Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Now, isn't imagination a precious thing? It peoples the earth with all manner of wonders."  ~ Mark Twain


When my family first moved to Stamford, Connecticut, all the way from Culver City, California, they broke up my first love, my first steady, my first real kiss, even... Ooops, I already whined about that...  Sorry...  I will start again...

When my family first moved to Stamford, Connecticut, all way from Culver City, California that summer, it seemed like we'd moved to a different country! None of us had ever been in the Northeast before. The hills were covered with trees growing right down to the Long Island Sound that lapped against the slight bit of "sand" at Stamford's shoreline... It was right out of a movie! ... simply magical!

That summer Mom and Dad decided that we ought to drive up the coast of Connecticut, that compact little state, because the Mayfower II had just sailed over the Atlantic, and we HAD to see that! It was an exact replica of the origiinal Mayflower that had brought the first settlers to America. OK, OK, you history wizards... Jamestown was the first settlement, but they all died... These Mayflower folks were sturdier, I guess... or something like that... should have listened more closely to our guide... or my history teachers. 

When we got there, I learned one thing about those Pilgrims that wasn't in my history book... They were SHORT little guys! Oh, my, were they short! We wandered around the entire ship's deck, and I really thought that it would have been lots bigger than it was. But it was when we went "below," that I was stunned. After clunking my head on the beam above the stairs, I realized that I had to bow my head all the way down to the innerds of the ship! When I entered the cabin below, the ceiling was still too low for me to stand straight. Now, I was 5'7" tall, and the placard on the wall said that the tallest Pilgrim man was 5'4" and the tallest lady was 4'8"...  I suppose the trip was so long and boring that they had to find something to do... measuring each other was at least a respite, I guess. 

The lesson I learned on that tiny ship was that history is AMAZING, when you actually get to roam around in it! Sort of like in 5th grade when our history book said that whoever we were studying in that chapter had lived in "grass" huts. I thought it said grass SKIRTS! (Too many Hollywood movies for you, Terry!) Our imaginative, top-flight 5th grade teacher announced that we were going to build a grass hut right beside our classroom there at Betsy Ross Elementary school. The thing is that WE DID! We gathered palm fronds from the trees in front of school, thanks to the gardeners who'd recently trimmed the dead fronds off of them, and we built our own hut. The boys particularly loved this task, and I still remember sitting inside that hut during recess. What a terrific teacher Mrs. Durocher was!

Well, I got to LIVE history many more times, but the best was when I won that NEH Fellowship on "Chaucer and the Medieval Illuminated Manuscript." On one of our brilliant "outings" during those 6 weeks, the 15 of us and our 2 professors took the train from London, where we were living, to St. Albans. The cathedral that the Venerable Bede wrote about was a longish walk from the train station, and our professor wasn't quite sure that we were on the right path. A lady happened by the 17 of us trudging along, and, as she passed, Bill asked her if we were going the right way to the cathedral. The busy lady said, " You're not quite right. Follow me!" So we did, and she lead us there, all the way! Then she said that she had to run to the green-grocer's or she'd give us a tour of the place herself!

But our guide was waiting for us, and we had an amazing tour of this elegant cathedral given to us by an elderly man who was a wonder of information and kindess, too. When our tour was over, Bill announced that after a bite of lunch at the ancient old pub nearby, the class was going to visit the Roman ruins. Mr. Rice, our guide looked very sad then. He said that he was all set to give us a "cook's tour" of the innerds of that mystical place after lunch... toooo bad....

Mary Jo whispered to Ellen and I, "We can see Roman ruins at Bath. Let's come back here instead and see what else Mr. Rice wants to show us." Well, Mary Jo didn't say this as quietly as she thought, though... Bill came over and whispered, "If I didn't have to take everybody else to the Roman ruins, I'd come back with you... DARN!"

The pub was great, but I found out where those little Pilgrams must have come from... The ceiling of that 14th or 15th century pub was as low as those on the Mayflower II... yes, it was! By the way, we had a "plowman's lunch." A plowman should have been so lucky!

Well, after that lunch we three had a private tour of St. Alban's, courtesy of Mr. Rice. First, we went through a nearly invisible wooden door in the apse and up a circlular stone stairway to the "attic" of this storybook cathedral. Each of these steps were worn into curves by the sandaled feet of monks over many hundreds of years. After fighting the cobwebs in that beautifully engineered building, we came back down again to the apse. Those monks who climbed up and down those steps were even shorter than the Pilgrams... and much more narrow! 

Behind the apse, we crawled up into a tiny wooden room that overlooked the place where pilgims would lay down their special offerings to the church. In this secret room, only large enough for one monk to crouch behind a slit in that wooden wall, he would be on watch so that no one stole any of those precious gifts. 

That "after-tour" was something so special, given to us by such a lovely man who simply loved that cathedral and took so much pride in it. But we had to hurry back to St.Albans to meet the rest of the class and the professors so we could all make the train back to London.  Mr. Rice said that it was impossible to walk all the way back to town before the train pulled out. He would drive us there, himself! We protested, but he would have none of it!

We 4 rushed out of the church, and Mr. Rice packed us into his Mini Cooper. Now, Mini Coopers, then, were not the cool little, fast little cars that we know now. Nope! They were made from tin, not heavy metal... I think top speed was about 22 miles per hour... if that. His was the smallest car that I'd ever been inside of. It was like a Smart Car with a backseat! But the kindness of that man! As we squeezed into his car, the Bishop of Saint Alban's walked past us, nodded his head at Mr. Rice, and got into his car parked across the narrow road from Mr. Rice's. They both waved to each other, and we all smiled.

Doors all shut... everybody in. So Mr. Rice arm-wrestled his car into backwards-mode, stamped on the gas, and we did go backwards. The thing is, so did the Bishop! Both cars crashed in the middle of the road...  KERPLUNK! It was a Monty Python's sequence! We'd crashed into the Bishop's back end! The Bishop's car had only a small dent. Mr. Rice's car, on the other hand... Well, it wasn't a pretty sight...

Mr. Rice soldiered on, though, and said that he'd worry about that later, that he MUST get us to the station because the next train to London wasn't til the next day! It's very possible that Mr. Rice had about all he could take of being a knight-in-shining-armor to three silly teachers from the U.S.A.!  

Just want you to know that the next day back in London, the 3 of us went straight to Fortnum and Mason, and we sent Mr. Rice the most expensive box of candy that they had in that luxurious store. We knew that he needed a mechanic more than he wanted candy, but a mechanic wouldn't fit into a mailing box...                 

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