Thursday, April 3, 2014

To England Where My Heart Lies

I can recall humming this line from the Paul Simon song as I boarded that first flight to Heathrow.  My husband was being transferred to the UK and something about it felt so right.  I had always dreamed of living there and in many ways, thought of it as my spiritual home.  This was in the early 1990's and I was still angry about the Vietnam War, and I hadn't felt like an American in a long time.

England was the perfect place to relocate, I was sure of that.  My mother was mostly of English extraction and through the Lutherans, I had always been a part of the Swedish community in our town.  Hell, I was practically a European already, or so I thought.  I loved Monty Python, had watched Masterpiece Theater for years, even had a Sassoon haircut back in the sixties and my nickname in college was Twiggy.  Probably no one would even notice that I wasn't a Brit.

My sister-in-law, who had spent many years of life following her engineer husband around the world, warned me that it took a particular personality to be a successful ex-pat.  In my arrogance and excitement, I didn't even bother to ask her to enlarge on that statement, but I remembered her words later, many times.

We lived on the English Channel in West Sussex, a place I still miss, but a place that never truly became home although I'm not entirely sure why.

The following is an excerpt from my novel A Twist of Light which is being re-issued on May 15th by Little, Brown UK.  The narrator, Lizzy, is an American who married a Brit and moved to England when she was twenty.  She was better at being an ex-pat than I was.

Cotherstone, West Sussex, January 26th

Dearest Mary,

We have a touch of snow today.  Patch had a terrible time deciding whether or not he really needed to go out this morning.  Finally your father kicked him out and gave him a lecture about soldering through.  Patch didn't seem awfully impressed as he demonstrated by ignoring your father as the poor man was reading the Times.  Although your father tried to make up, Patch insisted on staring out the window rather than assuming his usual station at your father's feet.  I think he misses you.  (Patch that is.  I hope you realize that Daddy definitely misses you! I keep finding him (Patch) sleeping on your bed.

Daddy leaves for Brussels today and will be gone a week or so.  I thought about joining him, but decided it would be too complicated.  Once Chaz is away for A levels I'll have lots of trips.  I can't believe my youngest heads off next year.  I'd like to stretch this mothering business out more, but you and your brother seem determined to grow up.

Yes, I am feeling all broody.  Do you realize lots of women my age are still having babies?  No, no , I'm not contemplating anything quite so dramatic or rash.  My baby days are a thing of the past, but I am thinking about getting another dog to keep Patch company.  With you and Chaz no longer available as playmates on any kind of regular basis I'm afraid he'll get awfully lonely.  Of course, not only would a puppy keep him young, but it would satisfy my broodiness a little less radically than a change-of-life baby.

I'm very glad you're finding friends.  I knew it wouldn't be a problem, but I know you were a little concerned.  Americans are mad about an English accent and or course, you are such a delight, even without the accent.  I can say that because I an completely objective about my children.

As promised, I've been sifting through the grey matter to give you an overview of the distaff side of your family tree.  As you know, your grandmother was called Laura Sinclair, though I believe her real name was Laura Shook.  I'm not even sure why I know about the Laura Shook business, but my sister, at least, was convinced this was her real name.  As the oldest child I suppose she had some information I wasn't privy to when we were children.

I do know she was born in a farm labour camp in Fresno County in 1935.  Her mother was still in her teens and probably unmarried.  My grandmother had left Oklahoma after poor farming practices had blown all the topsoil out of the state.  I don't know who fathered the baby, or if she had any other family, but I do know she died in childbirth or shortly after.  Her baby, my mother, was given to a woman who had lost a baby.  Apparently she was never allowed to forget that she was the cuckoo in the nest.  She left this woman and her family when she was about fourteen or fifteen. 

She always told us that she had been married to a man, our father, who died in Korea during the war.  I doubt this was true.  If a soldier had died, leaving a wife and children, there would have been some sort of death benefits or pension.  She once told me she'd never gotten around to applying for benefits, but that seems terribly unlikely since we lived on public funds for the last year or so of her life.  Even if she'd never gotten around to claiming benefits, it seems likely that the Welfare Department would have done so to defray some of their costs.  She also told us the marriage certificate, pictures and everything else had been lost in a fire, but neither Eleanor nor I remembered a fire.