With such a fortunate life of living in several different places, living in England was by far and away the most exciting. I had the opportunity to live in England three different times most recently as an adult, in the late 90’s. I took my two young children with me so they too, could have a taste of England and live in a place that was far far different than the state of Texas, where they were born and raised.
We moved to a very small hamlet that literally had maybe 5 or 6 homes, in the little village of South Fawley that was in the southern most part of Oxfordshire. We lived in a Manor house that was oh, maybe built in 1067 or something like that! It was incredible. How fortunate we were to be able to do this. So many things happened there I cannot even begin to tell you the oh so many stories. I will someday, but there is one day that stands about amongst many, that I must write about now.
It all started with the magic elixir….tea which is the hot drink of choice for probably close to 100% of English people. I became obsessed with it during my second “tour” in England when I was a teenager. After that I was addicted and drank it growing up and continued to do so. A cuppa hot tea is even better when I can sit down in a tea shop in England and have someone make it for me! Mainly because of the crumpets, digestives and other sweet things that one usually has with hot tea.
When I was living at the manor house in South Fawley, I kept busy during the day when my children were out at school. I didn’t work so I filled my days with special events and outings. It was great fun. One of the many things I liked to do was go out and have hot tea at one of my favorite tea shoppes. These places were in small towns such as Wantage, Abingdon, Hungerford, Newbury, Great Shefford, Farringdon and sometimes even in big towns such as Oxford and London.
One day in particular stands out like no other, when it comes to my hot tea experience. That day I went to my favorite tea place in Hungerford. Hungerford was maybe 15 miles away from South Fawley and it was only a hop skip and a jump for me really. The weather was quite unsettled as it was cold and chilly so it was a great day for a cup of hot tea with scones and digestives. I couldn’t wait. My tea shop was on the main street in Hungerford which was called, High Street. (As many main streets are called in many towns actually). As I walked in the tea shop I noticed that many other people had had the same idea I had. It was cold and chilly outside so why not have a cup of tea! There were hardly any tables but I was lucky enough to get one of the last tables available.
As I began to drink my tea and read my newspaper, The Observer, I noticed that a few more people had come into the tea shop. I didn’t think too much about it really so I just kept on reading and drinking. For some reason I couldn’t relax. I looked up and saw two older ladies that were probably in their 60’s talking to each other looking for a place to sit. They were awfully close to the round table I had claimed…which actually had 2 other chairs around it. I looked at the chairs thinking, “I hope they don’t sit here and interrupt my tea and solitude.” Well…I couldn’t think that fast enough because the next thing I knew one of the ladies said to me in her very thick British accent, “Pardon me young lady, but does it matter that we sit at this table with you? There is nothing else to be found!”
I mean, what could I say, “NO?” Of course I wanted to say that but of course I could not say that because of course my mother taught me better than that so of course I said, “Of course!” As I gestured my hand to the two empty chairs at my table, both ladies sat down and smiled and waited for the waitress. I must say at this point I knew that my relaxing time in tea shop had gone downhill and I was a bit upset to not have my solitude. But I really had no choice and had to make the best of it. The two ladies began to talk a bit between themselves and I quickly got back to business of reading my newspaper and drinking my tea.
When the waitress came to the table and asked them what they would like, the waitress also asked me if I would like anything else. I told her “Not now, thank you anyway.” That’s all I said and the 2 ladies perked up a bit and said in unison “You’re American!” I smiled and said “Yes…you can tell already?” One of them said why yes, “Your accent gave you away!” Silly me. The other lady said, “I’ve always liked Americans!” I was thinking to myself, thank goodness. So I said out loud, “That’s a good thing; I guess I’m safe then!” They both chuckled and looked at each other in a way that was much like a “knowing” look. This is hard to explain but the knowing look between them was almost like a comforting look. I couldn’t even come close to guessing what it was, because after about half an hour I found out what it was.
What happened in the next half hour pretty much blew me away. Here I thought I was going to have a quiet cup of tea at my tea shoppe, but instead I had one of the best history lessons about World War II I could have imagined and I know I never learned in school what they were about to share with me.
I so wish I could have taped the whole conversation. It was truly incredible and by the time I walked out of that tea shoppe, I was so thankful that these two women had not only asked to sit at the two chairs at my table, but I was so thankful that these two women shared their common bond and experiences of World War II with me. The fact that my being American and my American accent triggered this was fortuitous for all 3 of us. I became friends with these 2 women who I was never to see again after this day but who, at the same time, left much more of an indelible mark on my brain that most people I have known for years and years!