England 40 Years Ago — February 20, 1981

[Written on hotel stationery in Cherbourg] We get around, don’t we? At the moment we are with John’s parents on our way to see the beach where Dad landed during WWII.

A correction on Valentine’s Day — they don’t celebrate it much in England, but we were amused at the staid Times. They had several pages of tiny Valentine messages, some hilarious!

Took John $pencer to the clinic to have him checked. He weighs 23.5 pounds. They had the most marvelous scales for children — there was a railing built in it so that a child could stand and hold on while being weighed. Normally children are checked there at age 1 and 3, interspersed with home visits by the visiting health nurse. The huge waiting room of the clinic was brightly painted and filled with lots of toys. $ loved it.

Our neighbor, Doris, was telling me she had been a volunteer constable after her son grew up. She was dressed in the regular uniform so that people didn’t know which women were professional and which volunteer. To start off, she had training at Scotland Yard! Then she walked a beat with a paid cop. Think she said she did it for nine years. Now she’s a volunteer at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Anyone can go in that office to ask for help; the workers have huge files they can consult to find what agency or organization could help them. The Cooks are driving from New Orleans to Washington DC in May. John got his super-duper travel books from Loraine in NY to loan to them. Anyone in Tennessee like to meet our neighbors? If so, we’ll give them your name and address.

Speaking of the invaluable Loraine – she quit, so she will no longer be our great ally in the NY office. A thousand cheers for Loraine for all she’s done for us! Would you pray that she finds a new job that she’ll like? Thanks.

The girls have now been told we’re moving. They were excited! We haven’t talked much about the new house because we won’t know for sure we’ve gotten it until March 2 or 3. Will tell you more then.

Lisa walked in asking Kate, “You want to send love and kisses to cousin Barbara?”

Kate enthusiastically said, “Yeah!”

Lisa: “Good. I already typed it.”

The Mehrlings arrived at Gatwick Thursday morning raving – not raging – about Laker. A most pleasant flight, they said. The girls were very excited at seeing them outside school that afternoon.

The next day we were up at the crack of dawn — almost heard it breaking. We stuffed ourselves in the car and drove to Southampton. The ferry to Cherbourg is more luxurious than the one at the Dover crossing. There are cabins on board, though we just lounged around in the reclining seats. Some of us did — Grandma and John C. grappled with $.

In Cherbourg Mom and Dad ate dinner with Lisa and Kate downstairs in the attractive hotel restaurant while John and I sat with $. Then we had our turn. What a marvelous meal! Real French cooking! The service was impeccable, as it usually is on this side of the world.

$ has a canvas cot (crib) that he did well in. Early this morning he began to giggle, and I realized the funny feeling in my toes belonged at the other end of that giggle. He’d climbed onto my bed and sat on my feet.

We went to Utah Beach and walked along where Dad came ashore on D-Day.

Climbing over German concrete bunkers was interesting. We picked up shells and enjoyed the sound of the breakers. $ was a bit confused by the shifting sand under his feet.

The houses here are so different. A typical new one is of concrete, small and cute, with folding shutters and white curtains drawn back. Old stone houses are often connected to the barns with a quadrangle in the middle. Tiny villages are very picturesque, though lacking color in the winter.

A small village in Normandy

It seems that mail is delivered to homes in small boxes hung on the outside of houses — not through the door as in England. In the morning we saw housewives and children walking home from the bakery with long loaves of bread under their arms and not wrapped at all! Speaking of bread — it certainly is as delicious as its reputation. Sandwiches are made with small loaves of crusty bread, sliced through the middle. Croissants are tender and flaky, a real treat. We whipped through a grocery to buy fruit and yogurt; I spotted shelves full of Gerber baby food which you can’t get in England. Of course, $ no longer needed any after we found it.

We watched the ferry come in where we landed the day before. The front of the ship opens its mouth and spews forth cars. At the same time, stairs were rolled to the side of the ferry so that foot passengers could stream off.

38 thoughts on “England 40 Years Ago — February 20, 1981

  1. Love the note on the old hotel stationery. And yes, Markus says Valentine’s Day is not big on Germany either. Is it really an American thing? It is big in The Philippines because it is largely influenced by America, too. I can also imagine the joy of the girls when you told them about the move. Very exciting. Not as exciting as the bread though. Haha!

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    1. Maybe we are the only people who celebrate Valentine’s Day. It has been commercialized by restaurants, shops, florists, and candy companies. Logan gave me a balloon, and John bought a little package of chocolate hearts for David and me. I usually bake something for family and neighbors. There were 15 heart rolls, and there were 13 of us. Nobody gained weight with them.

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  2. Really enjoyed your recollections of England all those years ago, and you had it scribbled down on hotel stationary kept with you all these years. That’s impressive you had real French cooking at the hotel restaurant. It must have been a meal to remember. I grew up in a time and places where there was no such as putting mail through the door. That was something I saw in the movies. Hope you had a good Valentine’s Day 🙂

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      1. That is lovely back then, everyone had a mail slot in their front door. These days I think things are very different. People aren’t as comfortable with others coming right up to the door.

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  3. Wonder if Lisa and Kate enjoyed that second meal in Cherborg?

    Writing gem sighting: The next day we were up at the crack of dawn — almost heard it breaking.
    (that one could almost be heard inside my head)

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  4. This is a wonderful letter! How great to have your in-laws there. Did your father-in-law get emotional when he saw the beach he landed on? It was such a traumatic time for those young boys. I love French food and those little villages are so wonderful. As for Valentine’s Day, I recall sending a Valentine’s Day card to my British in-laws the first year we were married (1977) and they were appalled. I never did that again!

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    1. Appalled seems the wrong reaction to a Valentine’s Day card.

      Yes, Dad was emotional at Utah Beach. He brought his Bible, read some verses, and we all prayed together. On D-Day he never dreamed of coming back with his wife and son, not to mention grandchildren. He was a doctor, so he was slightly behind the front line. He got a Purple Heart, a medal for being wounded. A German soldier burst in the medical tent and started shooting. I don’t know where he was hit, but he carried on. He never talked about real fighting, only a few amusing stories about training in Cornwall.

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  5. Having this original letter on hotel stationary makes it even more of a family heirloom! How special to see where John’s Dad landed on Utah beach and observe him as he visited that location. Truly extraordinary family history.

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  6. Anne, I loved the entry and knew you lived abroad for some time. The French love to carry the bread unwrapped since it will soon be consumed. Our local supermarket called Wegmans offer their version of the baguette which we love because of the memories of Germany and Europe. Our lives have been forever changed and enriched by the experiences of living in a different country. Bravo! Snowy greetings today. oxox

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    1. Living in another country is marvelous. You had some grand experiences, too.

      We had rain during the night, but the day is glorious. I have a hard time imagining your snow. Soon it will be a memory for you — hope it is soon enough.

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      1. Well, several inches later, we now listen to the scraping of shovels on walks, the motors of snow blowers and trucks which plow driveways. We get a snow mountain in the cul de sac which the plow piles high and kids play and slide down. Always something of interest. It seems good snow to build snowmen. Hmmm. That is for the youngsters! We average about 6-7 months of winter annually. 1-2 days of spring and then a brief summer and growing season. 🙂 oxox

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  7. I’m really enjoying your letters Anne. I wonder did your time there seem to pass quickly – it seems you were always busy which tends to make time fly by. I also wonder when you even found time to write.

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    1. We loved our two years in England, and yes, the time flew by. I usually sat down at the typewriter on Sunday evening and wrote two pages about the previous week. There must be tons of things I never thought to write about. On Monday John took the letter to the office and put it in the packet to go to the NY office. The secretary for his department copied it and mailed a copy to each of our mothers. I’m very thankful that John saved the letters, because I didn’t. It was just a weekly account to keep our families informed. Current events became history, and John has a keen appreciation for history.

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  8. That was interesting to see these famous sites in Normandy that I’ve heard about and seen in the movie “Saving Private Ryan” too. My father was a history buff when it came to WWII so many times my mother and I had to sit through war movies, before we got a second portable TV and we could escape. I like the description of the delicious-sounding bread and could picture the woman walking with an unwrapped baguette under their arm.

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