Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne
I found this tiny program in some of my great-aunt Wylly’s things when I went to see my cousin, McKenzie last summer. I had a whirlwind trip where I scanned photos and documents for most the time I was there. It was a quick overnight visit with me quietly scanning through the night while the rest of the house snoozed. Aunt Wylly was my writer aunt that I’ve mentioned before and sweet to me like a dear old grandma. She was McKenzie’s great-grandma and after McKenzie’s mother died suddenly a few years ago, she’s been the one to keep the family history safe.
Going through things quickly, I learned a lot about my family I hadn’t known. This Christmas menu and program from 70 years ago was tucked in a box, no doubt saved by Aunt Wylly who left a serious paper trail. I knew my Uncle Tom had been in the army, practically everyone called him Sarge when I was growing up so it would have been hard to miss, but I did not know that he’d been in England during WWII. Finding this little treasure from 70 years ago left me with loads of questions with no answers. I gleaned a bit online, but I’m hoping a older relative or adult child of someone who might have served with my uncle will see this post and get touch with me.
Thanks to the internet I was able to learn where the 152nd Station Hospital was located, and found that my uncle was in Bristol, about a 14o miles from where I live now. Frenchay Hospital was much smaller before the Americans arrived in 1942 and they added more buildings to make a medical complex that is still in use today.
I wish I knew more about his life and his time in England during the war. My husband, John was less than three months old when Uncle Tom sat down to the Christmas dinner you see on the program below. Given the shortage of food and rationing going on in England at that time, Uncle Tom’s Christmas dinner was likely much better than what the English were having that year.
Since I’m talking about food and family, I thought I’d share a bit of our Christmas day with you.
Our Christmas dinner, the American version … no roast potatoes, sprouts or parsnips. I like them, but I wanted a more familiar taste of Christmas and John was fine skipping them this year. He cooked the turkey and made the gravy, I made the rest from handed down family recipes. We did have the English version of pigs in a blanket which were wrapped in bacon versus biscuit dough.
That pink mass before you is a cranberry congealed salad. It stuck a bit in my jello mold so it’s not very pretty, but it was tasty. This traditional Christmas salad has been the subject of a great deal of ridicule from John. I get that congealed isn’t a very appetizing name for it, and that it tends to look like something that has already been eaten once, but it reminds me of my step-mom, Cullene and it’s very special to me. John thinks it is very similar to what they call a blancmange (sounds like bla-monge) which does sound a bit more grand. He had a decent sized portion with his dinner so I think he may be getting used to it.
Here’s a shot of John waiting patiently for our present opening to begin. I’ll be back with another post on gift-giving as I received something very special from him.
Since we’re talking about food in this post, here’s a shot of me with one of the carrots I took on our walk to the pub for our traditional Christmas drink. The couple that own our village pub offer everyone in the village a free drink on Christmas day if they come in on regular basis. I was carrying carrots hoping we might come across a moorland pony or two, but we stayed in the lanes on our walk making it less muddy and we bypassed the moor and the ponies. I did get lucky though as you can see below.
This sweet horse was having a Christmas walk and had the benefit of the carrots in my pocket. Murphy munched them down pretty quickly and we went on to the pub.
I’ll leave you with this photo of my great-uncle Tom taken in uniform. I don’t share any of his DNA as he’s my uncle through marriage, but it’s kind of nice to feel a connection through both our military (Army) ties and our Christmas dinners in England.
If you’re visiting older relatives this Christmas … ask them about their life or you may be sorry later when they’re gone.
Growing up, my world view was severely limited by the life I had with my mother and step-father. In their house, anything normal was considered a privilege which could include everything but breathing, depending on their mood. Television and music fell directly in the privilege column and were both a tightly controlled experience that didn’t happen all that often.
Music was limited to their mostly country collection of artists like Charlie Rich, Tanya Tucker, and Glen Campbell and if I was lucky, they might mix in a little Elvis which fortunately was more vintage 50s than the music of the jumpsuit wearing 70s. It turns out that I like a fair amount of country music artists now, but back then I yearned for something more.
I didn’t know what more might be until I heard Three Dog Night’s “Joy To The World” blasting through a classmate’s transistor radio on the school bus ride home. I know some of you youngsters are likely thinking, “Transistor radio, what year is she even talking about?” I think I was about eleven so it would have been around 1971 and I was hooked from the moment I heard the words, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog.”
I remember some of the kids were practically dancing in their seats and the boy holding the radio was up on his knees encouraging those closest to him. In my mind he is eternally cute and definitely crush worthy, especially to someone who’d been living in what felt like musical wasteland while the rest of the world was listening to more variety.
By 1974, I’d moved to Georgia to live with my dad and step-mom. My father worked with someone who was taking his daughter and one of her friends to a concert and they invited me to join them. When my dad dropped me off at their house, the man he worked with said, ” They’ll be down in a minute, they’ve been listening ‘The White Album’ all afternoon.” I remember it was said in a way that assumed I knew what he was talking about which would have been a reasonable given the concert we going to.
Sadly, I had no idea what he was talking about and at 14, I didn’t even know who The Beatles were. It was November 28, 1974 and George Harrison, Ravi Shankar, and Billy Preston were playing the Omni in Atlanta, a venue that was torn down in 1997. A few things still stand out for me when I think about my first concert and it was the recent death of Ravi Shankar that made me remember George Harrison singing “My Sweet Lord,”and Billy Preston dancing as he sang “Will It Go Round In Circles”
I’ve been to loads of concerts since 1974 and worked backstage at a few of them over the years as well. When I read the news last week about Ravi Shankar’s death, I went back to my studio space and pulled out a box filled with notebooks that hold half-written stories and ideas for more that I might write one day. Tucked into the mix was a program from that first concert.
It’s kind of funny what I’ve held onto over the years and interesting that this souvenir made the cut when I shipped my 200 cubic feet of remaining stuff to England.
Few things were certain for me in my early years, but some things were absolute.
School was my safe place, home was not.
Watching the news yesterday as the reports came in of the murdered children and adults in a Connecticut school, I could not help but flash back to the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, where my daughter was a student at the time.
I wonder how the recent mass shootings affect her, but I don’t know because she doesn’t talk about it.
My husband, John and I spend a fair amount of time talking about gun laws in the US and the UK. Having lived in the UK since 2008, our conversations are different from when I first moved to Cornwall. While it’s based more on how I feel here than the statistics John has quoted, it’s difficult to argue with the facts.
John frequently cites the numbers of gun deaths in the US. It used to annoy me, but having lived in a place now where I feel safer because guns are so restricted, I wish I could have the same relaxed attitude when I’m in the US.
I kept a .22 revolver for years in my home in the US. It was an old family pistol that my dad gave me and it made me feel safer. Unlike some of my handgun owning friends, I had weapons training in the military firing M16 semi-automatic rifles, and a M60 machine gun. Additionally, I’d had some experience with handguns as well.
I always recognized how deadly guns could be, but felt the risk necessary to ensure my daughter and I were safe if someone tried to break into our home and cause us harm. My gun was meant for protection at home which is the argument most Americans make when people talk about new laws intent on restricting their ability to own handguns.
Statistics still show that most gun deaths occur in the home with family members killing those they once wished to protect, a reality that makes the protection at home reason more difficult to justify. While the right to bear arms may be protected by the constitution, it has long been one with frequently deadly effects.
Here’s something for gun enthusiasts in the US to consider. The most recent figures I’ve been able to find show 87 people die each day in the US from gun related injuries while in the UK, only 58 die each year. It’s difficult to argue with those kind of numbers.
The Brits I meet are always talking about the US and our need to have so many guns. They tend to make ‘Wild West’ jokes about it, but they’re not really trying to be funny. I think they’re shocked by how much Americans will sacrifice to carry guns, a question I’m beginning to consider now myself.
I’ve chosen to focus on change in this post because I can’t bear to think about any more sadness and loss. This year alone has had more mass shootings than I want to consider and the grief of the families who’ve lost those who were precious to them, breaks my heart.