I’ve never played tennis, but I always enjoy watching Wimbledon. It’s something I started doing with my husband’s mother, Geraldine, who was born in Wimbledon in 1883. She used to spend her pocket money going to see matches there. Geraldine was an artist, and instead of a written diary, she kept a painting diary her whole life. I used to love going through her albums with her and seeing her early sketches of women in long white dresses wielding their rackets.
Geraldine valued good manners on and off the court. While I always liked John McEnroe, his temper tantrums made him an unappealing player to her. We both liked Arthur Ashe, Bjorn Borg, Billie Jean and Chrissie.
Geraldine was an early feminist. She was a woman who had to give up her dreams of art school to be a nursemaid, and after leaving England when she was 19 to work first in India and then Canada, she never saw her mother again. I have a portrait of her mother which she painted, and another of Geraldine herself, aged 2, painted by her mother. My husband doesn’t like them over our bed–it unnerves him to think his mother and his granny are watching him in bed–so I keep them in my study.
Geraldine had an indomitable spirit. I never heard her complain about the difficulties of her life. Instead, she charged forth to enjoy life, taking painting lessons when she could afford them, studying languages, traveling, and continuing, when I met her in her great old age, to play the piano every afternoon for two hours–followed by a martini.
On her hundredth birthday, the Queen sent a very tepid one-sentence telegram, but the president of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club sent a lovely long letter, recognizing some of Geraldine’s accomplishments (Olympic gold medal in poetry, published essays on Wimbledon in its early years.)
Next weekend, as I watch the finals, I’ll pour a glass of champagne for Geraldine and think with pleasure on her, on our hours scrutinizing the players together, and on the great example I was privileged to have by knowing her.