Presented at Noonday by AK Carey 2003
This is a story of hubris and humility, of naivety and ingenuity, of optimism, courage, and stupidity, and of luck both good and bad. It is, in short the tale of a trip to England taken 30 years ago by me and my 4 children with very little money, no experience, and no credit cards.
It was 1977, and I was flying high. After taking care of husband, home, and family for 20 years, I had just finished my second year of graduate school at UC and had earned the queenly sum of $3600 as a graduate teaching assistant–my first income producing job ever. I was newly in love with all things English— literature from Caedmon to Larkin, architecture from Norman to Georgian, music from Thomas Tallas to Vaughn Williams. Especially, I held true to my romantic notion of the English countryside replete with thatch-roofed cottages, flower-laden hedgerows, moors dotted with stone huts, the soaring steeples of Salisbury and hulking keeps of the Border country, sort of Shakespeare meets Botticelli. I had to spend the summer among these imagined delights. And, I would take my 4 children, ages 12 to 19 to introduce them to the glories of the “sceptered isle” to all of the above plus Shakespeare, Anne Boleyn, Glastonbury, Jane Austen, the mystery plays, wind-swept Dartmoor, bountiful English breakfasts, and so much more.
The kids were thrilled at the prospect, and each had his or her own agenda; George wanted to fly fish in one of the famed English trout streams, Jenny wanted to pony trek across the moors, Fred was intent on a Sherlock Holmes pilgrimage from Baker Street to Dartmoor, and Mar, who had been in England a couple of months before, wanted to show off her knowledge of all things British.
Money was very tight in those days, but I was undeterred. All of the expenses of the trip would be borne by my bountiful savings; $3,000 was a lot of money in the days when a night in a good country English inn cost 14 pounds for two. And these were the days before travel meant shopping. After paying the air fare, I had $2000 for 4 weeks of travel for 5 people– $500 a week, $75.00 a day or, to broken into its smallest increment, $15 a day a person (that was about 7 pounds a day each).
We could, I opined, do it by staying mostly in bed and breakfasts and eating cheaply. Never mind that I had never stayed in a B&B in my life, that English gasoline was even then expensive, and that I was feeding 2 teen-age boys. Never mind even that I been to England only once, 10 years before, on a Procter financed business trip. I was supremely confident that we could not only do it, but have fun. I did make hotel reservations for London and at one hotel along the way, but mostly, I assured the kids, for a couple of pounds a night, we would stay in the charming, thatch-roofed B&B that I was confident we would find at the end of each day.
The Travel Plan
Those were the days of the first low-cost air lines. Remember Laker and Sun Air? Airfare from New York to Gatwick was a $1000 dollars for 5 of us, but to keep the costs down, the children and I would drive from Cincinnati to Kennedy. No Procter perks for us on this trip.
My plan was for the children and me to drive in our yellow Nash Hornet station wagon to Baltimore and spend the night with Gibby’s father who lived there. We would then drive to New York the next day and leave the car with friends outside the city. We would meet Gibby at Kennedy for final goodbyes. Then he would fly to Frankfort for 2 weeks of business travel (1st class, of course), and the children and I would fly to London to sightsee for a few days before renting a car and exploring the south of England. For 2 weeks, we would wanderer where the spirit moved us discovering hidden gardens and glistening palaces, before meeting up with Gibby in Scotland to travel together for a week. After that, Gibby would fly home with the two older children, and I would travel for a final week in Wales and the Border country with Jenny age 12 and Fred, age 14 before flying back to Kennedy in early August picking up the car and driving home to Cincinnati. Each step of this seems nutsy to me now, but at the time, it seemed a perfect summer idyll.
GETTING THERE WAS DEFINITELY NOT FUN
First, the U.S.car. It was an AMC Hornet, an automobile that Jeff Harrison in his poem “Time Smear” describes as “a truly crappy car.” And he is right. Twice the car caught fire when I was just driving it on Cincinnati streets. But it hadn’t acted up recently, and I felt confident we could make it to Baltimore, NYC, and back. And so it almost did. We arrived in Baltimore, without a hitch, on the evening of July1.
The morning of our departure from the United States dawned brilliant and clear. A perfect day for driving and then flying. The children were full of excitement and anticipation, mostly at that point, as to how to spend the $50 that Mr. Carey had just given each of them. By 8 a.m. we had reloaded our duffel bags, hats, backpacks, and selves and were ready to wave goodbye to Gibby’s 85 year old father. I turned the key in the ignition and…….. nothing happened. Nothing, not a sound. I turned it again. Still nothing. I looked helplessly out at Mr. Carey and said the obvious. “nothing is happening.”
Mr. Carey got in and tried it. Silence.
I tried it again. Still Nothing.
“Ah. I know,” said Mr. Carey. It’s straight up and down. Where’s your crank?”
“My what?” I said
“Turn the crank. It’s in a straight up and down position; You need to turn it.” He explained as if administering a pill to a deaf child.
“Crank?” I said. “I don’t think I have one. Where is it.”
“Right in the front”
“I am pretty sure that I don’t have one.”
“Yes you do,” he said rather testily. “All cars have them. They are just in front of the running board.”
By this time, I realized that he was having a very senior moment and that he really thought we could crank it up with a hand crank. I wish it had been that easy.
At my most naïve, I invited Mr. Carey to get the crank out of his car and see if it would fit in mine. . He spent several minutes inspecting my fenders, hood, front grille, and bumper before reluctantly agreeing that a crank wasn’t going to help us even if we could find one. . I did not have time to wait for AAA, and of, course, I had no idea what was wrong. It was clear I needed a new plan
I was in a panic. I had to be at the airport in New York by 5p.m. It was now 8:30 am and I was in Baltimore.
The only thing I could think of was the train.
And so it came to pass that within and hour, we were all at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station in Baltimore waiting for the train to New York. It took $100 of my precious dollars, but we arrived at Kennedy frazzled, but on time. We met Gibby. Our first moments together, however, were anything but calming.
At this point I am going to begin to insert some of the entries from Jenny’s journal. I am a great journal writer, but I can’t find mine for this trip. Jenny was 12, and her journal, which I did find, is wonderful. Here is her entry for our travel day of July 2
The car wouldn’t start so we took the train. Met Dad at Kennedy and had dinner. We were looking for a way out and I spotted a door that said ‘exit’ over it. Too late I realized that it was a fire escape and when Dad pushed the handle, it started clanging. Fred kept right on going like he didn’t know us. As we were going down the escalator, Dad said “My it certainly made a loud noise.”
You bet it did!! It was the fire siren, and it blasted through the whole terminal. It seemed an ominous beginning for the trip. But if it had happened today, we would have probably spent the following years at Guantonamo.
We were there for 4 glorious days, and we saw it all. Our days were packed. Here is Jenny’s entry for a typical day, July 5th.
We had breakfast, crussonts, and were served by a very rude lady. Mom had to hold back Mar to keep her from saying nasty things. We saw the changing of the Horse guard. One horse was feeling pretty good and nearly stepped on us and quite a few people had spasms. We saw Buckingham Palace. After that we went to Westminster Abbey and did brass rubbings. We went to the Sherlock Holmes Pub for lunch which was awful. Then George went to Hardys to buy fishing stuff (with his $50) while we went to the British Museum. After that we walked back to the hotel (a mistake) and had dinner. We went to Pirates of Penzance, came back to the hotel around 11 and went to sleep.
When I read that, I reflect with awe at my 40 year old self. We walked everywhere; explored Whitehall with its ancient beamed ceiling, climbed to the top of the dome of St Paul’s, counted the ravens in residence at The Tower, gossiped about Henry and Cardinal Woolsey at Hampton Court, and browsed the bookstalls in St James’ Park. We had a grand time.
Escape from London
But after 4 days we were ready for some open country and quiet lanes. Time to rent our car and skedaddle. The plan was to pick up the car that had been reserved for us in London, pay the deposit with a VISA card , and to drive south to Canterbury, then west through Battle, Salisbury, Stonehenge and Winchester as far as Dartmoor where we would stay for several days. Fred was definitely going to see the Moor where the hound held sway, and George wanted to fish the Dart –romantically using a fly that he had tied himself with the fly-tying kit he hade bought at Hardys. . And Jenny hoped for pony trekking. Then to the Cotswolds, Oxford, Stratford and York before driving all the way north to meet Gibby at Newcastle on Tyne where he was working.
At this point our money was holding out well. I had left Cincinnati with $2000 in cash and travelers checks which I intended to use for food, admissions, gasoline, and the charming B&B’s we would find along the way. The Visa card was there for emergencies and the deposit on the car. Remember, this was 1977. No computers and no faxes meant that international commerce of every kind was conducted by telephone. And universal credit cards like Mastercards and Visa were brand new and would not be accepted in most filling stations, restaurants or hotels outside London. . At this point, 5 days into the trip, I had about $1200 in cash, and a Visa card for the rental car.
The children and I arrived at the rental-car office at 8 am with six bags (and George’s wooden-boxed, fly-tying kit which would not fit into any of them) to find a line that extended around 3 ½ sides of the block. There were at least 80 people waiting. And what were they waiting for? They were waiting for the rental company to call the US for approval of every single credit card that was used for the deposit on a car. It was taking up to half an hour for each approval. BUT, if you paid cash for the deposit, there was no wait. For me, that was a huge problem since paying the deposit would leave me with only about $1200 in cash and travelers checks for almost 3 weeks of travel. That calculated out to $11.16 a day a person. Naïve as I was, that was too little. We joined the credit card line.
After an hour we had moved a half of one block. We still had 3 full blocks to go, 4 hours, I figured. The children were beginning to fight and Canterbury, our day’s destination, was receding further and further into the distance.
“Let’s go, kids. We’ll charge everything from now on”, I said, as we strode into the car-rental office and up to the person at the lineless, cash-only counter. God only knows how I imagined I was to pay for the charming thatched-roofed B&B with a credit card, but I had to do something. I parted with $500 of my precious dollars. In no time we were in the car and off on our adventure.
But the adventure at that moment was that of being in the clown car in the circus. . We were 5 tall people crushed into a very small car, in the heart of the most sprawling city on the planet, driving on the wrong side of the road, during morning rush hour with turn indicators that started the windshield wipers. I certainly envied Chaucer’s pilgrims their journey on foot and horseback.
We drove and drove and drove and drove, and we were still in London. Graven in my memory is Elephant and Castle, an urban neighborhood that took us 2 hours to reach. It was probably no more than 10 miles from our starting point.
It was here that I pulled into a service station to ask for directions and get gas. Still not accustomed to the right- side steering wheel, I misjudged my distance, ran up on the cement island of the gas pumps and, ……and flattened the two tires on the left side of the car…..two flat tires. TWO! I got out to find the tires slashed and the car settling into a precarious tilt. But my two strong sons came to my rescue, changed the tires (I have no idea where the 2nd spare came from) and 45 minutes later most of the city was in our rear view mirror. I heaved a huge sigh of relief.
The road ran mostly through open countryside, sprinkled with villages and a few towns. No more cities, thank God, but there were plenty of round-abouts, and I had not yet learned that you can get on the inside lane and circle until you are dizzy or figure out where you want to go. I was still very nervous and was more or less creeping along on the inside lane, but even so, I was beginning to feel a bit more confident as I edged into a round-about.
Suddenly, THWHAcK!! The car lurched to the left, as a large truck swung out of the right lane and into my rear fender. I stopped on the shoulder and the truck pulled in ahead of us. I was distraught.
The truck driver said something rude as he angrily threw open his door and started toward us. But George at 6’4 and Fred also over 6 feet were an imposing pair, and they were going to defend my honor. When they unfurled themselves out of the back seat, the truck driver fell back a bit. I asked the woman in a nearby house to call the police much against the wishes of lorry driver Simmons who insisted that it was unnecessary to bring them into it. But Fred and George stood guard over him until the constabulary arrived, and I felt reassured,. even though Lorry Driver Simmons turned out to be right and the police agreed that they didn’t need to be there.
(As an aside, when turning the car in at the end of the trip I was in the line for reporting accidents. The form to be filled out asked for a complete verbal description of the accident and then there was a blank space where we were to draw it. I carefully drew the road, the lanes, and the truck turning into my fender complete with arrows and skid marks. The lady in line ahead of me looked distressed. “How do you draw a sheep? she asked.” I’m not a very good artist.” “Oh,” I said sympathetically, “did you hit a sheep?” “Not exactly,” she said. “The sheep hit me. It was grazing at the edge of a cliff beside the road, lost its balance and plummeted onto the hood of my car. It did quite a bit of damage.”
Suddenly my 2 flat tires and lorry driver Simmons seemed very colorless).
Here is what Jenny has to say about the day:
Everything went wrong. We had to wait for 2 hours until we got the car. It is smaller than the Hornet. We had a blowout and had to wait 45 minutes for it to be fixed. We hopped in and drove for 10 minutes and a huge long truck ran into us making a fair sized dent. George almost hit the truck driver
Of Beds and especially Breakfasts
After Canterbury the trip took a definite turn for the better. We wandered the southern coast visiting Hastings and Bodiam Castle (“ a good beginners castle” Jenny wrote.). On our first night after Canterbury, we were in the then small, and not very touristy town of Battle where B&B’s and even small inns were few and hard to find. It was getting late when Margaret spotted a small hand-lettered filing card in the window of a pharmacy. “B&B: a farm in the country. Surrounded by trees. Family style Breakfasts.” Well we knew about farms, and we were a family. We were confident that this would be our charming, cottagey B&B …. and it seemed to be the only game in town.
We called from the phone box on the corner and told Mrs. Walker, the proprietress, that we would drive out after dinner and would be there about 8. Don’t eat too much,” she said,” I am known for my farm breakfasts.” That sounded good to me since a big breakfast meant less was needed to keep the teenage appetites at bay.
We ate dinner in town, so it was deep dusk when we began our journey, carefully following our directions down country lanes with their overarching hedgerows to what would no doubt be a dignified but charming cottage surrounded by green fields and pastoral landscapes. Kind of Jane Austenish, I though.
To our surprise, at the end of the lane we arrived at a cluster of small , one-floor bungalows. They actually looked like today’s double-wides, though I don’t think they had been invented in 1977. We thought at first that we had missed a turn since we saw no farm and no spreading green fields. Just this small white house with a tree in the front yard and high fences around the lawn. It wasn’t lawn, exactly, since there wasn’t any grass, more like a clearing But it was pretty dark, and we couldn’t see very well.
“Don’t worry, kids,” I said “we can leave if it’s impossible.”
Almost before we could ring the bell, the door opened, and Mrs. Walker eagerly pulled us into the house, just as I caught the pungent whiff of barnyard.
She was certainly expecting us and was most concerned that we might have lost our way. Yes, indeed, she hoped that we would be comfortable, and she was looking forward to showing us what real English hospitality was like. She ushered us through a modest and uncharming living room to our bedrooms. They were clearly the bedrooms of her children, hurriedly vacated, but tidy and clean. Hanging on the wall of each room was another white file card, carefully lettered in a wobbly child’s scrawl and decorated with flowers saying “Welcome Guests.” We looked at the sign and at each other.. There was no getting out of it, and nowhere else to go. The boys went to the car to bring in the bags
In the morning, daylight showed what the dusk had hidden. We were certainly on a farm– sort of. . The yard inside the fence was packed with goats, …packed. with goats of all sizes and descriptions,. .big ones and small, mother fathers and babies, curled horned and spike, , white, brown and black all making goaty noises. It turned out that our bed and breakfast was a one-acre goat farm on which there were 100 goats raised for their milk. This, of course, meant that there were dozens of baby goats baaing for breakfast. It was quite a racket.
We, of course, were baaing for our breakfasts too. And we were expecting something stupendous. Mrs. Walker fit perfectly into my strategy of really stoking up at breakfast. In this home, the family could be heard eating in the kitchen while we were ushered into the living room where a large table had been set up for us. But no food was laid out on the sideboard from which we could help ourselves. We sat down and drank our tea waiting for the steaming dishes to arrive.
Within moments, Mrs. Walker hummed into action. She whirred through the kitchen door bearing steaming bowls of oatmeal. She was wreathed in smiles as she proudly explained to us the components of a real English country breakfast. Oatmeal, first, with brown sugar and cream (can you make cream from goat’s milk, we wondered?), then eggs, broiled tomatoes, mushrooms, kippers, kidney stew, sausage, bacon, and fried toast. Also regular toast and marmalade. We would not find a breakfast like this in most B&Bs, she proudly said.
We picked at our oatmeal since we knew more food was coming. Once again Mrs. Walker arrived, this time literally staggering under the weight of a tray of fully loaded plates plus serving dishes steaming with kidney stew and kippers.
The Carey family are fairly hearty trenchermen, and we love breakfast. We even eat kidney stew and kippers. But Jenny has always been a bit fussy about her bacon. “ No flabby ends” is her mantra, and at 12 she could cook bacon crisp from end to end. She looked at the white, flaccid, flabby specimen on her plate and gagged. “Okay,” I said, “you don’t have to eat your bacon (I was pretty sure someone else would eat it ), but try to eat everything else. We really can’t hurt Mrs. Walker’s feelings.
Jenny tried. She really did. She ate her eggs and mushrooms, and even her tomato which she didn’t really like much. Then her eye fell on the sausage; it was black and grainy.
“Just 2 bites,” I said.
Reluctantly, Jenny cut into the coarse and rubbery piece of meat. One bite down. Then the 2nd bite was in her mouth. We all held our breaths, but victory seemed at hand.
Then- without warning…. the whole breakfast came back up, and landed neatly on her plate, in a horrible slurry of red, brown and yellow curds.
Oh my God, what to do?? If leaving the sausage uneaten was going to be bad, this plate of vomit was incalculably worse. It flashed through my mind to dump it into the bowl of kidney stew, but just as quickly I realized that this was a family who would respect leftovers. I rejected the kidney stew idea.
I grabbed Jenny’s plate and rushed to the swinging door, planning, I’m not sure what. Just then, Mrs. Walker opened the swinging door from the other side and came into the room to bring us more bacon.
If she realized what had happened and what I was doing, she said nothing. I ran down the hall to the bathroom and emptied the plate’s contents into the toilet. Several flushes and a quick wipe with the fuchsia toilet paper eliminated most of the mess, and I was back at the table with the plate before Mrs. Walker made her 2nd trip with more eggs. We all smiled a lot except Jenny who was looking rather green.
From then on, though, the bed and breakfasts worked out pretty well. You can easily believe that I never asked Jenny to eat another bite of sausage or bacon, and have not to this day. But we did have one other lodging adventure that has gone down in family lore along with the sausage.
Our big lodging extravagance was The Colton Arms, a country inn of some repute and expense. We were to stay there for 3 days. In the original planning, I chose it because I wanted someplace where I knew I could count on hot showers and comfortable beds in case we were in need of more bodily comfort at 10 days into our trip. The long, tree lined driveway assured me that all would be well, even before we saw the stately Georgian country house that was our inn.
At this point I am going to switch over to George who was 16 at the time of the trip. Here are his 30 year old memories of that epic visit. As you will see, it has certainly entered into the family mythology:
I had never seen Mom move faster in her life. Come to think of it, I had never seen any living creature move that fast and probably never will. It was during our first family trip to England and Dad had yet to join us. Fred and I were at our peak in bickering abilities, and on this day in particular, had missed no opportunity to pick a fight with each other. Maybe it was because of this or maybe it was maternal intuition that explained the long lecture Mom gave us as we pulled into a somewhat elegant country inn for the evening. The innkeeper must have seen us coming because after we had checked in, he escorted Mom into the garden to let her know that this was a quiet country inn and how important maintaining the place’s calm serenity was to his other guests.
Meanwhile, Fred and I were upstairs getting into the mother of all battles. One of us had discovered a whole box of After Eight mints on a table in the upstairs hallway and was refusing to share them. This seemed to the other of us like grounds for a full scale war, so, picking up a recently unpacked shoe, I hurled it at Fred with all the velocity I could muster. He ducked, allowing the shoe to rocket past his head toward a large glass window. My terror turned to unimaginable relief as I realized the window was wide open and screenless. But in that instant , my previous state of horror was doubled when I realized that the window opened out into the garden in which my mother, at that very moment , was doing her level best to convince a skeptical British innkeeper that we really were a well-mannered family, and would do nothing to violate the peaceful sanctity of his establishment. Down came the shoe, whizzing past the innkeeper’s left ear before hitting the ground with a thud. Before he could look from the projectile to Mom, she was gone. Out of the garden, across the lobby, up the stairs, and into our bedroom, well before we could scatter for cover. I’m surprised there was no sonic boom.
I have heard that people in the face of extraordinarily traumatic situations find the strength to perform superhuman abilities. And I am here to tell you that it is true. I know because I saw it in my Mother that day in England.
And that is my memory too. When that Blutcher moccasin came past my ear, and landed in the dahlias, I didn’t even have to look up. I knew exactly where it had come from and what it meant. I was furious!!! Fred and George were still standing at the window trying to see where the shoe had landed when I stormed into the room.
But all our forays into the world of B&B’s were not disasters. In the Cotswold’s we stayed in a real farm with spreading fields, a coal fired Aga in the kitchen, and a 75 year old parrot chatting with the guests. And in Tintern, we discovered the home of Jeffery Joyce who picked greens from his garden for a late night salad when we arrived tired and hungry and brought us tea in bed the next morning.
And then on Dartmoor, we stopped at The Forest Inn. This a place that we liked it so much that we stayed for 3 days. After dinner when the children were in bed, I sat in the very matey bar with the locals and drank scrumpy
The Sights or Chaucer’s England doesn’t Cut it
So all was not bickering and vile breakfasts. We had dazzling days and satisfying adventures. It was just that few of them related to the Norton Anthology of English Literature. After our turbulent day leaving London, we had a wonderful reward in Canterbury. It was late in the afternoon and the sun was setting in golden slants through the trees. As we searched out a B&B, we passed a summer-green field full of little boys, all in short gray pants playing cricket in the setting sun. In my memory each of them was illuminated, almost by a whole body halo as they cheered, pitched, ran and batted. It was a magical moment. And then there were the gates and towers and cloisters of Canterbury Cathedral—which have been lifting travelers’ spirits for centuries. But my romantic glow did not transfer to Jenny. Here is her 12 year old take on Canterbury: “We got to Canterbury about 4:30 and saw some little boys playing cricket. Canterbury Cathedral reminds me of a dribble castle.”
To my disappointment, cathedrals never became very interesting to the kids: “I don’t like cathedrals” writes Jenny in capital letters after an afternoon in the cathedral at LLanfairfrechen in Wales. And of Westminster Abbey she says “Yuck.” Even castles pall unless something gory happened there or there are dangerous sealed-off stairs and turrets that can be climbed and explored. Here is what she says about Pevensy Castle: “We went to Pevensy Castle and climbed through a wall since the gate was locked. We climbed to the tower (the stairs were sealed off) and it was dangerous coming back. Had a great time.” Stonehenge, too, at that time unfenced and empty, was fun, even if I was the only one who thought of Tess. But Steventon was just a house and the so-called Knightly Hall just up the road was only a place to get the ubitiquitus cream teas.
But if Jane Austen and Salisbury didn’t hit the ball out of the park, Dartmoor and York were home runs. Probably our most fun couple of days were on Dartmoor. At the Forest Inn, the children found other kids; Fred and Jenny went pony trekking across the moors; George borrowed fishing equipment and fished for salmon in the River Dart, and Margaret and I explored the tiny lanes and villages, stopping happily as a herd of black and white cows crossed the road followed by their 10 year old cowherd, we watched sheep dogs work their magic on a herd of recalcitrant sheep, and slurped delicious afternoon teas in thatched-roofed cottages (at last we had found them). .
And the moor itself was great with its piled-stone huts, perhaps the very ones that Holmes and Selden inhabited. By this time, Fred had purchased himself a deerstalker and a complete 24 volume, hard-back set of Sherlock Holmes at Blackwells (something else with pointy corners that would not fit into our duffle bags and had to be carefully transported for the rest of the trip). We played Sherlock trivia questions in the car, and Fred always won.
We turned north to Stratford, Coventry, and York where we saw the Noah play from the Coventry Cycle performed behind the Minster. It was a dandy production with God, white bearded and thundering, on a ladder in front of a big golden sun, with lazy Shem and Japhet lollygagging as Noah works, and the shrewish Mrs. Noah being carried bodily up onto the wagon that was the ark. The kids loved it, and so did I.
After meeting Gibby in Newcastle, we embarked on our Scottish adventures, our car even more crowded than before. Jenny spent the next week sitting on the gearshift between the two front seats (it’s hard to remember that there was a time before seat belts). We drove along Loch Ness, imagining the monster and eating the all too real Nessie Burgers sold from a cart beside the Lake. We reveled in watching the sheep dogs at work, played croquet and lawn bowls at every opportunity, and marveled at the difference between England and Scotland, the one so green and pleasant, the other so rocky, gray and bleak.
In our final week, Fred, Jenny and I traveled through Wales and the Border Country, having bid Gibby, Margaret and George adieu in Edinburgh. For sure it is easier traveling with 3 than with 5, and by now we were thoroughly acclimated to life on the road and to traveling with a literature besotted mother. By now they too found pleasure in the history of the Border Country, the story of Comus and Ludlow Castle and the misty romance of Tintern Abbey. And we had become adept at finding village fairs, pony shows and, hiking trails. We arrived back in the US refreshed and stimulated, knowing that we had had adventures to last for years.
As I was writing this paper and looking back on that trip of almost 30 years ago, I couldn’t help wondering what were the lasting influences, if any on the family who took it? Cause and effect are tricky to trace, but here are some learnings:
- Travel is always more expensive than you think it is going to be. On that trip, my money lasted but my cash didn’t. If we hadn’t met up with Gibby, flush with Procter travel money, we might have had to come home early in defeat instead of triumph.
- Big breakfasts and bar lunches stretch a tight budget, but stay away from Cokes. They are expensive in England.
- Naively following a dream can pay big dividends. Our 4 weeks together were wonderful because the kids bought in. Not necessarily to the cathedrals and literary sites, but to the Englishness of it– to the fields of poppies, the sweet smelling hedgerows, the openness of the walking paths, to a dawning comprehension of the shortness of distances but the longness of time in English history and culture. By the end of the trip, we had discovered that our tastes and sensibilities were remarkably similar.
But the most important and long lasting divided paid on that $3000 summer has been the shared knowledge that children and parents traveling together create family history and family myth through those adventures where the playing field is leveled, parents don’t have all the answers, a 14 year old son can guide us on a lovely day on the moor or a 12 year old figure out a confusing set of road signs, and everyone instinctively does what is best for the group. This understanding brought to our family the trust, closeness, respect, and affection for each other that comes from facing the unexpected and outrageous together and triumphing. And these kinds of family values knit a family together across any distance and changes of circumstance.
So we have continued to travel together even as our numbers increased, and the addition of children-in-law and grandchildren make family dynamics more subtle and tricky. Italy, France, the Galapagos, Spain, Ireland provided us with ample opportunities to share, compare, disagree, speculate, explore and know each other as adults and friends. And these trips, which we take together every five years, continue their magic of providing us with a family history and bond which are among my life’s greatest blessings.