly. “I really enjoyed that.”
“Against the Tide – a portrait of a marriage” is a one-act play about Melanie Hahnemann, the Marquise Marie Melanie d’Hervilly Gohier Hahnemann, and her husband, Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the founder of homeopathy. It ran from August 26 to August 30, 2009, in the Vault Theatre, a venue of the Edinburgh Festival.
“And I do like politics!” she says. “If the truth be known, I like arguing.
“There’s a story from when I was working at ASH that illustrates it. They were looking for someone to be on a committee. They wanted somebody from each of the services and I’d recommended a young woman, a friend who’d come to work there recently. When she was turned down, I said I’d do it. I waited and waited to hear whether I was to go to this committee meeting but I was never called, so at last I went to my boss and asked what was happening. He shuffled his feet around and he said, ‘Um, you’d better go and ask Brenda.’
” So I go on to Brenda and she hems and haws and finally she comes out with it: ‘Well, you’re considered to be a little too argumentative.’
“And I grinned from ear to ear! She’d been sitting there, of course, so uncomfortable.
‘I am!’ I said, ‘I was brought up to be! That’s why they sent me off to study law!’ Brenda smiled and heaved a sigh of relief and said the other woman had been there long enough now and would I be satisfied if she sat on the committee. Of course I would, and that was the end of it.”
I ask Elisabeth, “What experiences in your life changed the way you see the world the most dramatically?”
“Well, that’s an easy one. In midlife, I went to UCLA to study Dance Therapy. I’d had a broken marriage, I was in my forties, and I was fortunate enough to meet Allegra Fuller Snyder, who is Buckminster Fuller’s daughter. I was a solid Churchillian Conservative in England, you know, didn’t believe in the National Health Scheme when it came in – I was most vocally against it. But I was ready to hear Allegra.”
The stories about that will have to wait, though. It’s time to walk the dog.