Death In An English Village And My American Expectations

Late yesterday afternoon the sound of a helicopter drew me out of the house. It is rare to hear any air traffic over our tiny village and after a quick look at the two emergency vehicles parked on our street, I hurried down to the far end of the road to see where the air ambulance was going to land.

Any time you hear a helicopter hovering low over the village, you can bet it’s here to help someone. We have several elderly people on our street and my first concern was for the welfare of a sweet man in his 90s who lives a few houses from ours near the small car in the photograph.

Some of my neighbors were outside watching to see where the helicopter was landing and who might be needing emergency care.

A few years ago, the elderly man I mentioned had a heart attack and the air ambulance landed in the same field on the other side of the hedge.

It turned out it was our next door neighbor they were coming to help, but after being inside the house for a while, they left without him.

The sky was on fire while we watched what was happening outside their home and one by one the emergency vehicles drove away without taking anyone with them. It was too late to change the outcome and we learned early this morning that our neighbor had died. I think he was younger than I am.

Things are done differently here when people die and today I feel like someone at the scene of an accident unsure about how to render aid. My heart hurts for my neighbor and I want to do something to help, but it has been suggested by several that a card through the mail drop in the door is the best way to offer our sympathy to her.

At home in Georgia there would be no question about what to do. I would be standing at the door now offering a casserole, or a meal of some kind, handing it over to a relative, or close friend tasked with accepting the offerings of those wishing to offer some comfort if only through a favorite recipe.

A death in the American South seems less constrained and more emotional than the three I’ve experienced here and even though I was not close to the couple, I wish I could do more.

I saw a car arrive this morning and a family member stayed the night so I know our neighbor is not alone. People won’t bring food here, John said it is just not done and would be considered odd. I can’t imagine anything more lonely than walking into the empty kitchen of a home visited by death.

It seems more sad to me somehow than countertops covered over with foil wrapped dishes, and plastic containers of sandwiches and cakes, meant to feed people as they come to pay their respects. I know that food doesn’t equal love, but in the south, it does mean we care.

I don’t know how many people will be coming to help her through this sad time, but I think I may hang convention and make a cake or something because odd or not, it’s a better way for me to say I am sorry for your loss than a card through the door.

English Weather And Other Things

Bedruthan Steps

Weather in Cornwall can change dramatically in a short amount of time. I lived in Germany for several years when I was in the army and it was much the same. One might wake to a day that was grey and wet, see that give way to blue skies, and then be surprised by a short burst of hail from the same sky an hour later.

Two days ago Bedruthan Steps was wrapped in a sheet of cloud cover and rain which was a continuation of the winter weather we’d been having. It looked as if it would stay that way all week, but yesterday we were pleased to have blue skies when we toured Lanhydrock.

I know from visiting some of my readers online, that they are still being slammed with loads of snow so I won’t whinge (whine) on about how wet and grey it is again today.

John’s eldest daughter has been with us since late Thursday and had a chance to visit the house and gardens with us at Lanhydrock. She’s been before, but it’s a great place to revisit. I never get enough of National Trust properties and there are plenty across the UK. I must admit that I have a special attraction for Lanhydrock and joked yesterday with several of the staff that as National Trust members, we visit so often it feels like our second home.

I never get tired of shooting this view from an upstairs window.

Having a church right on the property must have been pretty amazing for the family that lived there and Lanhydrock is one of only three National Trust properties that have churches on the estate. You can read more about it here.

Not all the gardens are as formal as the small bit you can see here.

The church is a working church that still has Sunday services.

Remember a few photos earlier when I said that I can never get enough of this view, at least this one is taken from a different window.

I’ve photographed the light through this window before and I always want to grab a book and a cushion and curl up there for a few hours. If I dressed in period clothing and sat very still, do you think anyone would notice?

There are several heart-shaped door handles in one of the gardens that always get my attention. This one is usually covered over in greenery and more difficult to shoot than it was yesterday.

I had to get really low to the ground to get these tiny buds pushing up through the soil.

This was a bud on a tree that looked kind of odd to me, but pretty in a different way than the more traditional looking bloom below.

I walked all the way around the churchyard taking photographs as I went, squeezing through hedges and actually climbing partway under one to get the shot below.

If you look to the right you can see the hedge I crawled under and partly through. I can’t imagine what someone would have thought had they walked up while my backside was sticking out from underneath it.

This is one of my favorite angles because of the gravestones and the mounds you see around them. Even though the church is active, the cemetery is closed to new burials.

A view from the gate house.

The greens are electric with color especially wherever you see moss. The daffodils are just beginning to bloom here and soon this field will be full of bluebells.

While I have never seen a cow or a sheep anywhere near this gate or even in a field close by, I do as I’m asked like any good guest would do.

After a morning of rainy grey skies and a bit of hail, the sun has come out again today. It’s still overcast, but with patches of blue I am optimistic that we may still have a dryer afternoon. I never thought I would spend so much time talking about the weather, but everyone does it here and it just seems to go with my English life.

Dancing Lessons In The Great Hall In Christchurch

Walking into the building known as the Great Hall, in what was formerly part of The University of Canterbury in Christchurch, I saw a girl onstage doing what appeared to be a ballet jump. She paused for a second when I came in with my camera, but went back to her leaping after I encouraged her not to let me interrupt her dance.

I took photos with and without flash and became frustrated when I could not get the shot just right. You’d think that I would have studied the instruction manual from front to back before going on a seven week trip to New Zealand, but even after having had the camera for three months, I was not ready when an opportunity presented and I struggled to capture her leaping in a way that I thought showed her delight in what she was doing.

I shifted focus to take a couple of photographs of the opposite side of the room and saw that like many of the buildings being used as part of the Christchurch Arts Centre, this one was still being repaired from damage sustained during the September 2010 earthquake.

Turning back to the stage, I noticed the man now in the picture and spoke to him long enough to confirm that he was her father and that it was alright for me to take her photograph. She had given me permission earlier, but I wanted to be sure it was okay with him as well.

We spoke briefly about the beauty of Christchurch, how they were Americans on holiday too and how we both wished we had more time to explore the city. While we talking, his daughter never stopped practicing her dance steps and when I left a minute or so later, she was still leaping through the air.

Reviewing my photos later, I decided the blurred images of her body as she practiced might be a lesson for me, a reminder of just what it takes to perfect a skill.

Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

~ Martha Graham

Updates And Answers From Christchurch

If you read the post I wrote about the terrible earthquake in Christchurch, then you will know that I was hoping to hear some news about the welfare of the woman in the photograph below. I met Vanessa Hardy in Christchurch two months ago and was worried after seeing pictures of the devastation in an area near her shop, Tete-A-Tete.

With no way to get in touch, I checked the internet for news of her or her partner, Warren Chilton and I waited. Coming home this evening after going out for dinner, I was so relieved to see a kind reader had sent me a link to a newspaper article where Vanessa was talking about her experience during and after the quake.

I was also happy to have an email response this morning from Peter from Fortuna Books letting me know that he and his staff were safe as well.

It’s difficult to see my photographs of the city taken before this earthquake especially when the landscape looks so different now. I hope they continue to find survivors and thanks to all who have taken a moment to leave a comment here over the last two days. I hope New Zealanders can feel the love and concern flowing round the world and I appreciate all who have shared their thoughts.

Between The Earthquakes In Christchurch

John Winchurch In Christchurch, New Zealand

Waking this morning to the news of another earthquake in Christchurch, I searched the internet and was sad to see the loss of lives during this most recent quake. When John and I were in Christchurch two months ago there were still many signs of the previous earthquake in September. Our hotel was right around the corner from the cathedral that was hit so hard yesterday in the center of Christchurch. Pictures of the 110 year old ChristChurch cathedral are everywhere showing the collapsed spire and roof damage and I wanted to share with you what it looked like when we were there in December, only nine days before Christmas.

I loved the angels which I imagine were up for the Christmas season.

Also near our hotel was this older building which housed several shops where I enjoyed meeting the owners and making a few purchases. I hope the people I met survived the earthquake.

I searched for them online, but could not find an email link to one in particular. Vanessa Hardy has a wonderful shop in the green building above and I wish I could find a way to see if she and her shop, Tete-a-Tete made it safely through the quake. I had hoped to write about her earlier, but I have not had time to write about my New Zealand experience since we returned so it is only now that I am taking a minute to tell you about her. I bought one of my favorite new (to me) scarves in her shop and we shared our stories about how we met our lovely men. I stayed so long that I had a chance to meet her sweetie, Warren Chilton when he arrived just before closing time.

I also bought the book above in a bookstore on site, Fortuna Books. It feels like a strange coincidence that I happened to be reading that book last night when I went to sleep.

Judging by the time difference, I was reading about pioneer women in New Zealand when Christchurch was breaking up. I pulled it off the bookshelf late last night choosing it over the three or four books already on my bedside table. I had been reading a book of short stories by Tobis Wolf, but last night felt like reading this one instead.

Strange, but true … it feels kind of woo-woo to me now, but John would say it was just chance.

I sent an email off to the bookstore owner and hope to hear all is well in the building since I can’t find a way to check on Vanessa. If one of my New Zealand readers hears any news, I would appreciate knowing that Vanessa and those around her in the other shops in the Green building made it safely through the earthquake.

ChristChurch Cathedral - Christchurch, New Zealand

Solving A Mystery; Finding Another Story In The Stones

After I published this post this morning, I found more information from 1861 through the Cornwall Online Census Project which lists, Thomas as age 33, a Tailor and Grocer, and his wife Sophia age 29. What is especially interesting to me as a Harper, is that Mary Harper, age 49 and a Dressmaker, is a boarder in their home.

Church Village Grocer's Shop,1,Thomas Olver Rich,Head,M,33,,Tailor & Grocer,Cornwall,,
,,,Sophia Rich,Wife,M,,29,,Ladock Cornwall,,
,,,Thomas Olver Rich,Son,U,3,,,Cornwall,,
,,,Mary Sophia Rich,Dau,U,,1,,Cornwall,,
,,,Elizabeth Jane Rich,Dau,U,,1,, Cornwall,,
,,,George Green,Ap,U,18,,Appren.To Tailor,St Breward Cornwall,,
,,,Ellen Pengelly,Serv,U,,16,House Serv,Blisland Cornwall,,
,,,Mary Harper,Boardr,U,,49,Dressmaker,St Cleer Cornwall,,

Sophia died in 1865 and by the 1871 census, Thomas, age 42 was married to Ellen age 26, listed below along with some children from his first marriage and Headly, his 9 month old child with Ellen.

Grocers Shop,1,Thomas Olver Rich,Head,M,42,,Mercer/grocer/frmr 100acr 1man,Cornwall,,
,,,Ellen Rich,Wife,M,,26,Farmers Wife,Cornwall,,
,,,Thomas Olver Rich,Son,S,13,,Farmers Son,Cornwall,,
,,,Mary Sophia Rich,Dau,S,,11,Scholar, Cornwall,,
,,,Elizabeth Jane Rich,Dau,S,,11,Scholar, Cornwall,,
,,,Matthew John Rich,Son,S,9,,Scholar,Cornwall,,
,,,Nehemiah Rich,Son,S,7,,Scholar,Cornwall,,
,,,Headly Rich,Son,S,9m,,,Cornwall,,
,,,John Reynolds,Servnt,S,29,,Tailor,Redruth Cornwall,,
,,,Susanna Sleeman,Servnt,S,,18,Dom Srvnt,St Kew Cornwall,,

The most interesting part of this story is that Thomas did marry a Pengelly, but it was not his first wife as the ancestry sites imply. If you check the listing for 1861 and 1871, in 1861 there was a 16 year servant, Ellen Pengelly living in the house and by 1871 ten years later there was a Ellen (now Rich) age 26 living in the house. Unless I am mistaken, it appears Thomas married his house servant, Ellen sometime after his first wife died.

Doing a bit more research on different ancestry sites, it looks as if people researching their family history from this line will be led to believe that they are related to the Pengelly side which is only true for the children who came later and not the first six children that Thomas had with Sophia. Since the only information I have found for wife and mother is listed as, unknown: PENGELLY, there may be some confusion cleared up today.

UPDATE: I had to come back and share this once I discovered it. It looks from the census data below as if Thomas fathered two sets of twin girls, one with each wife. Also interesting to note is the Rich family lived in the house which stands next to the pub and dates from the seventeenth century. The Rich family used to own the pub and I wonder if Harold Rich is descended from Thomas Olver Rich.

What do you think?

Written In Stone; Stories From The Churchyard

I find a story almost every time I look around our village churchyard and recently, I noticed two gravestones that made me think about the lives of the three people buried there.

Look at the gravestone to the left.

Now look at the gravestone to the right.

The gravestone in front of the window is connected to the one you are looking past from behind. The two stones face each other directly divided only by the path that runs between them.

Sophia Rich, was the first wife of Thomas Olver Rich. You would not know this if searching online as a popular ancestry site has her listed as unknown, but notes her maiden name may have been Pengelly, a name you see a lot in Cornwall. As you can see from her gravestone, she was not a Pengelly, but the daughter of John and Elizabeth Crowle.

Sophia died at 34 in 1865. She left Thomas with the six children I mentioned earlier, with the youngest being born only six months before her death. There was a sweet inscription on her gravestone.

A virtuous Wife in prime of life,

By death is snatched away;

Her soul is blest, and gone to rest,

Her flesh is gone to clay.

She’s left behind a Husband kind,

Three daughter’s and three sons;

May they prepare to meet her where,

True joys are to be won.

 

Across the path next to the window, Thomas shares a grave with wife number two. Thomas lived another fifty years without Sophia and later remarried a woman listed simply as Ellen on the gravestone they share. The ancestry site lists the names of his six children with Sophia along with the names of the children he had with his second wife, Ellen. It looks as if he fathered a total of ten or eleven children. (one of his later children with Ellen is missing a name) Ellen has little listed other than her age and the date of her death which tells me that there was at least a 17 year age difference between Thomas and Ellen. Her name is not on the ancestry site either even though you can see the names of her children.

A final interesting note, the house we live in sits on land that was purchased by a local builder in 1993 from a woman who had bought it with her first husband when her last name was Rich.

(Remember you can double-click on any of these photos to enlarge)