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Thursday, January 31, 2013

How Mabel Made Me Cry in the Buffalo Airport

 Just one of those moments

It's no secret that my entire family has always been a screaming bunch of Anglophiles--every last one of them--but mainly, grandma Mabel.  She left her Baptist roots and became an Episcopalian as soon as her parents had died just so she could guiltlessly enjoy her treasured Book of Common Prayer.  Gram also tried to claim Shakespeare as an ancestor though I have not been able to shake that proof out of any of our family trees.  The only thing in Frewsburg, NY that has the remotest chance of claiming descendence from Stratford upon Avon was Gram's Ivy plant.  It was given to her by a friend who once visited England and pinched a bit of foliage from Anne Hathaway's Cottage.

I first went to England in 1988 and again in 1996 and 1997.  I wanted to live there so badly but I had no obvious way to make it happen.  Then, in December 1997, I fell in love and denial with a drunk.  My mistake but it changed my world for the better.  My drunk was English--I met him in New York City where I was living and he was visiting on business.  A whirlwind romance regularly carried us both back and forth across the pond for the next year.  It was a thrilling time for me and eventually, it became clear we needed to try to be on the same side of the water together.  I was to move to London.

Nothing is ever clear cut and easy.  In September 1998, Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer just after he retired. However, he insisted I carry on to England--we both believed it was where I belonged.  I was not to take him into account--he would not be responsible for me not following my heart.  Like when my mother had died, I could now only trust my gut, my mind would not be able to rationalize things for sometime to come.

In February 1999, one week before my possessions were meant to be carried off on a container ship, my father had a massive heart attack.  I flew up to Buffalo immediately and rented a car.  Diana couldn't join me because she was hugely pregnant with her second daughter.  I had never been so alone in my life.  The old family house that had once been such a comfortable nest was now empty of life--only relics, memories and a hungry mouse were left.  I had never ever spent a night alone there.  The house I loved so much I wrote a poem about as a kid now left me feeling cold and unsafe. 

I was with my Dad for nearly a week from the time he was still mumbling incoherent answers to conversations only he was having like "Jenny, sometimes that past is just the past, can't we just leave it?"  to his fragile return to lucidity.  He was going to make it but they would not promise me for how long.  They could not tell me if it was safe to return to New York and keep my appointment with the shippers.  It was a risk I would would have to decide on for myself.

I would make a break for it.  I would run as fast as I could into my future and I would look back from a safe distance where death could not hurt me, where I could be anonymous and start a new life.  I would continue on to England.

Before I left Dad's I took a book form the shelf that had been Gram's.  It was well-worn navy volume written by one H.V. Morton in 1927 entitled "In Search of England".  I thought the title was speaking to me, what I didn't realize until I sat down in the Buffalo airport and opened it for the first time that is was my Gram who was speaking to me.  On the inside cover she had written the following to my father:

Dear Dick,

Everyone has a dream (or should have).  It matters not that it is never fully realized--the dream itself is what counts--

One of mine has ever been to see the England that I first saw through HV Morton's eyes--

This book has finally become my very own--discarded & sold for 10c from the Myers Library--I think I was the only one to ever take the book out--& that regularly once a year since I discovered it.  Don't feel sorry that I never really saw England--I've seen it through many eyes since I first read Morton--& now the England--"My England" does not exist anymore & the only way I can still remember it is as I first dreamed it to be.


My whole body trembled as I read.  Tears flooded my eyes and streamed down my cheeks.  I must have sobbed aloud as well because I suddenly realized my private moment was being shared with everyone at the gate.  A woman nearby wordlessly handed me some tissue.  I was not embarrassed.  Somehow I knew no one thought I was odd instead their kind faces honored my profound sadness.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mabel's "Snow in the City"

Berta and Elmer Hader were children's authors from the 1920s to 1960s.  They met in art school and built a beautiful, creative life together.  As a teacher and book lover, my grandmother became familiar with their work and shared many of their stories with her class.  I believe, at one point, she had her class write letters of appreciation to the Haders.  Moved by this lovely, little fan base in Jamestown, NY, the Hader's dedicated this book to my grandmother and her 3rd grade students.

I don't know where my dust jacket is but it looks like I haven't had it for a while guessing by the big snowball, splat mark of white paint.  To be honest, I can't remember a time that mark wasn't there but my grandmother's love remains evident.  My grandmother retired the year I was born.