Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Unlikely Heroes: York, England

Face Painting
Where were the superheroes? We needed saving. A year in England without income, not to mention root beer, heat, showers, Oreos, peanut was taking it's toll. We were basically running out of everything. Especially confidence.

Dee had finished his class work and was beginning his dissertation. He had to write a document of a few hundred pages, longhand, in our freezing cold bedroom, next to the drafty window in order to have a little light. Forty watts doesn't cut it during a drab and dreary Yorkshire winter, where it gets dark at 3:30 in the afternoon. He wore the requisite cardi (cardigan sweater) over his sweater vest, as well as fingerless gloves. It was a scene out of Dr. Zhivago.

The hot air was leaking out of our balloon and we were starting to feel adrift. Remember all those meddlesome folks who thought we were nuts? What if they were right? Was it just the weather that was giving us cold feet? It wasn't like we had a plan. Dee was now capable of restoring stained glass windows in medieval cathedrals, and replicating mortar from the 13th century, but there wasn't much call for that in SLC. What had we been thinking? Starting over in a different country and culture was bold and daring. Starting over again a year later in front of everyone we knew could be embarrassing and foolish.

The Mohawk
It was a little late to re-think it. I read my diary and we rehashed our old conversations, trying to recall the faith and hope and inspiration we had felt at the beginning. Dee started sending resumes, but doubt and worry crept in. We weren't finished being blessed, though. A couple of miracles buoyed us up.

I don't know about England, but here neighborhoods seem to have similar types of people. There's the organizer, the busybody, the bring-everybody-cookies lady, the know-it-all, the too-good-for-the-rest-of-you, and the helpful gardener with all the tools. Hermie (I've changed his name) was the odd-man-out. He was brilliant, which made him hard to relate to. His wife was nice, but she had some kookier elements about her, too. Hermie had come to blows with another guy on the block over which of their sons had won the Pinewood Derby. It was ridiculous and his reputation didn't have far to fall after that.

Anyway, one Sunday afternoon we were sitting on our bed in York, and the phone rang, which was extremely unusual. I answered and it was Hermie! He was wondering how we were doing, and wanted to tell us what great neighbors we had always been. (Luckily, we were hypocrites, so he didn't know what we really thought.) He was so friendly, and nice. We talked for a while and he said he had sent us something in the mail and wondered if we'd received it. We thought back, mentally thumbing through our Christmas cards from three months before and said we didn't think so. He told us to watch for it, and said goodbye. How thoughtful! That call was just the encouragement we needed, we told each other. What a nice guy. A few days later we got his envelope. Inside was a check for $1,000!!! He had written a lovely letter saying he hoped this would come in handy, and that he admired our nerve. Please spend it with the pleasure he got from sending it. Dee has a phrase for this kind of event: "How does your crow taste?"

A few weeks later, a good friend from home wrote to say she had always loved my diamond ring, and would I consider selling it to her. She had admired it before, but who asks a question like that? It was so unexpected, yet perfectly timed! We had mutual friends who were coming to visit us, and she sent a check with them. I packaged my ring carefully in a tube of Smarties (M & M's) so there wouldn't be a problem with customs, and they took it home to her. This infusion of cash was just what we needed.

Dee was contacted by a professor who needed some research done for a book. That became an insightful and amazing project, that ended up to be life changing. A couple of times a week throughout the spring and summer we followed old maps in search of 19th century mills, barns, churches, homes and other ruins. We explored parts of Wales, the Cotswolds, Worcestershire, and Cheshire and got familiar with back roads covered by hedgerows. Most of the time these were day trips while the kids were in school, and other times we took them along. We read local histories and journals written during the period, and followed the paths they described from the 1800's. The stories were fascinating and the people came alive to us. Slowly it dawned on Dee that this was what he wanted to do: chronicle the lives of everyday folks, document how they rose to the challenges they faced, and place these events in historic perspective. Coupled with his love for photography, it seemed like a plan! Our enthusiasm and anticipation came rushing back.

It was a "roof" (rough) neighborhood
During our year in York the cooperation from our kids was overwhelming. It was a family project. They did without all the usual props: no phones, malls, cars, proms, basketball games, cheerleaders, pep-rallies... they wore uniforms to school, and hung out with each other. We had lots of other years, before and after, filled with the paraphernalia of life in the USA, but this year set a new tone. Our family became it's own foundation. We protected, sustained, comforted and fortified each other. We all gave up everything, and we discovered what was really important. It was worth it.

Cute new school clothes
Dee always says that our year in England was when the kids earned their hero status. He relates it to an experience he had at summer camp when he was in the ROTC.

His platoon was running in formation when Dee had an asthma attack. Suddenly he couldn't catch his breath and he was starting to lag behind, slowing the whole group. His arms were bent and the two guys on either side of him (who were both taller than Dee) lifted him from under his elbows, and carried him the rest of the way. Dee compares the kids rallying around us and supporting our dream to those two soldiers. They ran in formation, lifted us up and made sure we finished the run.

The Heroes: Micah, Heidi, Amy, Gabi, Marta, Peter, Josh


Nancy said...


I can't tell you how much I am enjoying your "York" experiences.

You have a talent for expressing just the right sentiment for any experience you and your children had.

I love the way the kids all stuck together and tried to make the most out of every situation.

Kay Dennison said...

I think all of you are heroes!

gramakas said...

Once again, very inspirational! I hope my Heidi's experience will be just as successful and life-changing in a positive, constructive way.

Rebecca said...

What a wonderful story. Your leap of faith enriched all of your lives tremendously! I really admire that.

Thank you for your kind words on my Exhale post. It was quite a week, capping off that 6 month period! That you think I am a good writer I find humbling [especially since I found a type-o :)].

Rebecca said...

oh, and I forgot to say that I am glad you, too, were found to be in good health!

heed said...

From my 7-yr. old eyes... it was an awesome experience, that I didn't know to second guess. From the eyes of a mother of four... I can't believe you guys did that! I'm amazed and impressed that it all worked out so wonderfully. The biggest lesson that my parents have taught me is that a marriage based on love and Faith is the answer. If you can find the love for each other and the faith that things will be alright, a couple can get through the toughest of situations. Thanks for that!

Sandra Ferguson said...

You and your husband were brave new explorers and I so admire your grit and determination to move beyond what was comfortable.

As for you kids: can't they surprise you sometimes? What they endured was probably huge at their ages, but it sounds as though they kept finding the glass half-full. What remarkable individuals you must have raised.

Thanks for sharing this story.