If I’m reading my own journal correctly, we were placed in our “homestays,” and took a trip to Stratford on Avon maybe during a weekend of that time period. As much I enjoyed my experience in England in general, I disliked my homestay, for reasons I’ll explain shortly. Stratford, on the other hand, which was Shakespeare’s hometown, was a welcome respite. Below is my favorite photo from Stratford on Avon.
We toured Shakespeare’s home, learned how people dressed and didn’t bathe at the time, and wandered about the town. We caught a production of “Pirates of Penzance” at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre that evening. On the same excursion, we saw Sir Winston Churchill’s home – Blenheim Palace, as well as Warwick castle. Blenheim:
My homestay house was the polar opposite of Mr. Churchill’s home. It was, in retrospect, a good thing to have experienced, but I was glad it was over at the end and I was glad to leave to go to classes each day. For starters, this family consisted of a “Mum,” a “Fatha,” a teenage boy and two younger children. The family had a pet cat and a pet rat. The cat wandered the home freely, and the rat had its own room. To be specific this room was the first door on the right as you entered the home, and it was into this dark cavern that the family tossed old newspapers, food scraps, and other refuse for the rat to enjoy. The door never stayed open any longer than it took to toss in the trash, for fear of the pet rat making a successful escape.
The cat though, was free to wander. Cole and I each had a twin bed in one upstairs bedroom, and one night well after we had fallen asleep and were probably dreaming of anything but that place, I was rudely awakened by something hairy in my bed, against my legs. Of course I did what any lucid stupid american would do: I flailed violently with all my appendages until the cat went airborne across the room and landed with claws out ready to grip whatever parts of Cole were available.
The teenage boy was mostly a mystery. We never saw him much, as he spent his time in his room, allegedly smoking herb, and his parents instructed us not to bother him, as he was not in favor of the home being opened to us. The small children seemed to enjoy spending time with us – that being me and Cole, my roommate for the stay – but they insisted on repeatedly using the term “stupid Americans,” a phrase which they undoubtedly gleaned from their delightful parents. “Fatha” did little more than sit, sans shirt, in his recliner in the evenings, while “Mum” made the dinner. These dinners enlightened me on why green peas are called english peas by some. We had them every night. I learned to like them. We tried to make conversation to learn about them, but as soon as they asked a question about me and I tried to answer it, Fatha stated he wasn’t interested in my “life story.”
On one particular evening, close to the end of the stay, Cole and I decided to get out for a bit and climb the hill nearby to see the view. When we told the parents we were on our way out, Fatha said, “garble garble… the Buggas get ya!” At that time I don’t think I knew yet what a Bugger was or what they might want from me. To this day I’m not sure whether he was stating his hope or a warning. Cole? I was glad to go back to our bed and breakfast St. Margaret’s Inn.
Our next excursion was the famed Canterbury Cathedral. This, of course, is the town after which “Canterbury Tales” is named, but more importantly to me, this is the cathedral where Thomas a’Becket was murdered. Thomas was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to make a long story short, chose to stick to scripture rather than King Henry II’s political demands. When Henry’s soldiers came to Canterbury to bring him to London to give an explanation, he declined the invitation, still maintaining the church’s independence from the king, and the soldiers relieved him of his life at his own altar.
We hurried through the village of Canterbury, but seeing the spires of this cathedral and the site of this historic martyrdom was a highlight of the trip.
The date now was late February or early March. I know this because late February is when Operation Desert Storm ended, and this provided one of the most humbling experiences i have ever had. I was not particularly in favor of the war. I subscribed to the belief, in spite of what the businessman at the Old Bailey explained, that the U.S. was taking a war over oil to a country that would just have to rebuild later, and that “we” should not be there. As I was standing outside across the street from Big Ben one day though, a stranger approached me, and confirmed his suspicion that I was an American. He explained that he was a Kuwaiti soldier and he thanked me.
“I fought side by side with some of your Marines. They were good people and great soldiers. They saved my country. You Americans saved my people.”
MY marines? Saved your country? WE saved your people? I said none of this. I was speechless, except to say, “On behalf of the United States, you are welcome. I’m glad we could help.” This moment changed my attitude about military involvement abroad. This moment heightened, if it didn’t create, my undying respect for our soldiers, and my pride in my country. This was the second time I was educated by a non-American on the idea that the U.S. wasn’t the bully on the playground; we were the guy protecting the others FROM the bully.
I’m old enough now to know more truth, and recognize the fact that sometimes we are the international bully, but my national pride and respect for our soldiers has not waned since. I’ll stand if you’ll cue the National Anthem….