Cheshire is a Cat & a District in England which Includes Bears, Ice Cream, and a Lake

After a very full 9 days, there was only one day left in England before we flew to France. We had things to do including packing, but first I had to lighten my souvenir/gift baggage. On our way into Congleton, my cousin-in-law, Denise, dropped me at a post office where I mailed home an expensive box filled with inexpensive souvenirs and gifts for family back home. Sometimes it is worth paying more especially if you have a multi-city trip and have two legs to go. so I wouldn’t I didn’t want to lug the items around Limoge and Paris or be charged for a 2nd bag on Ryan Air.

 Of course, in a busy British neighborhood post office on a Saturday, was one of the very few times on this trip when my debit card wouldn’t work because of the changing credit card ‘pin system’ which was occurring in Europe. On top of that, I hadn’t gone to the cash machine first but luckily Denise came to the rescue and the lone Postmaster was patient and understanding about the whole situation. The line was almost going out the door behind me and I felt embarrassed for holding things up but the postmaster assured me, in the atypical patient British manner, that it was quite all right, they would just have to wait. After all, he was open until 3 (it was 11) so there was plenty of time. I love that attitude and am glad I wasn’t one of those people waiting in line.

The Cheshire District in the North Country of England, among other things, was where Lewis Carroll lived for awhile and named the “Cheshire Cat” in his book Alice in Wonderland after this district.

The town of Congleton is known for bears, which my late mom loved and collected.  She would have loved to know her first cousin lived in a town known for bears. I bought a small stuffed one in her honor.

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The first settlements in Congleton were Neolithic, Stone Age, and Bronze. Much later, Congleton became a market town after the Vikings destroyed Davenport. The Romans are thought to have been here, too, even if they haven’t found evidence of that…yet. William the Conquerer gave the district of Cheshire over to his nephew, the Earl of Chester. Much history follows with it’s first charter signed in 1272 by the 3rd Earl of Lincoln, Henry de Lacy, which is where they would hold fairs and behead criminals. On that note, the town charter was stamped with approval.

In 1451 the River Dane flooded and the town was destroyed, they rerouted the river, and rebuilt Congleton on higher ground.

In the 1620s, cockfighting and bear-baiting became popular sports in Congleton. But officials wanted larger crowds and they decided that meant they needed a large and fierce bear. Rumor has it they sold the town bible to acquire funding for a new bear. However, the truth was, they used the money they were going to use to purchase a new bible to actually buy the bear.  As the crowds increased and proved more money in the coffers, they were able to replenish the fund to finally buy the new bible.

Another publicized story from Congleton, is about John Bradshaw, mayor and lawyer, and, a regicide. Mayor Bradshaw penned his name as the first signature on the decree to execute Charles I in 1649. On the wall of The White Lion public house, there is a blue plaque stating that Bradshaw’s attorney office was here and he served articles in this 16th century building. (Note that the White Lion, in March, still had a couple of old Christmas, um, holiday trees, hanging off the facade.

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Fast forward to the 21st century and Congleton carries on as a market town with a lovely pedestrian area where Denise and I happily stopped for cappuccinos and pastries. 

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Congleton was also an important player in the textile industry well known for leather gloves, silk and lace which was a diverse product line.

The little village park celebrates awards for being pretty and back in the early days of film, presented silent movies in the little clubhouse with musicians playing mood tunes. It was currently celebrating Queen Elizabeth II‘s Diamond Jubilee. During my travel week in England, I saw other celebratory remnants from last year’s big occasion. It was a big year for London with the Olympics and a royal baby was on the way who could well be a future monarch. All very exciting stuff for royalists (like me).

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Returnimg to my cousin’s home, we left Denise to finish packing while John took me to what would be my mini-version of Stonehenge.  This little out-of-the-way monument was a low key tourist attraction since we were the only tourists; my favorite kind of tourist attraction. Quiet. Rundown. No one else to step around while I took photos. And it was cool. 

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These standing stones comprise what is called the Bridestones Neolithic Chambered Long Cairn. It’s the only known tomb in Cheshire to date to the Neolithic period 3500-2400 BC.  The tomb is on the west flank of Cloud Hill facing westerly over Cheshire County.  From what has been gathered historically by Antiquarians, these stones are mere remnants of a more extensive monument. Perhaps Manchester University will fund additional students for further research about this area one day.

From here I learned there really is an Ice Cream Farm in Cheshire County

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I felt about 6 years old right then. This was a real ice cream farm with cows present who provide the milk and the owners sell their Hilly Billy ice cream on site. It’s all situated on a gorgeous piece of unblemished property.

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The ice cream was delish and everything was just so darn quaint and cute.

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And I can’t even begin to describe the farm and the beautiful land it sits on, so I won’t even try. A picture speaks a thousand words.

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From the top of Cloud Hill, there is a view of the area including the industrial plumes of Liverpool in the distance. The white structure in right side of the photo below is the humongous observatory, Jodrell Bank Observatory.

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I learned one more last fascinating fact about the area. We briefly stopped at pretty little Lake Rudyard.  Kipling’s parents met here, which was how their son, Rudyard, was given his name. 

Standing outside the car and viewing this lake, in the middle of remote English countryside, I felt a strong presence of my mother and wished she was the lucky one standing here viewing our ancestoral country. She was the one who taught me about Kipling and who had all his stories in a collection of books. loved bears, and certainly loved ice cream.

This one’s for you, Mom, wherever you are.

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Onward to France…

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The Object of Your Story

                                                                               

Occasionally it’s mentioned in workshops or books on the craft of writing, how effective a physical object can be when subtly weaving it through your story.  Recently I finished reading the book The Velvet Hours by Alyson Richman which uses a large 19th century portrait of a Parisian courtesan as an occasional object from beginning to end. Even without a picture to physically see, the author showed the reader the gilded frame, the woman’s posture, colors, and fabrics.  It easily came to mind whenever the painting was mentioned at various intervals of the story. It was a familiar object.  And, what I loved about this book was how the author wrote it as a fictionalized account of a newspaper article. It was a story of a family learning about their great-great grandmother’s apartment in Paris which was locked up for over 70 years. When the apartment was opened by family heirs in 2011, it was as if time stood still and they walked into 1940s Paris. I remember reading the newspaper article and posting it on Facebook.  I was fascinated by the story and thrilled someone wrote a book about it.

If you decide you want an object for your story, how do you discover what it will be?

As writers, we understand inspiration arises from unexpected places. You may be in a writers’ group when a new story pops into your head and the first draft is soon underway. Perhaps you are sitting at your desk or on a plane thousands of feet in the air when an idea for a new character is born. You can be anywhere.  That’s the beauty of being a writer.

It wasn’t long ago, as I was housecleaning, when an object in my home reminded me of someone I once loved.   I wiped dust off the Asian antique mirror and remembered a time, 43 years ago, when the man I loved looked at his reflection in this mirror, standing in my mother’s home.  I was across the room watching him when his reflection caught mine and we locked eyes. It was a moment which stood still in time for me. He’s been gone many years, but, oddly, his reflection and the memory of our connection remain embedded in  the wavy glass of this mirror.

My thoughts, as I continued dusting, trailed off to another time I could only conjure up in my imagination. It occurred to me my grandfather may have bought this mirror for my grandmother when they were first married in Shanghai in 1929. The mirror, with its new glass, survived WWII hidden in a Shanghai cellar. It was kept with other curios and precious objects out of sight and protected from the Japanese invasion and ensuing confiscations since these objects were in the cellar of a White Russian friend of my grandmother’s. If a Russian (or any nationality) was married to a citizen of an enemy country, they were sent to Japanese internment camps, which was the case of my grandmother and mother who spent 4 years in a camp because of the marriage between my  Russian grandmother and  a British man.

A couple of years after the war, in 1947, the mirror took a journey by ship to the United States and hung on the wall of my grandmother’s San Francisco flat well into the late 70s.  The mirror had additional journeys over the next 37 years when it lived in my mother’s home in Pleasant Hill, CA; Colorado Springs, CO; then to my home in Seattle, and eventually settling in Edmonds 11 years ago. I imagine one of my children and one of my grandchildren will take it from here.

And so it was a day of simple housecleaning which created my story-object. If I choose to do so,  I can carry this mirror through my book for almost 100 years of my family’s history.  I can write a historical fiction showing the reader many of the faces reflected over time, some known and some imagined; we have so much freedom as writers to create whatever we wish!

Stories and ideas pop up for writers from unexpected places and we are delighted when they pop up at all.

Vivian C. Murray

10/16

 

 

 

 

 

Family History 101

  

Sam Sharrock, my grand father, who makes a point of writing he had been in uniform for 4 months until now when the photo was taken. The period he was uniformed 24/7 was the 1937 Japanese-Chinese conflict.

My cousin John and his wife Denise arrived in my hotel lobby about 9:20 a.m. And it was wonderful to see them again. This was only the third time we have met since meeting for the first time in Colorado for my mother’s small memorial service in 2012.

John was as interested in his uncle’s life as I was interested in my grandfather’s life. Both men being one and the same: Sam Sharrock. 

 

Henry was our personal guide and hired a driver and van which took us to our family’s places of interest. He done the same thing with another cousin two years prior.

During the day, we explored the back of old police stations where Sam worked from the time he arrived in 1922 to the day he was assassinated in 1942. 

My grandmother saved the old photos Sam had taken during his life in Shanghai. I had seen them many times over the years and  when very young, I would secretly sneak them out of my grandmother’s Chinese carved trunk in her flat in San Francisco. It was always a great treat for me to scour through the photos to see family, most of whom were from England and whom I didn’t know, but also to see the aftermath from bombings by the Japanese in Shanghai. This included dead bodies, an infamous dog who fed off them, and buildings demolished.

  

Now I was in the city I had only fantasized about. We were in and out of the  van all day. We went to the apartment house where our family lived and in a childlike prankster mode, we rang different doorbells hoping someone would let us in. There were several ways into the apartment complex and we were looking for a specific apartment. Eventually someone would appear and after Henry explained, in Chinese, why we were showing up uninvited to their homes, we were granted access to the inner courtyard.

  

 

                                             The courtyard on Weihai Road

I tried to picture how the G.I.’s in their jeeps drove in to pick my mother up on dates, as she had told me about. It was only when we got to the final entry point that it all made sense. It was a bit of a disappointment to learn that the current inhabitant of the apartment was in a nursing home. The apartment was shut tight and we couldn’t get in to see the layout. 

  

But how cool it was to be there! After all these years I could actually touch the same brick walls and walk the same ground I had seen only in photos for more than 60 years.   

Henry was a gem for talking rapid fire Chinese to security guards all over Shanghai convincing them to let us into various properties due to his dogged persistence. The only place his tactics didn’t work was at Holy Trinity Church. We couldn’t even get inside the gates to see where my grandparents got married and where my mother was baptized; that particular guard wouldn’t budge. Henry also took the initiative to bang on a back door to the church in the event someone was inside working.  He was well worth his price in gold, as the saying goes.

We saw parts of Shanghai which most people would not be privy to seeing. It was an experience of a lifetime.

One of the most intriguing moments was when one of the workers at a police property beckoned me into the back area of one of the station. Denise followed behind and we were both a bit unnerved by the man showing us the way as if it was something he shouldn’t be doing or leading us to the chopping block. There were old rusty jail cells stacked with old furniture from schools, as it appeared to me, anyway. Chairs, desks, etc. A jumbled cobwebbed jailhouse mess with metal doors and old rusty locks. It looked like a damp nightmare for any prisoner.

  

We were led to a big metal door which he proceeded to unlock and then motioning us to enter. I looked at Denise and we both couldn’t talk as if we might break the spell this man was under to show us a room so secretive in Communist China. And this was done totally unprovoked and out of the blue. 

With a slight bit of trepidation, I started taking photo after photo of all the men’s faces framed and hanging on concrete walls in what may have been an administrative office for the police. Denise asked if she should get John so he could see it too  and I said yes! Unfortunately, the man started getting nervous and told me we had to go. I kept shooting photos as we were led out of what I learned was some sort of a tribute room to the communists who were killed. How/what/why I have no idea. Maybe the Nationalists killed them. All I know is we saw a secret place in Shanghai and I certainly love the idea of secrets as long as no one is murdered for them. By the time John and Henry got to us, we were already walking back into the prison yard so they missed the display.

  

We also went to Ward Prison which was built in the 30s and the largest prison ever built in China. This place was scary. But not content to only take photos of the exterior, I started down a passageway, passed the check-in booth with the guard looking the other way, and into the outer yard while taking photos before I realized the guard was yelling at me. I finally looked into the glassed in booth to see the uniformed guard waving his arms and yelling at me in Chinese to get out. He was probably swearing at me in Chinese, too, I thought it was pretty funny but Henry was not amused. He probably didn’t want one of his “paying guests” to be arrested and detained in a Chinese jail. Imagine all the paperwork that would involve!

  

Racing along, we took a quick peek into the Fashion Mart because I wanted some Chinese clothes, specifically old fashioned wide legged pants which I couldn’t find anywhere. Henry thinks I can get a pair made here. I just wanted a set of outdoor pajamas which so many Chinese used to wear. I was a bit disappointed to see how ‘Westernized’ Shanghai had become.  There was so little of the authentic way of life left to see. But from what I have read in other blogs, it is still feasible to witness Chinese life out in the countryside. It is apparent Shanghai is still a cosmopolitan city, as it always has been, but it is rapidly catching up with the rest of the world’s economic race to the proverbial finish line of wealth. A bit sad to me, but inevitable. 

  

Everywhere, any time, there are women in wedding dresses and formal wear being photographed. What I thought was a wedding photo was most likely a fashionshoot.

After seeing what I witnessed the next day, perhaps progress wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all…

Rylands Library in Manchester UK

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Somewhere along the line over the last year for the planning of this trip, Rylands Library popped up as a possible interesting piece of history to visit when in Manchester. From the little I saw, the architecture looked pretty cool.

After the visit to Manchester’s Museum of Industry and Science, John, Denise, and I walked over to the library. They had never been there so it would be a new experience for all of us.

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Wow. I could have spent an entire week in this place. Note the architectural fusion between old and new in the photo below.

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The Rylands Library was built as a memorial to John Rylands by his third wife, Enriqueta Rylands, in the late 1800s with the opening in 1900. It seemed a bit of a memorial to herself, too, from this statue of her we came across. His statue was at the other side of this expansive reading room.

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John and Enriqueta were married for 13 years until his death in 1888 at the remarkable age of 87 (unusual for that time, but, then again, I’ve seen that people who amass great wealth tend to live longer, probably due to being able to afford the greater comforts in life along with perhaps the psychological values of less stress over finances).

In 1972, the Rylands Library merged with the University of Manchester.

It is said that the Rylands, as of 2012, had the largest collection of printed volumes in the UK at 250,000, as well as a staggering 1M+ manuscripts and archival items. One claim to fame is the ownership of a piece of the oldest New Testament (Mr. Rylands was a practicing Baptist). I was thrilled to be able to freely take photographs in the various rooms.

Fragment of New Testament:

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The architecture is a blend of 1890s Victorian, neo-Gothic, with a vaulted roof making the exterior and interior look as if it had once been a church, which it had never been. It was built with Cumbrian sandstone (Cumbria is where the beautiful Lake District resides (more on that later)) which, other than some repairs here and there, has stood up to the hands of time, as well as withstood the smooty, dirty air which the Manchester area was quagmired in for ages due to the coal, cotton, and railroad industries.

Mrs. Rylands amassed Mr. Rylands fortune upon his death. John Rylands (aka “English entrepreneur, philanthropist, and owner of the largest textile concern in the UK and Manchester’s first multi-millionaire.”) owned the bulk of the cotton industry in the UK, with manufacturing plants in Wigan, where my family members worked for a pittance and under harsh working conditions. Plus, there was also coal found under these plants, which was also “harvested.”. How ironic that now, over 100 years later, my cousin and I are visiting a beautiful building and library collection thanks to Rylands’ fortune built from the labors of our ancestors. But, I digress…

The corridors and library rooms felt almost profound with the history and memories of civilization. The earliest written works of Chaucer are housed here and I came across documents from Sylvia Plath and her husband, Ted Hughes, who didn’t want the newspaper to make a “big deal” out of the typed document of Plath’s in her obituary. John pointed out the early women’s suffrage documents (a woman from Manchester started that movement!) encased but unfortunately I didn’t get a photo as I was so overwhelmed by the building and the collections including this photo of a book by H.D. Wells called “The Origins of History” that was ‘carved in’ to look like the human heart between the covers. Which is exactly what books can bring us: The Heart of History.

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And, as each day passed, I was finding out more than I had ever imagined about “the heart of my family’s history.”

Here are some additional photos from the Ryland Library including the awesome restroom I used with the pull chain toilet! Couldn’t resist taking the shot…

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By the Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

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Ben and I took off early on Friday for the Imperial War Museum to look over materials regarding Shanghai which we had previously requested to review. These were personal journals of people who lived there when my grandfather, grandmother, and mom all lived there as well as some memorabilia from the Japanese Internment Camp in Yangchow C where my grandmother and mom lived for 4 years. This war museum has a good system for researchers and the review room had quite a few people studying various books and papers. I identified what I wanted copied, paid for it, and now wait for the IWM to mail them to Ben in London who will forward it all to me in the U.S.

After lunch, we collected our luggage and knapsacks from Ben’s mom and dad’s apartment and began making our way for the train station. Ben was an awesome guide and help to me with my overflowing baggage due to gifts I had bought for my American family. It was pouring. Then our train was delayed for a bit because of a “trespasser on the tracks.” Other than that delay, the ride and transfer was smooth and pleasant. I do like train travel…

Arriving in Seaford at dusk, we met up with Les and Doreen at their home and were off to have the area’s ‘traditional’ fish and chips. Fresh fish and all.

Doreen and I had some time on our own the following day to take the bus into Brighton, have a pleasant lunch, and see the Imperial Palace. It’s an impressive place for a king or queen to entertain guests, that’s for sure. The dining room table was set for about 30 featuring lovely china; it was massive. Apparently, Queen Victoria didn’t really like the place. I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside which was unfortunate as it was really opulent and filled with rare and marvelous things, mostly Asian. I loved it.

Brighton Pier was a highlight for me as I’ve seen it in films and always wanted to go. Plus, there was a Ferris wheel which I hopped on leaving patient Doreen to wait (heights aren’t her thing). The view of the sea with the sunlight, hitting the water just so, was awe inspiring. And Brighton is not a small, sleepy seaside village only known in the old days for couples having trysts. It is a huge University town with even animal rights protestors passing by us. How I get these ideas about the size of some towns is beyond me.

Alfriston was our Sunday destination for a British Mother’s Day brunch. But before going there, the cab took us up to the headlands of the Seven Sisters chalk cliffs. Wow. Stunning view. The family had all walked the cliffs over the years and I could see why that walk would be tempting. For me, it wouldn’t work out well at this stage but for those stronger and healthier, it would be an incredible walk.

We were driven from there to Alfriston. Interesting little town but the chain link fence surrounding the whole center of town’s main water line didn’t help the ambiance-factor. We all had a fine time in spite of that little distraction.

My time in Seaford was winding down. The roaring evening fires were memorable as the weather was getting colder portending what was to come.

Next stop: Stoke-on-Trent train station to meet my cousin John, Doreen’s brother, who lives with his wife, Denise, in Congleton. This is not far from Manchester. I feel another adventure coming on…

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Falling for St. Paul

The flight to London was sleepless but I managed to stay relatively alert after my 11:30 a.m. landing. It was amazing that there was such a short queue going through immigration at Heathrow. However, the line was growing behind me and I noticed two agents taking off from their posts (on much deserved breaks, I am sure) leaving only two other agents to handle the onslaught of the next cattle call.

Ben was nowhere to be found after I emerged from the perfume-laden-duty-free-section outside of baggage in Terminal 5, so I proceeded to look for the cabbie he had told me would be holding a sign with my name on it. I didn’t see my name but did see a sign with Ben’s last name. Luckily I stopped and mentioned that this was my cousin’s last name so perhaps there was a mixup. There was. This short delay waiting for Ben allowed me the chance to get a decent cup of cappuccino at Costa and get my bearings while doing some people watching. I noticed a lot of business people starting their week in London.

Ben arrived soon after and after the cab ride into a gray London day, we met up with his mum, Doreen, and all took a brief walk around the grounds of the large hotel and residence complex. I then managed to nap for an hour which was perfect to get that second wind for my flagging sail before dinner.

Ben retrieved me and we were off to Doreen’s and my cousin-in-law Les’ apartment for celebratory champagne toasting ‘The Internet’ for bringing us all together. There was a Spanish restaurant not far, called Goya, where we had tapas and a good amount of wine and laughter. After waiting almost a year for this trip, the Heritage Walk had begun.

Tuesday morning began with three of the four of us meeting up to catch the #24 to Trafalgar Square. I saw the back end of Buckingham Palace this time rather than the front as I had 11 years ago. There were two Coldstream Guards (which my grandfather was also) holding themselves stiff on horses half in and half out of little guard houses on either side of a gate leading onto the palace grounds (I recognized this as the vehicle passageway used after William and Catherine’s wedding last year). Good grief, what a job! And what could be worse than to also have to deal with all the lookie-loos gawking and photographing you while keeping that stiff upper lip. Wonder how long their post shifts are and whether that was part of my grandfather Sam’s job back in the early 20s. I hope his post at the palace was short before he was transferred on to Constantinople.

Trafalgar Square with those four magnificent lions, the fountains, the modern art installation recently instituted for the top of one column showcasing a local artist, this one being the golden child riding a rocking horse, and then a movie crew making a Bollywood film, was a fabulous introduction to the London I had not met before. Less was a magnificent tour guide historian telling me about each building we passed. If only I had a photographic memory. Or, any kind of memory would do, to be honest.

We walked about St. Paul’s where I took outlawed photos feeling slightly guilty, as any former practicing Catholic would feel. I imagine it could have been the Catholic God who pushed me down the front steps of the cathedral in punishment for my dastardly deed. Or, perhaps it was my not watching where I was stepping and missing a step tumbling down whilst breaking my fall on the backs of two unfortunate young woman who were just as surprised as I was. Nothing was broken but “falling for St. Paul” did not help my already achy muscles. And it is an unnerving experience to fall down stairs. While I have fallen over the last couple of years, which I think is caused by these damn “floaters” in my eyes (can I sound more pathetic?), I haven’t actually fallen down stairs since I was about six and in my grandmother’s upstairs flat in San Francisco. I can still remember that tumble.

St. Paul’s cathedral has an interesting past (doesn’t everything?), one of which is surviving the London Blitz during WWII. It supposed to be the third largest cathedral but I think it is quite dwarfed in comparison to both St. Peter’s in Rome and the Sevilla Cathedral in Spain.

After lunch in St. Paul’s, Doreen left us to get to work and Less and I went underground to take the Tube to Canary Wharf. Instead, we we landed in Greenwich to see the schooner, Cutty Sark, ending up buying tickets for the boat back to London. It was sunny and a perfect day to be on the water. Plus, what better way was there to see the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge, not to mention the Globe theatre of Shakespeare fame (made without nails but instead with wooden pegs), the Hard, and other remarkable and unremarkable London sights. I highly recommend taking a boat down the Thames on a clear day.

On our way back, we made a brief stop during rush hour at Spencer and David’s to pick up our respective meals, then went back to our respective rooms to respectively recuperate from an intoxicatingly beautiful London experience.

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Heritage Walk

It was through my mother’s obituary in late 2011 that my maternal grandfather’s side of the family found me. I had looked for them many years, to no avail, so when writing my mother’s obituary, I purposely included as much of her history as I could in hope that someone on her father’s side would see she had passed on.

Within 3 months I received a letter from England who turned out to be my first cousin, D., once removed. Randomly, her brother, J., had decided to do another search for my mom, coming up with her obituary. Two years prior they had dropped the matter of trying to find both my mother, Nona, and my grandmother, Lola, after several years of research led them to a dead-end trail in San Francisco. Was it a coincidental fluke that our families have reunited after 70 years or did the spirits of our past family members have a hand in some divine intervention?

Shortly after the letter from D., she came to visit me in Seattle just before my trip to Spain and Portugal. Turned out she has children and grandchildren who live in the states and she already had an Easter trip planned to Southern California to visit some of them. During that trip, D. flew up for one afternoon which we spent having a takeout Chinese lunch (I figured I’d stay with the Shanghai theme) in my home with my daughter and grandson. After our “getting to know you” lunch, she and I plowed through all the letters, legal paperwork, letters of commendation, and photos of our relatives’ lives in pre-WWII Asia. How amazing it was to be with a family member who was not only as excited about these mementos as I am, but who also plans to write a book as I have wanted to do for years.

Over this last year, I have also corresponded with B., the son of D., who, as it turns out, is a researcher. He has been instrumental in locating ship manifests, historical dates, etc. and we have all Skyped and sent hundreds of emails asking and answering questions. During their quest to find my mother, they have developed relationships with authors and historians who are experts in the history of this era as well as the Japanese internment camps, one of which my mother and grandmother were prisoners of for 4 years. And, most importantly, I have gotten to know cousins who are actually related to me, which I had experienced very little of in my lifetime coming from a small family.

In October of last year, I had a memorial planned in Colorado on what would have been my mom’s 85th birthday. My other cousin J. and his wife De., flew from England to Colorado to attend the memorial of his mother’s niece, his first cousin, whom he had never met but had looked for such a long time. J. also then had the opportunity to pour over all the photos his uncle took in Shanghai, which were stored at my son’s home. My grandfather not only documented life in Shanghai, but also the invasion of the Japanese. As a policeman, his photos were oftentimes graphic. I remember that as a child I wasn’t allowed to see these photos, however I would always find a way. Bloated bodies in a river are not for a child’s eyes. Yet, my mother saw scenes like this personally in Shanghai which, she told me, made her immune to the heartbreak of death. I have no such immunity.

In 2 weeks, I leave for England on a “Heritage Walk.” My grandfather was also a Coldstream guard (which are the Queen’s guards with bearskin hats) in service in London prior to his assignment in Shanghai. I will spend 4 days in London which will include a visit to Parliament and to the Imperial War Museum.

From there we will be in the south of England a few days and then up to the Manchester area with a visit to Darwen where my great-grandmother and great-grandfather worked in coal mines and cotton mills during the rise of the Industrial Revolution.

There is also a plan to meet another family member who still carries my mother’s maiden name of Sharrock and who lives on the northwest coast of England.

This adventure to the north country (I have only been to London and the Norfolk area in the past) promises to bring me to Liverpool as well for an “up close and personal” view from where The Beatles hailed. Oh, yay, finally!

If all goes as planned, I will chronicle this adventure with photos of places I have been and history I have uncovered for the 2 weeks I will be “across the pond.” There will be no little grandchildren with me this time, but I imagine I will still have plenty to share along the way.

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