Noting Time – 29 Years of 8:03

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Facebook tells me that today is my daughter’s birthday as if I could ever forget.

8:03

It’s been 29 years since I heard a chorus of voices saying  “8:03″ almost in unison. Throughly exhausted by a 52 hour labor, I remember thinking, ” So what if it’s 8:03 ” before realizing a half second later that the medical team were noting her time of birth.

8:03

Her time of birth may have marked the beginning of her life, but in many ways it was the beginning of mine as well, a life where others might come and go, but this little being would be a constant in my thoughts and heart no matter what. It is interesting even now how three little numbers still carry such meaning years after I heard them in the moments when my daughter was taking her first breath.

8:03

Not more than a few days ever pass without me glancing at a clock and noticing the time as 8:03. Call it coincidence if you like, but particularly now that my life is no longer ruled by the clock and my schedule my own, I always feel a bit more connected to my daughter and the memory of her birth day when those numbers pop up.

8:03

Children grab on to your heart as soon as they make their way into the world and no one tells you how difficult it will be to let go after years of hanging on so tightly. These days, I’m better at negotiating this shift in our relationship and while I sometimes stumble, I regain my footing faster now and can avoid the parts of the path that are no longer mine to walk.

8:03

After 29 years, it occurred to me this morning that I’ve been thinking of 8:03 as something that connected us when it really marked the beginning of a life that while linked to mine through love and DNA, was really one separate from me. Funny how 29 years and an openness to change can shift one’s perspective.

8:03

I’m clock watching now as I always do on her birthday waiting for the time to reach 8:03 in Georgia. While I won’t be there to see her blow out any candles or watch her make a wish, with my birthday four days before hers, I’ve got her covered because my birthday wishes have been about her health and happiness for years, 29 to be exact and this year was no different.

So here’s to Miranda, and to a year of having her dreams come true.

Happy Birthday, Miranda (at 8:03 )

To Normandy And Back – Sgt.Hugh Lee Stephens & Me

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Some blog posts are harder to write than others as my drafts folder would illustrate if you were able to poke around in my unfinished business, but this story is one I’ve wanted to share since last year and as it’s Memorial Day, today seems right.

In 1943 my great-uncle, Hugh Lee Stephens went off to war to fight and die like many others. Thanks to the letters he wrote home and the historical work of others I found online, tracking his journey from his basic training days to a field in France was not as difficult as it could have been.

Once I realized that I could follow his path from the USA to England and across the English Channel to France using the APO addresses on his letters home, I tracked him to a field near Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves where he died.

I am including a link should you wish to do a similar search. The list of APO’s used during 1942-1947 can be found by clicking here.  You can see an example of a different APO numbers in the return addresses on the letters below.

WWII Letters Home

After I found the APO guide, I began to search his letters for information that led me to his unit and confirmed I had the dates were correct that placed him at the battle at Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves .

July 19, 1944 - There are details in this letter about being given time off to get clean clothes and a hot meal that fit with notes I found online about his unit's activity just before the battle of Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

July 19, 1944 – There are details in this letter about being given time off to get clean clothes and a hot meal that fit with notes I found online about his unit’s activity just before the battle of Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

 

July 21, 1944 - Last letter home of Hugh Lee Stephens

July 21, 1944 – Last letter home of Hugh Lee Stephens

I could go on and on about the history lesson that came from my research and my excitement at learning more about my great-uncle Hugh’s last days, but none of it would be complete without sharing the physical journey that John and I made last fall when we crossed the English channel and made our way across France to Saint-Germain-sur-Sèves.

We knew we had found the right area when we saw this sign. I took a couple of photos of it because it shows what the field looked like when American troops tried to take it from the German soldiers.

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Even though we were very close, we had problems finding the field. it was not as well-marked as we thought it would be and we didn’t see any people at first in the hamlet near the field.

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John and I circled round the area on foot several times and then a man came out of a house to speak to us. We were clearly not the first visitors he had directed and the chance meeting was more special as he explained to John in French that he was there when the Americans lost what they called ” The Island ” because it was a marshy space that was almost surrounded by water due to weather conditions.

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I took the first two photos on the sly as I walked up on John speaking with him so they are a bit wonky.

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The more he talked the more emotional he became as he shared how as a boy he’d watched German soldiers hide under grasses in the fields, in ditches and behind the hedges. He said the Germans were mostly boys by then, a comment which made sense as German forces had been spread thin across the rest of Europe by 1944.

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 He pointed to us in a direction that led to the path to the field.

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There is a small memorial stone at the edge of the field and both an American and French flag.

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Looking out at the peaceful space dotted with hungry cattle and water lilies in a stream that in 1944 helped make the field a slippery mud hole, it was hard to imagine my great-uncle bleeding and dying along side other young men who’d  barely had a chance to live.

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I brought some flowers to leave at the memorial for the men from the 90th Infantry Division, ironic in a way because I had never placed a single flower on my great-uncle’s grave in Georgia.

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As I was taking a moment and thinking some very subdued thoughts about war and death, a cat named Felix sauntered  up to distract me. He was cuddly and playful and relentless in his antics which had me smiling despite the solemn reason for our visit.

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John walked across a bridge and Felix followed part way and sat down. I went past him and down the steps to the other side and he followed me although slowly and in his own time.

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Once Felix was on the other side, he went right to work digging in the dirt like he had something he wanted to show me.  I pushed the dirt around a bit, but didn’t see anything except dirt and rocks and picked up some stones to take back to Georgia when I went back a few weeks ago.

Just before I left, I went to the cemetary in Marietta where Hugh Lee is buried next to his parents, his sister, (my grandmother) my grandfather, and my dad. I carried those stones back so I could lay them on his grave and decided that his mother and my dad should have one too. They were the ones who talked most about him and would have appreciated the significance of our trip to acknowledge his sacrifice.

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 A rock for his grave stone.

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 And two more stones from France rest just above the cross.

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It took me months to get this far and it seems as if it is mostly photographs. I wrote another post about Hugh Lee Stephens that says more about the man and his family life. You can find it by clicking here if you’d like to know a little more.

When The Rocky Road Brings You Laughter

Colorado Outward Bound 2003

When my daughter was fifteen we took a mother-daughter trip to Colorado to take part in an Outward Bound wilderness experience with some other parent/child combinations. We quickly made new friends and became part of an impromptu group of cheerleaders as we encouraged each other to take on a variety new experiences such as rock climbing and white water rafting. While I found rock climbing a bit scary, (I hate heights) but now love climbing, the most memorable for me was the camping part of our week together.

By the time we had hiked up the mountain and slept in the woods for a few nights, I was ready for a shower and a real meal. We had some hot food while we were camping, but back then even I didn’t care much for my own cooking so I had to get creative.

Elizabeth Harper, Outward Bound, Camp Cooking

Eleven years later, I can still remember what I tried to put together from memory over an open flame. Those who’ve been reading GOTJ for a while know that I love peanut butter and have a terrible sweet tooth so it should be no surprise that the glob of stuff in the pan in front of me contained most of the ingredients needed for a big peanut butter cookie.

Elizabeth Harper, Backpacking in Colorado with Outward BoundNow here’s where the story gets rocky and no jokes about my camping hair, please!

As we were hiking down the mountain, I may have done a bit of moaning about how heavy my pack was and how it was killing my back, but I remember that backpack feeling like it weighed a ton. Even with a couple of rest stops for wilderness potty breaks and  snacks, I was glad when we finally reached the cabins where we’d started our journey a few days earlier.

I quickly plopped down and began pulling out the contents of my pack so I could give back what had been provided by the Outward Bound crew and set aside what was mine. Imagine the confusion on my face when I discovered a large rock mixed in with my belongings. After seeing my daughter exchange a look with another camper who clearly was in cahoots with my little prankster, I burst out laughing realizing I had been tricked into hauling a big rock down the mountain.

The next day, Miranda and I boarded a plane and headed for home. I snagged our bags at airport and began unpacking my duffel almost as soon as I made it through the door not wanting to wait too long to tackle a week’s worth of dirty clothes. I unzipped the bag and began pulling out my stuff only to find that same rock. I still don’t know how she managed it, but my sneaky teen was able to get the rock into my duffel bag without me noticing and I carried it home to Georgia.

I put it on a bookshelf to save because it made me smile to think of the trouble she’d gone to surprise me and to make me laugh. So when I was shipping my things to the UK, it seemed only right that such a well-traveled chunk of Colorado should make one more journey, this time to Cornwall.

Colorado Rock In UKI know it just looks like a rock to you, but it’s memory of a time when everything seemed a struggle and I’d forgotten how to have fun. That trip marked the beginning of several life changes for me and it was when I began to get my laugh back.

It’s funny how a bit of silliness can do that for you … if you are willing let it.

A Romantic Story For Valentine’s Day

The Owl And The Pussy Cat (In French)

Written by Edward Lear and translated by Francis Steegmuller

In 1975 my great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John sent me this book in a birthday gift box for my fifteenth birthday. She always sent the best presents, and packages from her were special even when I was uncertain as to why she gave me certain things.

I collected owls or owl themed items when I was growing up and since I did not speak French, this may have been what led her to choose The Owl and the Pussycat translated into French as a gift for me, or perhaps she imagined I might consider taking French in high school. Having a terrible facility for foreign language, I went with Spanish which was said to be easier than French and saved this book  for sentimental reasons even though I could not read it.

When I moved to Cornwall I had loads of books that had to find a new home. This one made the cut because Aunt Wylly had given it to me and it found a home on a bookshelf that my husband John built for me after we married. I displayed it in a way that made the cover visible and it sat there looking pretty next to a little owl that had been a gift from her as well.

A few weeks ago, just before our fifth wedding anniversary, I looked up from my desk and saw it on the shelf and it occurred to me that while I still did not speak enough French to read it, my British born husband did.

John seemed a bit surprised when I brought it in as we were getting ready for bed and asked him to read it to me. I think his exact response was,  “Now ?”

Even though the poem was not new to me it sounded pretty sweet to hear him read it in French, 39 years after opening it on my birthday.

I know most would argue that it was just a bit of coincidence, but I can’t help but wonder what my aunt would think about our love story and how the romantic in me never gave up on finding lasting love.

The Owl And The Pussy Cat (In French)

Today is the sixth anniversary of our meeting face to face having met almost “by accident” online six weeks earlier. I flew to Cornwall in 2008 on Valentine’s Day and when my visit was over two weeks later, we both knew our future was set.

Despite an 18 year age difference that created loads of initial objections from my family and friends, I think we both would agree that the ocean between us, a five-hour time difference, and the limitations imposed on the amount of time immigration would allow me to stay were some of the bigger issues in our early relationship.

Being wooed from across the sea was full of surprises and I can still remember when John quoted these lyrics not long after I had returned to the US from my two-week long Valentine’s Day visit.

How could I not fall madly and deeply in love with a man who said such reassuringly sweet words.

At 17 he falls in love quite madly
with eyes of azure blue,
At 24 he gets it rather badly
with eyes of a different hue.
At 36 you’ll find him flirting sadly
with two or three or more;
When he fancies he is past love,
It is then he meets his last love,
And he loves her as he’s never loved before.

~ Peter Dawson

Please feel free to share your own stories  in a comment or links to a blog post you have a special one for today.

I have told our story in different places on my blog, but I will include a few links for those who might be here for the first time. The highlighted words above will take you to other earlier posts if you wish to know more.

The Gift You Keep

Will You Stay With Me Will You Be My Love

Remembering The Day We Met – Valentine’s Day 2008

Buttercup Madness and Mid – May Diversions

Added Family, The Gifts You Gain By Sharing Your Family History

Francis Victor Winchurch c.1939You may not know it, but my husband, John does a bit of writing too. He tends to focus most of his efforts on his genealogy pages having picked up the research bug that bit his father years ago. One could easily say that his dad’s initial interest actually started when faced with a question from John that he couldn’t answer about a relative listed in the family bible.

Today marks what would have been his father’s one hundredth birthday and John has written a lovely piece about his dad who was born in the same year the first world war began. If you are interested in seeing more images and learning a bit more about his life, you can find it by clicking on the name,

Vic Winchurch.

I love the way internet links are able to act as a kind of map helping those with common ancestors find each other and connect to family lines that might otherwise be lost to history.

John’s genealogy pages have brought him into contact with other relatives who having searched for family name found their way to his site. Especially poignant to me was an email not so long ago when a cousin in Canada contacted him after seeing her grandfather, George Arthur Gadesby Smith’s face in a photo for the first time after her search led her John’s website. Her grandfather was brother to John’s maternal grandmother and after George Smith died during WWI leaving a wife and two children,  his widow remarried and immigrated to Canada causing that link to be lost until a few years ago.

Having met John later in life, I never had an opportunity to meet his dad, but I’ve heard enough stories to be able to see where some of John’s gentle nature and compassion likely come from.

If you have an interest, the blue links will take you to John’s website and the sweet birthday piece he wrote to honor his dad.

John and Vic Winchurch

A Lot Can Happen In Five Years

Wedding Day - John Winchurch & Elizabeth HarperThis photograph was taken a few minutes before John and I married five years ago today and despite all that is happening in the background, it remains one of my favorites.

I use to moan about the car, and the way our family and friends are all doing their own thing in the background, particularly the two people right behind us. I even tried to edit the couple out with Photoshop, but it never looked right.

John hates feeling like he’s the center of attention so when he asked that we forgo a professional photographer, I agreed thinking if we had one decent photo of the day that would be enough for me.

I figured if a handful of folks were equipped with a camera we would surely have a few we would like from the collected effort. I wrote about the outcome of that decision in a post titled, Everyone’s a Wedding Photographer and there are loads of images there if you’d like to see more of our day.

Because I know how much a professional photographer can add to your wedding day memories, the photographer in me has been a bit wistful occasionally when looking back at the images we have especially the one above, but five years on I can see it from a different perspective and I don’t mind the activity in the background so much.

A lot can happen in five years and some of the people in the photo are no longer in our lives.

The couple that I tried to edit our photo who on that day seemed destined for a little wedding day happiness of their own, they got engaged a few years later, but decided to go separate ways a few months before their wedding.

The woman in purple with the white hair was our friend MIJ.  She died a year after this picture was taken from a reoccurrence of breast cancer after having been in remission for 20 years. She had no idea she was even ill until a few months before she died. I wrote about her several times in The Last Walk – Measured Steps, and Memories and Music in a Full House.

I’ve written a great many posts about John’s granddaughter always masking her identity with the name, Jersey Girl.  She’s the little four – year old girl you can see in the arms of John’s eldest daughter. JG has a little sister now who will be three not long before JG turns ten. Some of my favorite posts have involved fun times with Jersey Girl so click here to see a list of some you might enjoy.

I told John today that nothing has ever seemed as easy as the decision I made to marry him and while not all of the 620 posts at GOTJ are about us, there are more than a few that show why it was the right one.

Sweet Indulgence – A Key Lime Pie Birthday In Cornwall

Key Lime Pie In England - John Winchurch

I’ve always been a cake fan when it comes to birthdays, but after last week, I think some of the best birthdays may be those that begin and end with pie. Such was our day last Friday when we had a breakfast of coffee and homemade Key Lime pie for John’s birthday.

Later on we split a slice for a snack and then finished off the rest of the pie after a lovely dinner at the recently revamped St Mabyn Inn which is definitely going to be one of our new go to places in Cornwall.

In between our marathon pie moments we went out for a bit of exercise and managed to visit Trerice, one of our favorite local National Trust properties for a walk and a bite of lunch, (but no pie) as well as a seaside visit in the afternoon to the beach at Bedruthan Steps. 

We took loads of pictures if you want to have look through to see what a warm day in late September looks like in Cornwall.

Trerice, Cornwall UK - Elizabeth Harper

First stop as I mentioned was Trerice, a Elizabethan manor house near Newquay. It’s always gorgeous even in bad weather and I’m never surprised to see something new.

Well, almost never.

Gates at TrericeWhile backing up to get a shot of the house through the gate, I captured one of those unexpected finds I sometimes experience on outings with John. ( See photo below)

John Winchurch - Trerice - Elizabeth Harper

Yep! That’s the birthday boy jumping into my shot. It’s good to remember that playfulness doesn’t end at a certain age.

Trerice- Garden View of House - Elizabeth HarperI am not sure there is anything to say here other than oh, or maybe ah! Except that I think this was the prettiest Trerice has looked and it was a perfect place to begin our day out.

Trerice Front Garden - Elizabeth Harper

Thinking Spot - ELizabeth Harper

 There are benches all around the grounds that call out to you as you walk past … Come on over, rest a while and think about life.

Resting At Trerice - John Winchurch

After lunch I spent some time inside the manor house while John moved quickly through it and on to a bench in the garden to soak up some sunshine. If it’s sunny and I can’t find him this always the kind of place I look. He likes to pause for sunshine break and would tell you that he prefers to get his Vitamin D the natural way.

Bedruthan Steps -Elizabeth Harper

Not long after finding him in the garden we were walking down the path at Bedruthan Steps, a place that will always have special memories for us.

Bedruthan Steps - Elizabeth Harper

Beach at Bedruthan Steps - John Winchurch

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Elizabeth Harper

John Winchurch - Beach at Bedruthan Steps

Sorry this one is a bit in the shadows. I’m still learning to use my new camera and it was so bright outside I did not notice the image  was too dark. It’s a cute one of John though so I wanted to post it. This was where he was standing when he took the two pictures of me above.

We stepped through an opening in the rocks as the tide was going out to find this little private beach spot. The Cornish coast has loads of lovely places like this with few people.

Steps to Beach at Bedruthan StepsAfter swishing through the water a bit and drying our feet in the sun it was back up the long set of steps.

Bedruthan Steps - ELizabeth Harper

A last look back before heading home and dinner at the St Mabyn Inn.

Key Lime Pie

The ‘ before ‘ shot of pie that was gone in a day. I can’t believe we ate the whole thing.