My parents were a year apart in college. When my dad graduated he went to St. Louis to begin his graduate work while my mom was still finishing her undergrad degree. My dad had a roommate for that year in St. Louis who was a Scottish guy in the States for a year of study. The following year my mom (who’d had an offer from Yale to go do her doctorate) joined my dad in St. Louis, and began her graduate study there. Then my dad got NSF funding to go to London to complete his PhD, so off they went. My mom didn’t wind up in a good lab situation, and then she had my sister, so she stopped before she’d gotten her degree. However, during my dad’s completion of his, they lived in London for five years. Through my dad’s former roomie, Bill, they met the Osorios, and the rest, as they say, is history. And we have two close sets of family friends in England. Bill’s wife Mary is one of the people I’m named for.
I have a memory from a visit I made to Bill and Mary when I was six, of a grand dinner table set with candles & a beautiful table cloth. It’s a picture with a lot of warmth and welcome, and one of the things I associate with Mary. I think she also took me to a London art museum, but I’d have to ask; that memory is almost 40 years old, and so suspect in its details.
One afternoon in the first part of our visit we went over to Bill and Mary’s house to spend a couple of hours together. They live in Twickenham, which is where we lived when I was six years old, but I have not yet recognized anything there. If we’d had time to go by the park that lay behind the house where we lived, it’s possible that would have rung a bell or two. Maybe next time. At any rate, Hazel was enchanted by the supply of biscuits, as well as an old rocking horse, and some sets of wooden blocks made by Bill himself. Joanna had an unusual serious crying jag in which it took a long time for me to even get her latched on, but other than that things went smoothly, and we had a wonderful time. We took a ramble along the river and into the nearby park where there are sculptures from an entirely different era disporting themselves around a pool.
Bill told us the history of the statues, which were a collection of an Industrial-era wealthy Indian guy whose house and grounds now form the park in which the statuary is to be seen. Courtesy of the internet, here is the story.
Having examined and giggled about the marble ladies, we moved on. There is a plethora of extremely plump squirrels in the grounds, fed by families out on walks. Consequently, they barely bother to run very far when people approach. We watched a couple of children giving them peanuts.
Bill and Mary walked us through the lovely older part of Twickenham, which was lit up with glowing holiday lights. They promised Hazel that when we came back at the end of our trip there would be children for her to play with upstairs in their extremely appealing attic. She talked about that for the intervening week and a half, looking forward to it.
We did come back for lunch, and this time Bill and Mary’s daughter Rosanna was there with her husband and two daughters. Their son Bruce was unfortunately down with a bad cold and couldn’t attend. We hope to see him on our next visit. Hazel was initially very shy, unusual for her. However, after a while I went upstairs with her and the two girls, and pretty soon they were showing her the fun features of the attic, including an old doll house. The next time I went up to see them, they were having a tea party. Mary generously enhanced this with real cake. I asked Hazel if she wanted to take a piece down to her daddy, and her example was soon followed by Clara, the younger of Rosanna and Francisco’s daughters. So we had a tea party whose festivities spanned three stories.
We took another walk along the river and into the grounds of York House. Hazel attached herself to Miranda, and happily informed me that since Miranda was a big kid, she could hold her hand instead of an adult’s. They were very sweet together. There is a large sunken green area in front of the house, and the girls enjoyed running up and running/slip-sliding down the slope. We brought a lot of squirrel food with us, a significant portion of which Hazel scattered in piles. Hand feeding one of the beasties, Clara got a finger bitten, so we headed home to take care of it. She was very brave and didn’t make much of a fuss. I was impressed.
Rosanna is a few years older than me, the sort of age difference that doesn’t matter at all now, but seemed enormously significant when I was a little kid. I enjoyed discovering that we’d done something similar in our lives, in terms of getting married and having kids later than the norm. Really, one of the pleasures of returning to England as an adult, and on this trip in particular, has been getting to know various people whom I was too young to really know when I was there before. I remember experiencing something similar when I started to get to know my aunts and uncles as an adult. It is a true pleasure of life to begin to realize and appreciate the adult dimensions to people one’s loved as children. It has often been an unexpected but rich gift in my life. As a related pleasure, it has been really delightful to meet and get to know the children of my various English friends. I love seeing networks of family and friend connections spread across generations and between countries.
As a side note, that visit was the only occasion in the entire two and a half weeks upon which we forgot the nursing pillow. We did fine with a pile of cushions, but it definitely made me glad that we’d had it the rest of the time.
As a further side note, it had been raining torrentially in the southwest of England. The Thames was swollen and moving fast, and it was amazing to watch ducks speeding down the middle of the river. On our second afternoon visit the water level wasn’t quite so high, but it was easy to believe that the river floods and rises past its usual banks. Our friends live *just* past the flood zone, the high water mark of which is indicated in a nearby wall. Apparently some things haven’t changed much in over 200 years.