By February 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 bedroom, next to the drafty window in order to have light. Forty watts doesn't cut it during a drab and dreary Yorkshire winter, where it gets dark at 3:30 in the afternoon. With the requisite cardi (cardigan sweater) over his sweater vest, he wrote in the frigid room wearing 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 Salt Lake City. 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 total humiliation.
One Sunday afternoon we were sitting on our bed in York, and the phone rang, which was extremely unusual. Nobody called us. I answered and it was one of our SLC neighbors. He was wondering how we were doing, and wanted to tell us what great neighbors we had always been. Blown away by his kind words, we talked for a while. Then 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. "Watch for it," he said. How thoughtful, we thought. That call was just the encouragement we needed. What a great guy.
A good friend from home wrote a few weeks later. "I've always loved your diamond ring. Would you consider selling it to me?" Who asks a question like that? It was so unexpected, yet perfectly timed! Mutual friends were coming to visit us, so she sent a check with them. I packaged my ring carefully in a tube of Smarties (M & M's) and they took it home to her. This infusion of cash saved our bacon—bought our bacon, actually.
We were still unsure of what we'd do once we got home. Out of the blue, Dee was contacted by a university professor who needed some research done for a book. He had heard from so-and-so, who had heard from so-and-so that we were in Yorkshire. What started as an interesting project ended up to be life changing.
The research required us to travel a few times a week throughout the spring and summer. Following two hundred-year-old maps we went in search of ancient mills, barns, churches, houses and other ruins. We explored all over England and parts of Wales on twisting back roads, peering through hedgerows, and climbing through scrub. Most of these were day trips while the kids were in school; other times we took them along. Local histories and journals written during the period gave us our itinerary, and we followed paths described in 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 those events in historic perspective. Anticipation came rushing back.
Roofians from the neighborhood
That year in York was when our kids earned their hero status. Dee 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. Unable to catch his breath, he started to lag behind, slowing the whole group. His arms were bent so the two guys on either side of him (who were both tall) lifted him from under his elbows, and carried him the rest of the way. Dee compares our kids to those two soldiers. They ran in formation, lifted us up and made sure we finished the run.
It was an amazing family project. Without all the usual props—phones, malls, cars, sports, lessons, clothes, TV, friends—we became our own foundation. Other years before and after were filled with the paraphernalia of life, but that year set a new tone. We protected, sustained, comforted and fortified each other. We all gave up everything, and we discovered that we still had everything we needed. It was worth it.