England Misses Me!
All Rights Reserved, copyright 2015.
An expatriate's tale...
"The time to enjoy a European tour is about three weeks after you unpack!"
I blame my maternal grandfather for recruiting me for this life-long quest of mine. Reading National Geographic upon his knee as a child ignited a curiosity for me concerning so many cultures around the world.
What fun I had receiving little booklets from a children's club as a National Geographic Christmas present each month! I prized myself on learning Spanish, German, and French words, even though my pronunciation was way off base.
My mother would allow me to cut up her prized Holiday Magazine. My favorite activity (while suffering with the mumps) was cutting out the little coupons, so that I could send away for travel information. Thinking that I could make a little money from my venture, I started collecting shoe boxes so that I could file each country. My next step was to go out into my neighborhood, knocking on doors, and asking if perhaps this particular family would enjoy buying one of “my countries.” I did indeed receive some strange looks, but people are kind to little children, so I was handed a quarter or two, along with something that went like “My Uncle Horace lives in Quebec. I’ve always wanted to visit him, you know,” or “My great Aunt Rosa comes from Sicily, and I want to read about Italy!” I would thank them, run home, and pocket my money into an old pink piggybank, telling myself that I was going to England to meet my paternal grandmother’s cousins one day…the ones who always sent me ‘the funnies’ from their papers outside of London.
While reading these papers, I noticed gruesome headlines about how “A Mrs. Marjorie Pinkham from East London had her head severed by a Jack-the-Ripper wannabe. The head was found in the Channel (stuck like a barnacle) to the side of a foreign ship many months later. Her torso was found in Leeds, and her shoes were found in Dover, Kent, beneath The White Cliffs.” Mom was horrified that I was reading such garbage. Nevertheless, I was even more intrigued about wanting to meet my British cousins who had something to do with the shoe business and the royals.
In 1953, young Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England and I stayed at home from school with yet another ailment..."Wanderlust." My mother was enthralled as we watched the entire coronation on our little black-and-white television set. She tried to explain why we had presidents in America; England and other parts of Europe got to have kings and queens. To an eight-year-old, a king or queen sounded so much grander.
Christmas in London always looked ‘Dickensy’ to me back then: soot on everybody, as well as piles of snow everywhere. People got to eat things like goose, mince pies, spotted ick, and plum pudding. Even though one Englishman( in the book and on television) seemed mean and cranky (and had to carry long and heavy chains around with him) I always felt a strong ‘connection’ to London as a child. I cried every Christmas watching dear ‘Tiny Tim,’ and vowed that if I ever got married and had children, that I would name my child "Tim" in this lad’s honor.
As I grew older, I was not particularly interested in reading about far-away destinations, much to my mother’s chagrin. I wanted to see them firsthand and read about them later! Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics to “Show Me” (My Fair Lady) made an imprint upon my mind...”Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme! Don't waste my time, Show me! Don't talk of June, Don't talk of fall! Don't talk at all! Show me!"
During my college years, I so wanted to become an airline stewardess...free travel! At my interview at Pittsburgh Airport, I was told that I was too tall. Bloody hell! Of course, I blamed my father’s six foot- five genetics and decided that perhaps I should join The Peace Corps instead. After all, President Kennedy was asking all of us to remember just what we could do for our country. My idea was to get out of my own and visit another!
My father begged me to at least teach one year in a school system since I had trained to be an elementary teacher. I grudgingly followed his suggestion, thinking that I’d never get out into the world at this rate! If only I could have known what lay ahead…
*Stay tuned for Chapter one...