Tuesday, January 26, 2016

English Family

On Sunday night, I sent an email to Kathy, my English Mum, to set some plans for my day visit to Essex (which is, as I type this blog post, three weeks from today). She responded on Monday, and signed it, "Love, English Mum."

I almost cried. I did laugh with joy. I'm so excited to see Kathy and Derek again.

Kathy and Derek, 2004, in their garden, where they often sat and worked on
crosswords together.

I can remember the excitement of landing a job in England and buying the plane ticket very well. Going back was something I had wanted for five years at that point and I was about to have a Wild and Absolutely True Adventure. But of course, the question of where I would live was somewhat worrisome, though a contact at my school had a few options ready to offer me. One of those options was "the school's librarian has a room for rent, but she wants to warn you she has lots of dogs and cats."

This option was close to school, and it was a proper home. It sounded good to me, so I chose it, not knowing these people at all. Kathy called me once before I left to discuss terms, and reiterated that she had pets.

"I'm leaving my beloved cat with my parents," I responded. "I'll be happy to have some animals to love!"

It turned out she had four dogs, and five cats. Oh, and two tortoises in the back garden. I didn't mind. I came to love them all.

Augustus on my bed--friendly one minute, ATTACK CAT, the next. 

Flissy (Lady Felicity), with illusions that she was born into royalty.

Lucifer. I play favorites, and this one was my favorite. 

Goodie--a very shy sweetie. 

Dear little Polly, who passed away while I was living there. I cried with
Kathy and Derek.
Sweet, mischievous Marley.

Titus, adopted as a senior because Kathy could not leave without him.

Rosie--small in stature, big in personality.

Tommy (with Rosie). Together: the Terrible Terriers. 
I believe this was Heathcliff. 
I came to love all of the Lidbury "four-leggeds" dearly, especially Lucifer, the sweetest boy, the snoring cat. All of these ones are gone now, even Marley who was still nearly a puppy when I was there.

And I came to love Kathy and Derek, through many long, interesting conversations about our cultural similarities and differences, literature, music (they prefer the Stones, I prefer the Beatles--but we all agreed that Queen are amazing), and life in general. Kathy and I would have long talks as we ate dinner and relaxed in the evenings, waiting for Derek to arrive home from work (the clue was always the frantic barking of four excited dogs at the front door). Our talks ranged from school gossip (she was the librarian and career adviser) to everything else under the sun. One memorable evening, she looked up from her book, and said to me (reading in my "spot" on an opposite sofa), "Megan...what's a graham cracker?" My explanation concluded a month or so later, when I came back from my Christmas visit to my family with a box of Honey Maid graham crackers.

From the moment I nervously stepped off a train at the Burnham-on-Crouch station and met these two strangers, I knew I would like them. But when I saw their home--the beautiful garden that Kathy loved to putter in; the walls of books in the dining room; the adored four-leggeds who greeted me with barks and sniffs (dogs) and wide-eyed disdain (cats)--I knew I was walking into a wonderful situation.

I made a home there. I put pictures of family and friends in frames, found a few Snoopy items to display on the windowsill, filled the wardrobe with my clothes and shoes. Derek stuffed my two huge suitcases in the attic, and, on learning I love listening to music and had only a portable disc player, dragged down a dusty-but-working stereo system so I could listen to music in my room. I mostly did my own cooking, trying my best to not be in the way of their routine, and gradually meshing my own routine to work with theirs.

Harry Bear--bought in a fit of homesickness at a Woolworth's--sat sentry. I
still have that silly bear. On the night stand is my beloved old Snoopy doll.

My view--Kathy's gorgeous garden (and part of the living room roof).

Whether we intended to become a bit of a family or not, we did. Kathy admitted to sleeping with one eye open on the nights I went out clubbing with the girls, waiting for a soft "woof" from a sleepy dog to alert her that someone was coming up the stairs. "Oh, it's Megan, home safe," that woof would say. And then she would sleep.

Thanksgiving was strange and wonderful for me--strange because instead of having a week off, I worked as usual, while thousands of miles away, my family and friends in California celebrated. But it was wonderful, too, because Summer arrived for a brief visit that day, and that weekend, my English family and I made a small but traditional Thanksgiving feast, and ate it in the formal dining room. They helped me celebrate a holiday that found me feeling homesick for tradition--and indeed, since my return to the states, Thanksgiving has been a special holiday for me.

The day I left England, Kathy and I tearfully hugged as the taxi driver loaded my bags into the car. I cried the first half of the drive to Heathrow Airport, and the driver kindly let me. When I finally calmed down, I told him I was leaving family to go home to my family, and it was all very bittersweet. He seemed to understand.

I thought, of course, that I'd be back soon. Nothing could keep me away from England, that within a year, I'd be back to visit. It wasn't meant to be. When I had the money, which was rare, I had no time. When I had the time, I had no money. Life is funny.

So perhaps you can understand why, after eleven years--eleven!!--when the opportunity to go back presented itself, I grabbed it, desperately. Besides Kathy and Derek, there are friends I haven't seen, and new friends (notably, my dear duck lady, Sarah) I need to meet.

I'll spend my first day-and-a-half in England alone, bulldozing through the jet lag and spending some quality time with London--I need a day by myself there, to work through the anticipated emotions that will be bubbling to the surface. But on Tuesday, it's straight to that tiny, dear town of Burnham, to see my English family once again.

No comments: