Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Part II of Many as we enjoy life in England

Pictures are wonderful--they are forever and capture the essence of life and love. They allow us to capture the moment and give us the privilege of living it again and again. Pictures also bring the realization that what was, may never be again and that life moves on and it is up to each individual to determine the course they will take in response to it. For me, I choose to relive the moment and carry it in my heart while I continue to enjoy the breath of life and all of what the years have allowed to grow around me.

Our life in our home in England was fun and as for Rosemary and me we were living high. After a somewhat rough start, we landed on our feet and Rosemary became the lady of the Village. She knew everyone and was loved by all. She was frequently mistaken as a native and was treated like the English treat their own. She loved it and I was happy too--we made friends and participated in an Air Force sponsored program called Block Groups that paired folks living in reasonably close proximity to each other and we shared culture and experiences. Ours consisted of three American couples and three English couples. We had an interesting group comprised of three Air force couples, one RAF Officer (John Tocker and wife), a retired bank officer from Rhodesia (Charles and Ida Gire) and the Sherringham Village Chemist (Percy the Pharmacist and drug store owner and for my life I do not remember her name--sorry).

Stu at the beach behind the h
Initially, we were more into the local area social circles than we were with our US Air Force counterparts. That was primarily due to proximity in that the Base was almost an hour's drive away and the English roads were not real good for our big American car. Speaking of American cars, we had a 1959 Pontiac 2 door hardtop that was about as large as American cars came. I believe it was the first year of the wide track suspension and that was even big by US standards. We loved that car and it was almost new when we shipped it to the UK. I remember the shock when I got it off of the boat and filled the 25 gallon tank with the fuel at a local service station--one Pound Sterling
per gallon and at the time the Pound was trading at $2.82. In 1960 that was a big chunk of what a 1st Lieutenant earned. Things relaxed a little when we were able to buy Quartermaster gas on base at $0.16 per imperial gallon. Fuel was no longer a problem, only the physical size of the car posed a challenge on the local roads. Not to worry, we soon accommodated to the change and drove wherever we wanted to go although from time to time we had to back out of a road and find a turn around because the road became too narrow for the car.

Living room and the fireplace
It could be spooky living there when the thick fog shrouded the house and the street would be barely visible. Rosemary got great comfort at knowing the local Bobby (the Constable, the police officer) knew our every move. It was incredible what he knew about we aliens and our comings and goings. I felt she was safe in the village surrounded with good people who looked after us but I don't believe they ever understood us--young crazy kids of the Yank persuasion. Rose always looked forward to hearing the low flying British sea patrol Lancaster (WWII converted bomber) fly buy the shore every night at 9PM. There was one night however, that she was concerned -- I was away on alert duty at the base and she and Stu were alone on a very foggy night. While sleeping a big lump of coal fell from the fireplace onto the hearth (it, the fire had been banked for the night) and it was smoldering and subsequently filled the house with dense smoke. When she awoke she discovered the problem and put the coal back into the fireplace and then was faced with eliminating the smoke. It was dense and she had to open all of the front windows and the french doors that opened onto the back patio. It was cold and foggy and she couldn't tell if the smoke was going out or there was more fog coming in. She spent much of the night sitting up with doors and windows open hoping that she would be safe. My Rose was a brave lady and I would have pitied any poor soul that would have invaded her space that night. We frequently saw the pea soup fog roll into the house when we would open a door.

I mentioned earlier that we entertained with the Block Group and rotated through the families to break bread, be entertained and socialize while sharing our favorite receipts. I remember several of the meals and one in particular with the retired couple from Rhodesia. They made their favorite meal and served it and it was wonderful--really delicious. Rose liked it so much that she went back for seconds (unusual for her). After dinner was over and we were having a glass of Sherry, Rose complemented the Gire (I think her name was Ida, I know his was Charles) on the meal and wanted to know what it was (a kind of pot pie thing) and we were proudly informed that it was an English favorite, steak and kidney pie--well Rosemary was gracious enough to ask for her receipt but never let such a thing ever touch her lips again. I still laugh when I think about it. On the other side of the meal coin was when we cooked. I believe the first meal that we served them was barbecue ribs. I bought about 30 pounds of them at the commissary and got some charcoal and made a smoke house out of the garage (the car wouldn't fit so I made it into a smoke house). I hung the ribs from the rafters and let the juice run down the rib slab as they cooked and would occasionally baste them to keep them moist. They cooked over a slow heat for about 12 hours and were tinder with the meat just waiting to fall off of the bone. I think they were the best ribs I have ever made and after a great deal of confusion by the Brits on how to eat them, all you could see was flying bones and smacking lips and moans of gastronomical delight. Then ole Dave's famous baked beans--
Dining room and french doors to patio
I think that evening broke all of the British stiffness and opened a new door for the young Yanks that just moved into West Runton. Of course the participants were plied with their beverage of choice during the cocktail hour (and beyond) and in typical English fashion, consumption was not measured, the evening relaxed to everyone's satisfaction. We felt the party was a success and it was the topic of culinary conversation for months--well maybe weeks but anyway everyone had a good time and appeared ready to experience another evening of Vance hospitality.

But I'm getting a little ahead of my story and need to reflect on our first English summer and the joys of being in our own home again. While we were disappointed in the English summer, the British population didn't seem to mind. The village filled with the tourists and they were everywhere. Their little caravans (very small one room trailers) dotted the pastures and cliffs above the sea for their pure enjoyment of the fresh sea air and holiday supreme. We too enjoyed the summer and lamented the coolness of it but soon fell into the oblivion that embraced the locals and visitors alike.
The sea and cliffs in back of our home
As you can see we too visited the beach and our pride and joy, Stuart, was the apple of our eye. We went to the beach as often as we could and Stu loved to play in the sand and along the rocky shoreline in 50 degree water--a regular heat wave. He would splash and swim with the best of the locals and vacationing outsiders. Occasionally I would fly low over the house on my way back from a flight and see Rose sunning in the back garden when the air temperatures would rise to the low 50's. Proof that one can adjust and acclimate to just about set of circumstances when faced with the realities of nature and an English summer "if you can't beat them join them" and that is exactly what we did.

Guess who
Our life in West Runton continued to expand, we met the village locals and found a lovely older lady who after interviewing us wanted to provide baby sitter services for us and we were ready for her to join our family. She was a lovely lady, about 65 years of age, and she loved our little Stuart. Mrs Spinks was her name --a 65 year old fire ball with red hair and a personality to go with it. Rosemary and I grew to love her and she was the grandmother in England. She would play with Stu in the front garden and would walk him through the village and introduce him to the local shop keepers--they had a marvelous time.

Stu in the front garden
Soon after she started her baby sitting tasks she insisted that we buy a harness for him to wear as they moved about the village. She sternly informed us that no proper English boy would be seen in public without a fine leather harness with the attached leash (lead). She informed us that she would make the purchase and that we were to reimburse her afterword. She proudly brought the thing to the house and fit it to him and subsequently played GEE, Gee--I think that was horse. He loved it and she loved it and we had the best Nannie one could ever hope for. She became so much a part of our family that even after we moved back to the U.S. I would frequently fly to the UK and Rosemary would pack a box with things like sugar, cocoa, chocolate and who knows what--we called it a care package and I would ride the train North with the goodies in tow. She gave Rosemary some of her childhood toys and a small chest that had her doll thing stored inside--we were her family and we had to leave her behind. She gave me a formal Queen Victoria Naval dress sword that had been her uncles and I have it to this day. I will always keep it and ensure it stays in the family in remembrance of this wonderful, loving person. As time went by we depended on her to keep Stu when we went to social functions at the base--we would go to the club and have diner and dance the Twist till the sun was welcoming in a new day. Her only request was that we return home before it got light lest the villagers would talk. We did and we remained close for years to come.

This is the story I wrote one Saturday morning when I heard Judy Blue Eyes. Still makes me misty----

I awakened this morning and turned the radio on and the first noise that boomed out at me was the attached song by Crosby Stills and Nash. I lived it and it sent me on an unexplained trip (not Pot) that wanders back many years to things that I can't explain but if you will indulge me I am compelled to recount the life experience path that won't go to rest until I do. The year is 1969 and it is the end of the Monson season in Viet Nam. I'm in the Central Highlands at a base/city known as Pleiku. We are on the top of a mountainous area where we have made runways that serve as a primary air support point for downed airmen rescue endeavors, close air support for the troops in contact with the enemy and a military jumping off point. The primary aircraft based there are the A1E Skyraiders (a WWII fighter that carries tons of ordinance) and the original gun ship fondly known as Puff the Magic Dragon (a converted WWII DC-3).

It was late at night or early morning and we were experiencing a nightly rocket attack--ordinarily one would go to the bunkers for safety purposes but after a few months one becomes rather jaded, fatalistic or calloused to what the dangers might be and you rationalize that the hooch walls are concrete for about the first 3 feet and the rest is wooden slats and if a rocket hits outside the hooch you will be OK because the blast moves up and omni directional--the concrete will protect you and if the rocket lands inside the hooch you don't have anything to worry about because you will probably be dead--soo why not stay in your nice comfortable bed and wait it out. That's what I did and the guy in the room next to mine did too. He had just returned from Japan (had been on R&R there) and in usual fashion, he bought the biggest loudest and best sound system available. He and several others were unwinding from a long day. They were laughing talking and probably drinking and this song and album were playing at about 140db. Needless to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the album and songs on it live with me constantly. Funny-- the things that mark your memory, no way to explain it. I turned the radio up this AM until the walls shook with Judy Blue Eyes.

Since I am walking down memory lane I won't let you get away without more. I opened Don's email and Deja Vu, he was relating Craig's phone call and his return from the Far East when (still listening to Judy Blue Eyes) My mind returned to Saigon on Christmas Eve, 1969. It was 17:30 and I had arranged with my boss to have the one 7 day leave that was allowed during the tour. He had asked where I was going (We could only go to Thailand, Australia or Hawaii we could not go to CONUS) and I said Hawaii while knowing that I intended to try a more than 10,000 mile trip to the east, Salina Kansas. Don was talking about the time zones and it was the time difference that made it conceivably possible to spend the biggest family day of my life with those I loved and certainly missed. As you all may or may not know, the aviation world is small and it seems that whether military or civilian you have connections that enable travel. Well ole Vance had friends. There I was in my flying suit with a hang up bag carrying a dress uniform, shoes, some unders and socks. My friend loaded me on a C-141 Starlifter transport bound for Manila and 5 hours later I was there where I ran into another friend that was running the Airlift operations and he put me on a flight to Japan where I got a hop on a flight to Tacoma Washington (where I would later command the organization I was flying with). Well, as the powers above would have it the weather in Washington was so bad that we could not land so we had to go to Travis AFB (a base near San Francisco)--that was perfect--I could buy a commercial ticket there and proceed. I rushed through Customs and all I know is that I had to make a quick trip to San Francisco to make one of the last red eye flights to Wichita. The smell of America was wonderful and I ran (still in my flying suit--a real no-no) to catch the last bus to the airport in San Francisco. I made the flight to Wichita and then caught a ride to the Continental Trailways bus station for a two hour ride to Salina. It was now early morning--Christmas day and I was within running distance of home and ole Judy Blue Eyes was still ringing in my ears. I called from the Salina bus station which was just a few blocks from home. Have you ever had personal excitement that bubbled inside of you to the extent that you thought you would burst? That was me! There inside the open door were three little boys and my wife who I believe shared the same joy that I was experiencing--an unspeakable moment.

Well, for what it is worth that is my Christmas story and it is brought to the fore with anything but a Christmas song. So if you can open the attached song, please do it and share with me what will be with me till I die. If it won't open look for Crosby Stills and Nash and Judy Blue Eyes, play it loud and think of another time and another place. Christmas is a time for family and we have many young and some not so young that can't do what I was able to do those many years ago. Think of them and thank them for what they do. My love and best wishes for this holiday season to all of you.