Saturday, September 27, 2008
I awoke in pain. I didn’t know why but universal energy was not in sync with me. I stretched, stood up and crumpled in pain from my left toe. I stepped forward and the pain spread to my knee.
Great. Age is such a pain in the foot. I limped along to the bathroom and knew my world was in disarray. Is there a way to salvage this day? I don’t know. I recognized enough of my vague dream memories to understand signs of foreboding. I dreamt I held my digital camera in my hands, focused on a white image, yet could not click the shutter. What was awry?
I had many plans for today. I needed to research my Argentina trip, plan celebrations for October’s Family History month, edit, and write for my writer’s group meeting. My plans did not energize me as it usually did.
I drank my coffee and hoped the world would return to normal. No toe pain, a clearer head and a bit of optimism were welcome. But, it didn’t come.
I called my mother and sister and to catch up on the latest happenings in Oregon. We talked for a half hour and hung up. Within thirty seconds, the phone rang. It was my sister. She told me, “Paul Newman died.”
I cried, “Oh no,” and my reaction frightened my daughter who immediately thought a family member died. Well, the situation is not quite that bad, but I am in mourning.
If you read my blog last October, you understand a bit of my reaction to Paul Newman’s death. (See October 14, 2007 blog entry). He was a part of my family history. He was one of the few heroes I had as a child who did not disappoint me, ever.
He was part of my entire life. I cannot remember not knowing him. He was always there movie after movie…on the big screen, on the small screen and ultimately on DVD. My first close contact with him was in 1969 when he filmed “Winning” at Road America in Elkhart Lake and Sheboygan. This was the film that ignited Paul’s passion for racing. (For details check http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080927/GPG05/80927015/1207/GPG01).
I loved following the newspaper articles of where he, Robert Wagner and Joann Woodward appeared in my small hometown. My best friend, LuAnn, saw him as he exited the Park and Shop on Memorial Drive. Does that count as a brush with fame?
My favorite Paul Newman story happened in Suwanee, Georgia in 1981. The Bartkowski’s vacationed at the Falcon Inn to watch football practices and games every fall since we were members of the Atlanta Falcon Family. We relaxed poolside, trekked on daily side trips and enjoyed southern hospitality. One day I noticed a racing trailer parked in the hotel lot. The Atlanta 500 was in full force that week.
Just past dusk one evening, I walked around the swimming pool to the lobby and a Frisbee unexpectedly landed at my feet. I picked it up, looked to my right expecting children but saw a group of men. An older man, with gray hair approached me and I quickly tossed the Frisbee to him. Thank goodness I didn’t hit him in the face. He smiled at me and revealed perfect teeth. The shadows covered his face, but I looked into his eyes and saw the most gorgeous shade of blue I had ever seen. He said, “Thanks!” and I responded “You’re welcome.” I moved along not wanting to stare too long at the extremely attractive man playing Frisbee.
The next day, as I sat in the lounge, I heard a voice. I told my friends I recognized a voice in the hallway. “Do you hear him? Who is it? I know that voice.”
They told me I was crazy, but I insisted, “No, it’s someone I went to high school with. I know the voice.”
As the voice approached, it hit me. It was Paul Newman. Of course, I thought I went to high school with him since I had grown up with his movies. I saw him and could barely remain in my seat. He entered the lounge, headed to the bar, and bought two bottles of wine. The bartender knew enough to have his camera ready and Paul agreed to a photo with him. As Paul left the lounge, he said “hello” to us, and headed out. Ah, where was my camera when I needed it.
Yes, a very simple story, but one of the few my family has told and re-told to new generations. The Bartkowski family who were there distinctly remembers Paul’s presence. They also remember the beautifully dressed woman in red we saw near his room who we always knew was Joann Woodward, yet never confirmed it.
I found some money near the staircase to his room. When I picked it up, I thought it was a five dollar bill. Later, when I took it out of my pocket, it was a fifty. Of course, it had to be his, who else carried fifty dollar bills?
Our family tried to get a clip of him with the movie camera, yet he was camera shy during his time at the Falcon Inn. He never signed autographs but did pose for pictures with a few of the staff. We never really connected with him again to get that precious photograph. But, the memory is embedded in my mind.
Yes, memories of Paul Newman combined with visits with cousin Steve, with the Falcons playing the Saints led by Archie Manning, and relaxing in the southern sun. A vacation which will never be forgotten.
Paul’s career, his food line, his charitable works dominate the news this weekend. So, yes I am in mourning…for a vacation past, for a life well lived, for a man who could live in the limelight of Hollywood cameras, yet determine success his own way. Paul lived a marvelous life as the attractive young actor, as the star of romantic comedies, as Butch Cassidy and Henry Gondorf…so many images of him through many lenses. He chose well and aged gracefully.
He could also leave on his own terms, as he chose to leave the hospital to be in the familiar setting of his home for his final days. I imagine him saying, "It’s time. Can you please turn that camera off?” as he peacefully rode into the sunset knowing the images he left behind were how we need to remember him.