England 40 Years Ago — February 15, 1981

John $ (1 year, 4 months old) is a sight. He loves cardboard boxes. If he sneaks past me into the larder, he snitches a box or so. He slowly and deliberately climbs in, sits a few seconds with a satisfied grin on his face, and tries to hop out. One leg makes it and one doesn’t. He then starts running to get away from it and drags it along after him until he trips or lifts the foot high enough to clear it.

Penny S invited the children and me for tea one afternoon after school. It was a proper tea. We had lovely finger sandwiches of ham, cucumber, tomato, and various breads with butter, fruit, chocolate cake, marzipan cake, and tea. A feature of the family room was a huge rocking horse that even adults can ride! Penny loves creating things and had a sampler on the wall plus a painting or so she had done herself. She likes to sew, knit, and cook besides keeping up with the medical journals. While we were there, Andy came in from a filming session. His partner directs and he produces films — this one on severe childhood allergies.

I made some buttermilk and took it to Renee. She said her mother used to get it in the country to make scones. She wanted it for an American salad dressing.

Many do pronounce “scones”with an almost short “o” in this area. I think it is more that we put the “o” further forward, and they almost swallow it. I prefer to pronounce it with the North Carolina “o”.

Lisa, speaking of fourth formers at school: “Accidents are prone for them.” Can’t you just see an accident lying down in front of each girl? Taken literally, that would mean disaster lies in wait for them.

Kate was given a Good Conduct pin to wear every day on her uniform. I think it means she went several weeks with no mark against her name. I don’t know if she has to give it up at a particular time or always has the threat hanging over her that it will be taken away after any infringement of rules. Nothing is ever absolutely clear about her!

Lisa got in the car and asked me if I thought she had almost fainted one day in school. Then she proudly showed me the Prefect pin she had on. She was called up before the whole school and had the pin put on by the headmistress. It’s quite an honor, particularly since she’s been in the school such a short time. Many of the duties she has already been given as a member of the oldest class such as serving food, helping watch out for smaller children, running errands, and presiding at a table at lunch.

Lisa’s vocabulary is still growing. She explained that something was being “interpretated”. I think that would be wrong on both sides of the Atlantic.

Eileen B came for coffee one morning. She is such a kind person — she seems to exude it. She is the fifth of eight children. All but she and a sister in Michigan live in a three-mile radius of their mother in Dublin. She was a secretary before her two girls were born; her husband, Derek, is an architect.

Thursday Lisa had her first exam in the common entrance exams, the French oral. I would think this is the one she would be least prepared for, having had it such a short time. I thought the procedure interesting. The regular French teacher gives the test with another teacher there to run the tape recorder and see that there are no irregularities. The child is given a paragraph to study for a short time, reads it aloud in French, and then answers questions on it — all in French. There is a prepared list of 20 general questions from which the teacher picks 10 for each student.

Cathie D came for lunch after work one day. I was glad she works until 1:00 because I had to pack in a lot before she came. John had stayed home so that we could view a house first thing after the girls were dropped at school. It was cancelled, but I still had to take him to the station and get the shopping done. Put $ down for a nap, let Mr. Clewes in, retrieved the groceries from the hall, collected the milk from the doorstep, and then began the quiche and Brownies for lunch. Fixed the salad and appetizers while giving Clewes his lunch and feeding $. By the time she came, I was ready to sit down! She had time to drive to school to pick up the girls with me before her son was due home. Her big news is that she is to become a grandma in June.

The girls took heart cookies to school to share with all the girls in their class. The English don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day in school, and not much seems to be made of it at home, either. I could understand, since the cheapest cards cost over $1.50 each.

The bottom dropped out of $’s world at 4 a.m. I found him standing on the floor between the wall and the crib, near the corner where the hook had hopped off the frame. He must have been dumped unceremoniously with little advance warning. It didn’t upset him very much; I think he was confused and didn’t know what to do.

John and I saw a house yesterday that is lovely, but has tiny rooms. The owner has two other families seriously looking at it, and they want it for several years. Understandably, she would rather they have it, since she may be gone for six years. The choice at the moment is the handy-man’s nightmare and the manor house on a postage stamp.

Alistair and Sheila C came to see the trains and have dinner with us last night. He is the office manager at Gotaas-Larsen and is one of the men who was so kind to us when we first came here to house hunt. He loves trains, especially real ones. Sheila told of such interesting things. She came from West Yorkshire, had taught school in Spain, been in Paris six months, and was governess for two girls (children of jet-setters) where she lived mainly in Argentina and visited the family chateau in France and the flat in New York. Some of the characters she described you wouldn’t believe in a novel! Lisa’s eyes widened when we found that she is presently a headmistress. I think Lisa sat up straighter and was amused to discover “heads” without authority over you are most interesting.

Alistair’s parents were Scots, but he spent most of his growing years in Alexandria, Egypt. His father was a banker, doing verbal and written business in English, French, and Arabic. He dredged up several words in Arabic for Lisa. He and his mother spent some of the war years in Africa.

Today we had Sunday “lunch” with the Hulls across the street. She said they’d enjoyed having an American meal with us and planned an English meal. We had roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, potatoes, cabbage, beans, fruit salad, and mincemeat flan. I believe the cabbage, beans, and most of the fruit had come from their freezer via their own garden. We had coffee in the sitting room near the fire, and their almost 16-year-old played with $ which certainly helped our conversation. Then we all went for a walk on the common. Not only did the fresh air do us good, it kept $ pleasantly occupied. A very delightful time would describe our feelings. They met several people they knew, and I felt right at home when we met Penny and Andy whom the Hulls didn’t know.

Just watched a programme (British) on the Confederate Air Force in Texas. John was glad he saw it because he will be teased about it tomorrow in the office.

There were no photographs to go with this letter, so I’ll give you a preview. Below are John’s parents, soon to visit us, with Lisa and Kate. I suspect this might have been taken the day they arrived, since they are well-dressed and the girls are wearing their school uniforms.

51 thoughts on “England 40 Years Ago — February 15, 1981

    1. When John was born, the doctor said he looked just like his dad without the mustache.

      Once they handed me a photo, and I couldn’t figure out where my husband was when the picture was taken. I was fooled! It was a picture of his dad taken when he was about the same age.

      We went to a confirmation service for a relative in another state. After it, a man tapped John on the shoulder and said, “I know you can’t be John Mehrling, but you look just like him. I played tennis with him years and years ago.”

      Both father and son were named John. I guess John’s dad was dead by then. There was always a great likeness between John and his dad, and you picked up on it. Amazing!

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    1. Until you wrote that, I had forgotten how fastidious John’s dad was. When he was going to work or to church, he always wore a jacket and tie. He was an allergist and the second pediatrician in Brooklyn. He was also a master punster.

      Formal Dress Hugs

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  1. Great letter, once again. And so great to see the pic. I miss Mor Mor and Pop Pop. Amazing how much Uncle John looks like his dad.

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  2. Your children’s experiences in a different culture must have shaped their adult lives in some ways…? Such an extraordinary time in your lives in so many ways. You make your own buttermilk?! Maybe you can post the recipe!😄

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    1. I don’t know what the buttermilk story was. Maybe I had some and used it as a culture to make more for her. I remember making yogurt at home. I’d take a bit of bought yogurt that had live culture in it, mix it with milk, keep it warm overnight, and refrigerate it when it was thick.

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  3. Love it. I can’t wait to see what house you get. Very exciting. I will stay tuned in for sure. And I can just picture little John waking up on the floor a tad confused! Good kid though, because he loves a good box! They are fun.

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    1. I would be pleased to look as nice as my mother-in-law. The photo in that post is of John’s parents and our two daughters. There will be more photos in the next letter or so.

      I typed a two-page letter to our mothers once a week while we lived in England. My brain was 40 years younger then! I sat down on Sunday evenings and wrote anything I could remember.

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  4. That’s amazing how much John and his father resemble one another …do you think the adult $ resembles John? I didn’t think so in family pictures you have featured in your blog posts. That was pricey for a greeting card 40 years ago, so I guess you know why the kids don’t exchange those cute little Valentine cards with one another like we used to.

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      1. It is an amazing likeness for John and his father, that is for sure. I did a double-take as John had dark hair in the photos you have shown in your England series so far. I look like my father, same color hair, glasses but always coveted my mom’s curly dark hair.

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          1. You’re like me with the hair – my mom had naturally curly dark hair where mine was stick straight and mousy brown. My mom never wore glasses until in her late 50s – I got mine at age 7 and my father wore them from a young age too.

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  5. This is such an enjoyable read as is the other letters that you have formulated into posts. It really gets us an insight into life from 40 years past. Btw, we say scones a with short O.

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          1. Ah yes, Anne. Thanks for clarification. The Americans I know are usually from the Midwest area. So you say r oooo t – means we will understand each other well. No rutting here. lol.

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                1. Yes, my name. A neighbor in England asked my name, and I said it slowly and carefully. She looked perplexed and questioned, “Ah-yen??”

                  When I say it at normal speed, there are two syllables, but it isn’t as noticeable.

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