I hardly ever miss an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” Since my tender years, I have always questioned my roots; not only by way of origin as this show suggests but also in the way of mannerisms and character. I might have mentioned this once but when I was watching three 2 week old kittens play at the backyard of my neighbour’s house, I was thrown by my mother’s friend’s comment when she explained that the reason she named the kittens Fidget, Spicy and Dainty was because of their different personalities.
As a young girl, my mother always said that I was naughty. Now she says instead, that I was curious and headstrong. Perhaps a synonym at a time when you have no idea what you are doing with your child as a first time parent. Nonetheless, I was definitely a handful; always testing, always beating my own path and publicly questioning authority. I wondered why I was ‘a naughty girl’. I wondered why my sweet brother was never called ‘naughty boy’.“Say your prayers now,” my mom would say as she tucked me in, “And ask God to make you stop being naughty,” And I would.
So on this day, as I looked on at the kittens fumbling in the grass, sitting quietly next to Mama Mariam as she waltzed around a clay pot dotting it here and there in oil paints, her feet bare and jingling bracelets a spectacle, something dawned on me. I identified with Spicy.Of course I did. And I watched the feline. She sprung up and grabbed a locust from the air. Fidget and Dainty jumped around her in wild excitement as their sister guarded her newly caught treasure. Mama Mariam leaped over to them and grabbed the locust placing it gently on a bush nearby beyond the reach of the kindle. Spicy pounced onto Mama Mariam’s foot, clawing at her toes but doing what seemed to me rather, like trying to climb up to the locust. “Ouch, Ouch,” she shrieked. “ No Spicy! Here, play with this,” and she dropped a bouncing rubber ball on the ground.
I wanted to run home to my mother at my wild discovery. I wanted to tell her that how I was, curious and headstrong, was my nature. If the kittens were born this way then it must be the same for me. I never came round to doing this.
What am I going on about? Fear. On this episode of Who Do You Think You Are, British actress Frances de la Tour was pursuing her family tree. Somewhere in her bloodline was Maria, married to a navy officer of some sort. Maria had had an affair with Henry, an affair that began during one of Maria’s husband’s voyages at sea. The maid at Maria’s house had given an account of how she found Maria’s marital bed in a tumble one unusual afternoon after Henry had visited. Maria fell pregnant. After realizing that the baby would be born about 5 weeks after the time it should have come had it been her husband’s child (based on the last time she lay with him before he left for sea) she decided to lie to her husband that the reason for her swollen belly was due to an illness. Rumours of the affair nonetheless reached her husband. He filed for a divorce-rare and only reserved for the social elite at the time. Soon after the divorce, Maria and Henry married and had other children. Maria died at just 50 and as a memento of some sort to his wife, Henry built a monumental inscription which still stands in a church somewhere in England to this day ,
“This is a tribute of the fondest affection to the memory of Maria Elizabeth the wife of Henry Jadis who died on the fourth of December 1831 is inscribed by her husband whose days of happiness gone forever by the bitterness of his sorrows…
…her gentle love for his children fearful sufferings and resignation …
…these are the tender and warmful recollections pressing upon his weary heart…”
And so the adulterous pair were shared a genuine love.
And then there was Sophia, whose indiscretions led to undesirable fortune. A daughter of an rich man, I think the last of three siblings, from a different part of the France de la Tour family tree Sophia fell pregnant out of wedlock. This made her marriage prospects weak. And so she married a low level army officer who was an abusive drunk. While her sisters were attending tea parties, off getting married to the social elite; lords and the like, Sophia was resigned to a lesser life. A hasty and erratic yet affectionate letter written by her father (to whom I don’t recall) was found that described the sadness that filled the man over his daughter’s life. It was also discovered through the finding of expensive receipts from an apothecary (chemist) that Sophia was buying large and frequent amounts of a concoction that contained opium- the stuff used to make cocaine today- and that based from her buying patters, she was addicted to it. This medicine, in those days, was used to cure a range of diseases: depression, malfunctions of the nervous system, abdominal cramps but mostly venereal diseases such as Syphilis. Most venereal diseases at the time came from army men, as was her abusive husband. Sophia died soon after her last purchase. Her father organised an elaborate funeral for her that totaled to more than £500 pounds- equivalent to over £ 60,000 today.
And thus my alarm. I haven’t committed adultery nor had a baby before marriage but a lot of the decisions I have made in my life , a lot of the relationships I have ended and friendships I have had (or dropped) have led me to where I am today. 27 years old, living in London, single and scared shitless of what my future might look like. Oprah said that your twenties are all about self discovery (smile) and if you know me personally, you know all well that self discovery I did pursue. But Oprah isn’t married. Nor does she have any kids. While all my friends are off getting married now or secure in long term relationships, I am nowhere near the sight of a relationship let alone an engagement.
Sophia, made this one bad mistake that had a negative domino effect on her life and ultimately led to a sad and slow death. Maria on the other hand committed adultery numerous times and then died young (karma perhaps) but she experienced what we all live for in this life; meaningful long lasting relationships.
De la Tour expressed how startled she was to discover that she had such scandal in her family. How such scandal even existed in those times. These two women. So improper. So bold. So curious and headstrong.
I would love to end on the note of bliss and somewhat just discovered wisdom; like a silver lining. That even though everyone is getting married or having babies or both I am on my own journey and my time will come too. Or that even though they are happy on wedding photos, greasy smiles filled with anticipation and promise, plenty are getting into a union whose relationship is tar tarred with rumors of infidelity and secret offspring. The silver lining perhaps?
Deep down, however, the worry is real.
And so when a pompous ex calls me to explain to me a year later that it has just occurred to him that I am the one he must wife, that being in the bridal party at three weddings in three months has sparked in him an awakening, I realize that there surely is a (proverbial) clock. And ticking away it is. So much so that even the foolish who are now repelling good girls like a raindrop that has fallen on an army of ants, are discovering the errors of their ways.
How else can I be, but hopeful?