I rented a room from Kathy and Derek, two lovely people who came to be my English family. We've kept in touch all these years, and within minutes of booking my trip back in October, I had emailed Kathy to say, "Guess what?!" It was immediately decided we'd meet up on the Tuesday I was in country.
By the time I had gotten through the getting there, the settling in, an exploring London on my first full day back in England, I was ready to get on that train in Liverpool Street Station in a big way.
My original plan was to get up before dawn and get to Burnham well before I was to meet them, but alas, it didn't happen that way. By the time I got to Liverpool Street, got on a Wickford Train, etc. etc, I was actually running a bit late. Fortunately, Derek had sent me their cell phone numbers (or mobile numbers, if you're British, ha) and I called Kathy from Wickford to let her know I was running behind.
(There was also the annoying matter of having had my bank card declined that morning--turns out that even when you fill out a travel plan informing Wells Fargo that you will, in fact, be in the United Kingdom on certain dates, they still freak out when you withdraw 200 pounds--almost $300--from an ATM in London on Monday. One not-so-cheap call later, I had it sorted, but on that initial train ride to Wickford, I was feeling a little bit stressed and a little bit agitated.)
|How many times have I studied this board? I lost count. All|
the place names were familiar.
|I had to use my credit card, but I got my ticket.|
|At the Wickford Station, anxiously awaiting the Southminster train.|
|Happy. Excited. Emotional.|
That's when the tears started.
I composed myself just in time for the ticket taker to come through. Hearing my obvious American accent, he seemed to assume that I might need some advice and guidance about where the Burnham stop would be. I just smiled and thanked him.
"Cheers!" he replied, in that oh-so-Essex way.
The journey from Wickford to Burnham isn't long, and there aren't too many stops. They were all familiar. Battlesbridge. South Woodham Ferrar's. North Fambridge. Althorne--the penultimate stop to Burnham.
|The Crouch River|
Then, the train rolled into Burnham. By now, I was standing at the door, as I always did all those years ago, grinning through my tears. When the doors opened, I immediately spotted Kathy and Derek getting out of their car, and I was off and running to the biggest, longest English Mum Hug ever. We both cried.
After ten years, there was a lot of catching up to do, so it was back to their house for some tea and pretty much non-stop chatter. I had wondered about one thing before my trip, but I had forgotten to ask them. It didn't matter. They remembered.
See, when I first arrived in Burnham, I found a large purple mug at the local grocery co-op, and bought it. Sure, Kathy and Derek had plenty of mugs for tea-drinking, but something about this one appealed to me, and it became my primary tea mug the year I was there. When I left, I couldn't find room for it in my suitcase, so Kathy and Derek kept it, saying, "When you come visit, you can drink tea from your mug. We'll have it ready for you."
Ten years, people. Ten years.
As I greeted their dogs and looked around at the familiar place I once called home, Derek asked if I'd like a cup of tea.
"Oh, yes!" I replied.
"Will this do?" he asked with a smile.
"Yes!! Oh, yes, it will!"
The tears welled up again.
I spent five lovely hours with them that day--chatting at their house, then going for lunch, then back to the house for more tea, some homemade ice cream with berries from Derek's garden plot, and so much catching up.
Derek took some pictures of Kathy and I.
|By the Burnham clock tower--bit windy!|
|You can wear cute clothes, but in England, you'll|
need that warm coat.
|On returning from lunch, I took this shot of the adorable Dottie.|
I can't put into words how great it was to catch up, to see Kathy and Derek again. It was like I hadn't left--we talked about friends, families, how life in Burnham has been since I left (not a lot of changes, though both of them are retired now and Kathy has a certificate in dog behavior training and she loves it), and how my own life road took a lot of unexpected twists and turns after I returned from England.
In a blink of an eye, the day was getting darker. I still wanted to wander around Burnham for some pictures and remembering, so I reluctantly said my goodbyes...and, yes, cried some more. Hugs were exchanged, and I was reminded not to leave it so long for my next visit--a promise I will keep.
So I set off on foot towards Burnham's High Street, smiling, crying, and feeling all the feelings.
|This mail box was along the route I walked to the school each day, so most|
of the mail I sent home was dropped here.
|The same box from above, taken in 2005...|
|I walked past The Limes, a farm shop. I was happy to see it still there.|
|St. Mary's...I could see this from my classroom window. This evening, I walked|
into the graveyard for a few pictures.
|Next to the church.|
|It was just so appropriate that I returned to England when the daffodils were|
After wandering--very briefly--around St. Mary's, I set out once again towards the High Street and the river.
And Burnham...it just really hasn't changed. Most of the places I knew are still there, though there are a couple of new businesses (including a tattoo shop, which tickled me because Burnham is tiny, but apparently has a market for tattoos).
I walked around with the biggest grin, and passed many locals who would have no reason to know that I once lived there, that I feel a bit like I'll always be one of them.
|Across from Burnham Rail Station, the Railway--a pub and hotel. Mom and|
Dad stayed there in April 2005.
|Aside from a wee bit of a face lift, Savages hasn't changed one bit--this made|
me so happy. It is still a pharmacy, still the Post Office, and still a photo
processing place, even in the age of digital cameras.
|Miss Money Penny's. I never went there, but I was still delighted to see it's|
|The cinema, too, is still going. It plays movies a few months after they come out|
in the bigger cinemas, but I saw a few films there.
|In this shot, I can see The Polash (a really good Indian restaurant) and Sergeant|
Pepper's, another restaurant with more of an "American" style of food.
|The reason I took this picture is because it was my first glimpse of what really|
makes Burnham what it is--sailing.
|The war memorial.|
Most shops were closing up, but that was fine. I just wanted to see them, and the familiar buildings. But mostly, I needed to see the river.
For some reason, I find water calming, and goodness knows I am frequently in need of calming influences. Whenever I felt particularly stressed during that year in Burnham, one of my favorite things to do (besides take the train into London) was to walk down to the river, and walk along the quay. While all of Burnham is lovely and charming, this is its best part, with houseboats and sailboats moored on the water, with busy pubs and people walking their dogs at all times of day.
I was excited to see the Crouch again.
|The tide was out.|
|Yes, that phone box and that little monument were there in 2005.|
|Definitely a sailing town.|
|The White Harte Hotel. One of the first images I saw of|
Burnham, before I moved there, when it was a complete
mystery to me, was of this place, and I was charmed.
By this point, I had been experiencing a full range of emotions all day--mostly happiness, but also nostalgia, and a touch sadness that I had to wait so long to return to England. So I stood there on the quay, looking at the Crouch, and remembered all the times I looked at it to calm my stress. I thought of how young I had been, how different I was then...how far I've come in ten years.
The tears came again.
How proud I am, to be the person who takes chances like going to England to teach, who works hard to build my life and career, who made an opportunity to come back. I thought of Then Meg and the struggles she went through, and of Now Meg and how happy I felt to be standing there, looking at the River Crouch, and I told it, "I won't be gone so long again."
I wandered the quay some more, and then back to the High Street, finding so many old favorites I hadn't even thought of.
|The smallest house in Burnham.|
|I was charmed by the crooked shutter.|
It was getting dark, and I was pretty wrung-out, emotionally. I wandered back up the High Street towards the rail station, stopping at the co-op (under new ownership and slightly rearranged but pretty much just as I remembered it), where I bought some Jaffa Cakes and was offered a member rewards card at the check out.
"Oh, no thank you. I don't live nearby..." I said with a smile. "But I used to."
"Yeah, I was here for a year in 2004-2005...I taught at the high school."
"Oh, that's lovely."
The English aren't the type for overstatement. :)
I called home from the station--keeping it brief because even with my international plan, I was still paying for it--and chatted with Mom, telling her through tears how wonderful the day had been, how cathartic it was to return to Burnham and Kathy and Derek.
Then my train came and I was whisked back to London, with full heart and a shopping bag of Jaffa Cakes.
Some things really don't change.