Do you remember the poet who died at age 25? The famous one named Rupert Brooke who wrote during world war one? Rugby. Salman Rushdie, ampoule Lewis Carroll, Rugby School. Yes, we know Rugby is a sport, but it is a place with roads and soil too. Val and her husband Ray explain this to me since Rugby is their home.
“1832, thumb ” says Ray. He has memorized the year they invented the game. They are ambassadors in the same way I always become an ambassador for the bubbler and Lake Michigan whenever I leave this state. They tell me I can visit the Rugby Museum with its Museum Store where hand sewn leather rugby footballs are sold. They tell me this with such urgency that I feel like I ought to go over to England and get myself one while they are still available, before the whole world knows of the secret of Rugby. Maybe I should go over there even and buy more than one, stock up. But then what would I do with them? Keep them on top of my bookshelf? Use them as a paperweight?
To be exact, Ray has lived in Rugby his whole life, but Val grew up on a “small holding,” a farm with chickens, pigs and Oxo the horse. Oxo was a great big carthorse that transported goods 12 miles to Coventry. Coventry was where they built the ammunitions in world war two. Germany figured that out and demolished Coventry.
The jet engine was invented in Rugby, didj’ya know?
These British ambassadors then move onto the topic of Boxing Day. Boxing Day is the holiday right after Christmas. It was started hundreds of years ago when London gentry would take some of their good leftover holiday scraps and give them to their servants who would then get into fights over them, thus the name.
Next, I get a knife lesson. I’m told that before the typewriter, back when everyone still used quills to write, they would have to carve the end of the quill with a knife… the “pen knife.”
Val changes the topic, “Do you know what happens in three days time? We’ll have been married 57 years!” Ray corrects her, “56!” Val looks a tad relieved, “That’s right, we haven’t been married that long.” They got married on the solstice, June 21st, 1958. Val was 19 and Ray was 20. I see I am posting this on Solstice, so Happy Anniversary, Val & Ray!
In the lounge I spy a woman with two screens: a glowing tablet in her lap and a texting device in her hand. I decide I must approach this woman of information. All at the same time she is reading, treat texting someone and telling me, “I’m not actually all that technologically advanced” and suggests that I ask one of her close friends about her because they’d confirm to me that she is not that quick on the gadgets. Unfortunately, none of her friends are available for questioning here tonight since she is visiting from England. She lives in England, but she was born in Scotland, Morag is her name.
Like any other living organism, Morag continues to grow layers, sections, rings and cells of ideas. She studies anthropology and is enrolled at a Welsh university. The glowing screen in her lap is open to a manuscript from her course on “Cultural Astronomy and Astrology.” I ask her what the heck that’s all about and she gives me a simple noun: the sky. “Everything in the sky has impacted every aspect of our lives.” Morag explains that European cities have less sky and as a result many Europeans crave horizons. American cities have much more horizon, more space to be filled. She is nearly whispering and it is hard to hear her over the piano’s medley of Hollywood movie themes. I ask her in my usual highly audible volume, “Is that why Americans talk so loud?” Morag shrugs, “Well, you have more expansive personalities.” I agree with that statement with a great big “Mmmmm!” Perhaps too emphatic because Morag quickly corrects herself, “But that is a gross generalization of course!”
Ah yes, I remember now, generalizations are dangerous! Assumptions are dangerous! New experiences are the antidote to ignorance! Morag knows this truth by heart. She’s been to an ice bar in the Netherlands. An ice bar is a place where you get dressed up in wooly clothes; a full snowsuit and you are given a drinking glass hewn of ice. “Obviously you are drinking vodka,” she adds. “You pay by the hour, but no one lasts longer than an hour at an ice bar. And the whole while everyone there is giggling at you because you look ridiculous.” Aside from being a university student she is a professional costume designer for operas and ballets. She knows the fluidity of facades. Even her haircutter has a dual life as a creative writer. “Being a hairdresser informs her writing because she’s learned how to talk to people… perhaps you can relate to that?”
Though we weren’t able to meet face-to-face during her stay, Simone Ingram shared her story with me via email. Here is her incredible story, in her own words…
One day, I logged onto Facebook and had a message in my inbox asking if I had a dad named Dennis Michael Cudmore and a brother named Jean-Paul. I couldn’t believe my eyes! I read it and re-read it a million times and didn’t know what to do.
It was my sister Ciera who found me on Facebook. I never even knew I had a sister. That evening I called my brother and asked if he was sitting down and if he had a drink in his hand. He replied yes to both so I told him the news – it looked like we had a sister in America. My sister Ciera DesJardins has a two-year-old little girl and just got engaged. We were both speechless. Ciera had been looking for us for as long as she could remember. Neither of us knew our father, she only knew about us from what her mum had told her, for which I shall be eternally grateful.
For the past three years, Ciera and I have mailed each other regularly and tried to Skype once, but we kept losing connection. I have been desperate to meet her since she first got in touch with me. This past year on my Christmas list, I put that I would like to meet my sister. On Christmas Day, after we had opened our presents, my husband said that he had one more thing for me. I had always wanted to have a nice English afternoon tea at the Ritz and had mentioned this on numerous occasions, so when he gave me an envelope I thought, this is it, my tea at the Ritz. I opened the envelope and could not believe what I saw, he had organized for the two of us to fly to Milwaukee for a week to meet my sister. As you can imagine the tears flowed with happiness and I just could not stop smiling.
My husband Ian had arranged everything with Ciera, she was in on it all along. Ian said that because this was to be a trip of a lifetime, he had chosen a very lovely hotel for us to stay in. And The Pfister sure was lovely. I had never been to America before. I’m from a small town called Barnstaple in Devon, England so to see everything supersize blew my mind away at times.
Ciera and I met at the airport. We just hugged and giggled nervously – my husband filmed it all. We spent the week together getting to know each other and finding out we have similar ways, likes and dislikes – neither of us like mushrooms or anchovies. Someone actually said we looked alike, in our smiles. We were both delighted, as I am 20 years older than Ciera – she’s only 23.
We also took a trip to Chicago, which for me was very special, as our dad lived in Chicago. The last known address I had for him was in Hinsdale, Illinois. Before I met Ciera, I always wanted to go to Chicago to see if I could find him. Walking along looking at the sites side by side with my sister filled my heart. Knowing I was in the same city and walking the same paths he may have walked was enough. I had flesh and blood with me. In my mind and heart I confirmed I would never ever let this young girl be apart from me again. I felt warmth and love that only blood can produce.
My dad left England when I was about five. He was a top hairdresser and worked with Vidal Sassoon. My mum had always said he was a very talented hairdresser. Sadly though since he left England, I have only seen him once when I was 16. We exchanged letters on a regular basis but one day about 10 years ago, the letters stopped and we’ve heard nothing since. Ciera has never seen him, she has only spoken to him once on the phone. We are not sure if he is alive or passed on. A sad side to our story.
Everyone at the Pfister was so friendly, warm and welcoming. We felt like royals and particularly enjoyed time sat by the open fire listening to the wonderful pianists. And the breakfasts were to die for, they kept us going throughout the day. The hash browns are nothing like the ones we get, yours are much nicer. I also got my afternoon tea! We shared afternoon tea in Blu and it was a lovely – wonderful tea, beautiful food, fantastic harpist, and outstanding view, all capped off sat next to my sister, just perfect.
We had a very special week which was over too fast. It was sad to leave Ciera, her fiancé Ross and my niece. We vowed we would both start to save so we could visit again. We had a few tears when we left, and when I landed in England I had more again, as I felt so far away from her. I would love for Ciera to come to England so I can show her her roots and I know my brother would love to meet her too. I would also love my two girls to meet their auntie, uncle and cousin.