rIn the spring of 2007 I made my first (and only) trip “abroad.” I had just graduated college months before and my longterm boyfriend (now ex) and I decided that we wanted to see a little piece of the world. I was just a couple months into my first full time job; a condition (on my end) of my hire being that they allow me to take off the two and a half weeks for this long planned vacation. Bankrolling the venture was the $1,000 I had just won from winning a monthly poetry contest on Poetry.com. When I received the call that I won, I almost hung up on them. I still occasionally find my poem, Soaked Through the Skin, floating around on people’s now defunct myspace pages or blogs, sometimes being passed off as their own, sometimes just pasted in. It’s a strange feeling to think that something you wrote made some sort of difference, however tiny or fleeting, to someone that you have never met.
I digress. My (now ex) boyfriend had a friend living in England, a boy who had come over for a study abroad program back in high school, who he had become close to. The first stop in our itinerary would be to visit him in England. From there we would go to Paris, Nice, Venice, then back to England. I had pulled for the three days in Venice. I have always felt closer to my Italian roots than any other side and, if I were to visit one country, that was the one. We both were interested in Paris and Nice, but it was my boyfriend who chose England. To be honest, at the time that was a place I could have taken or left. Venice, Paris, and Nice felt more exotic and romantic, like I was really traveling.
We arrived at Heathrow airport and were picked up by James, my ex’s friend, a blond and bespectacled youth who appeared sturdy and jovial. He drove us to his home in…well, I regret that I actually don’t even remember where we stayed. I could kick 22 year old me for not writing anything down in the small black journal I bought for precisely this purpose. Like the other homes on the lane, James’ had a garden in the front with a little gray stone wall. The street was quiet and the air was gray and misty. We met his girlfriend Lauren, a pretty blonde with Polish roots, evident in her surname. She was a few years younger than us, attending Uni and singing/playing piano in pubs on the side. Lauren Ray (her stage name) is now a popular singer in London. We are still “friends” on Facebook (I haven’t actually spoken to her in years) and I have sporadically followed her career.
Prior to visiting, I had heard from several people that English food was nothing to write home about and that, if you were going to eat anything, go for the Indian food instead of the traditional English fare. I have to say, all of those people were completely and utterly wrong. I still have dreams about the minty lamb pie that I ate in the little pub with the two part name (“The Lion and Castle” or something similar; I hate to admit that I can’t remember what it was actually called) that we went to the first night in England. Lauren was performing there and we shuffled in to sit at one of the round tables by the fire. Everything felt rustic, flavored with dark wood and an orange fireside glow. Lauren really did have a beautiful voice; I’m not surprised she has enjoyed success as a singer.
We walked around a bit through James’ neighborhood, saw Big Ben, were cooked a full English breakfast by James and Lauren, complete with builder’s tea (tea with milk- I’ve never been a tea person, but if I’m going to drink it, this is the way), ate more meat pies. One night we got dressed up and went to a nightclub (good club music in the US was dying off right around then, but England’s scene was still going strong). I experienced my first black pudding and my first Pimm’s cup, the latter mixed expertly by James in his little kitchen. It is now a favorite cocktail of mine, though I can’t say I have the same love for the black pudding. We spent one day at James’ parents home, an enormous house in the lush, green countryside. It was possibly one of the most beautiful homes I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. It seemed to absorb all of the light England had to offer, filtering the sunshine in through the many windows to rest on the comfortable sofas and quiet, beautifully decorated rooms. One of James’ brothers was an up and coming footballer who enjoyed a fair bit of fame. He visited and we sat around the table laughing and talking about the youngest brother’s boozy exploits. You can drink legally in England around age 16 (accompanied by an adult) and 18 (without an adult) and he told stories about some of the antics he had gotten into with friends while his parents listened and lovingly tsk tsked.
England felt like home. I could forgive its usually gray atmosphere, because its people were so friendly, its food so delicious, its homes so cozy. I would love to go back someday now that I know more about my connection to it.
My paternal 2nd great grandfather, George T. Brown, was born in Durham, England. Durham, located in Northern England, is hilly and boasts of better weather than many other parts of the country, generally receiving more sunshine and less rain. If records I found are correct, George immigrated to the USA, arriving in Columbiana, Ohio with his family around age 7. Regardless of what country he ended up in, George seemed destined for coal. One of the most common vocations in Durham was a coal miner, the same profession that George would adopt in his new country. He married Catherine Corinne “Katie” O’Brien, an Ohio born girl with at least partially Irish roots (I haven’t been able to go very far back on her tree). They had 6 children, the oldest of which was my great-grandfather, Martin Alfred Brown.
I have not been able to go back terribly far on George’s side of the tree. If any further discoveries on that end are made, I will post again…
George T. Brown and Catherine Corinne “Katie” O’Brien
(photos provided by Bill Boyee)