By Margaret Wagner
Grandma taught me to step up by stepping in.
I sat on a stone bench outside the ruins of Ephesus, Turkey with my 85-year old Grandma. She was a petite woman of 5’4,” hair barely peppered with silver and delicate hands that somehow retained a refined air despite decades of kneading pie dough, picking cherries and digging in the “good clean dirt.”
This was the tail end of our journey through the land of myths, one that started in Athens, Greece. The first night in Athens, my father left the hotel to purchase a bottle of wine, and came back with a story of how he was stopped by a man who wanted to provide him with “many beautiful ladies.” My father responded that he already had all the ladies he needed in his hotel room… not bothering to mention they were his wife, daughter and mother-in-law.
In Athens, Grandma had pocketed a few small rocks from the Acropolis, white chalky pebbles she carefully wrapped in the hotel’s stationery to keep her suitcase clean, even though tourists were not supposed to take anything from Greek historic sites. Crude glass evil eyes, a loosely knit fisherman’s sweater and a sleeveless, floor-length light blue linen dress with a band of white Greek key design embroidery from the neck to the hem quickly joined the Acropolis stones as tourist finds in her suitcase. Silver rings for each female grandchild and key rings for each of the boys were also added.
From Athens, we boarded a cruise ship with Santorini as the first stop. Grandma decided not to ride the donkey that was to take us from the water’s edge to the top of the town. She would rather walk in her cotton Liberty print dress with the blue flowers and white collar. But alas, the dockhand disregarded her sign language, picked her up by the waist and plopped her onto the side of the donkey, slapped Grandma’s backside and off elder and animal cantered up the serpentine path to the town. Grandma, sidesaddle, somehow never let go of the large pocketbook and sweater sandwiched between her arm and ribs.
Evening games on the cruise ship proved to be a bumpy ride for me. My family volunteered me to participate in one activity before the rules of the game were revealed. The officers in their white uniforms sat in chairs in the ballroom, with balloons on the other side of the floor. The ladies partnered with one officer, and then raced across the room to get a balloon, bring it back to place it on an officers lap, sit on it and the officer, and try to pop the balloon. At age 14, I certainly didn’t want sit on a strange man’s lap or encourage that officer to hug me every time I sat down to help pop the balloon. However, I decided to suck up my feelings of discomfort and be a good sport.
Just as I was a good sport on the speed boat returning from Mykonos to the cruise ship. One of the guests with us was an older man with thinning grey hair ruffling in the wind. He was dressed in white, sporting short shorts as only a European can. But, he sat as any man does, thighs in a wide “V.” Unfortunately, being directly across from him, I couldn’t escape noticing that he was not wearing underwear, and his manly parts spilled outside his shorts, against one of his hairy thighs.
Later on the cruise, I knew I had worn the wrong pair of shorts the moment I stepped onto the dock in Istanbul, Turkey. My sleeveless tunic was something I could have managed, but my shorts were too short and created too many unwanted glances from the men. My dread of the men on the street and that city only intensified in the claustrophobic Grand Bazaar. A dark-skinned man with a raven-black moustache negotiated vigorously with Grandma for a copper urn, but I could not escape the sense that my personal space was continually invaded by all the male shop friends who watched the scene.
And then, we landed in Ephesus, with Grandma and I were sitting on that stone bench resting after a long sightseeing day. A twenty-something woman sat across from us. Her hair was so naturally blonde it was almost white, and she had a very round face, with big plump, peasant lips. A Greek man in brown pants and a white shirt began talking to her in broken English – the blonde responded in equally halting English, heavily tinged with a German accent. She became more and more uncomfortable, especially when the man insisted she join him for some food.
Soon Grandma, still sitting, shook her index finger at the man and exclaimed “no you don’t.” The man, startled, jumped up and said: “I don’t have to listen to you. You’re not her Grandmother.” Grandma replied: “How do you know!” The man considered this for a few seconds, and then just disappeared.
The blonde’s relief and the gratitude in her eyes were thanks enough. My respect for Grandma skyrocketed that day, and I am still in awe of how she helped that young girl instinctively. I hope I can help a stranger someday, so fearlessly and effortlessly, and with such authority.
Margaret H. Wagner teaches Gabrielle Roth?s 5Rhythms® dance/movement classes in New York City, as well as Westport, CT (where she lives and enjoys dancing on the beach).
Certified as a 5Rhythms teacher in 2005 and a student of the practice internationally since 2000, Margaret specializes in offering students the opportunity to first clear their creative pathways with movement and then discover what written poetry or visual art flows from there.
Margaret has been part of the core faculty at Omega Institute (Rhinebeck, NY), a faculty assistant at Kripalu (Stockbridge, MA), a visiting faculty fellow at her alma mater, Mount Holyoke College (South Hadley, MA), and taught at the Greenwich Hospital Center for Integrative Medicine (Greenwich, CT).
Margaret’s published works include arts magazine articles and encyclopedia entries covering the film/television world. She has created many visual installations for 5Rhythms workshops. She was a participant in Open Floor and Dances of Ecstasy (documentaries of Gabrielle Roth’s movement work), a past volunteer docent and supervisor of family activities at the American Craft Museum, and a past Co-President and Board Member of Fairfield County?s Entrepreneurial Woman’s Network.