Sunday, August 30, 2015

Homeward Bound

Edward Henry and Charlotte Ann - The Great Grandparents Cornwall
Circa late 1800s - Photographer Unknown

This is something I originally wrote a year and a half ago. Now, my trip back to the UK after 33 years absence has become a reality. In a couple of weeks, I'll be on my way.

The older I get, the more I seem to be "pining for the old country". I was made in England ;-) and born in Canada. My parents came over to Canada on the boat for the second time when Chris, the eldest, was 12, Bruce was 9 and Philip was one. I travelled as a stowaway inside my mother and I am determined that this is why I love the ocean, waves and surfing. 

One night on the crossing aboard the RMS Empress of Canada, the Atlantic was so rocky that my mother and Chris were the only two guests in the dining room along with a few service staff that were not ill with sea-sickness. My mother was very proud of that. I remember her being all chuffed up with it when she regaled us with the tale. 

We went back to England frequently as children. My parents travelled back on business with the parent company of Airflow Developments in High Wycombe, for whom they provided a Canadian branch in our hometown of Richmond Hill, Ontario - we usually made a family vacation of it. We went back to visit relatives and friends of my parents and to explore their favourite vacation spots. There were places that, even as a child, blew my mind. Among them were the grandeur, history and tradition of both the University of Oxford and Cambridge University, the size and wonder of Stonehenge - standing below one of the great upright monoliths in awe, St Paul's Cathedral and the Whispering Gallery, the  rolling countryside of the Cotswolds and meeting the siblings of my mum's wartime love on their farm near Stow on the Wold and feeling the love and intensity of loss between them and my mum. Lyme Regis and the Alexandra Hotel, where we met another family with kids and my brother and I fell for the same girl - tragically and, of course, she fell for him... I remember excavating fossils along the Jurassic Coast and getting quite embarrassingly stuck up on the cliffs. How sweet my eldest brother was to take Philip and I out on a mackerel fishing boat with our lines and wooden spools. Poor Chris loathed the look and feel of live fish!

I remember the sights and smells. They are ingrained in the fibre of my being. Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire - being able to finally be old enough to venture out on my own and browse through the shops on the high street. My cousin, Karen, is my closest relation. We are daughters of sisters, women warriors and survivors. I have not seen her for 33 years. I have not been back and, now, every fibre in my being is being pulled back with a magnetic force I have never previously experienced. I need to go. I need to see my people. I need to walk the places of my childhood. I need to take a trip across the pond to the Guidel Communal Cemetery in Brittany near the Gulf of Morbihan where there lies a marker for my mother's wartime love, Richard, shot down in the second world war. 

I remember,vividly,standing on the grounds of Biggin Hill Fighter Station, listening to my mum tell us the story of a German plane being shot down and crashing into the base, the air raid siren going off and because of her exhaustion, she stayed in her barracks bed until the windows imploded with the explosion. She showed us the scar above her eyebrow where the glass from the window had just missed her eye. I will never forget these things. I tell them here and hope my brother has told his children - lest we forget.

I remember the Tower of LondonWestminster CathedralBuckingham Palace - waving to the queen as she returned from the race track. I remember how mum nearly had me convinced that Kensington Gardens belonged to her family but I just couldn't wrap my head around why they would leave if that were true! I remember cruising down the Thames, thinking of all that has passed over and through that historic river. I remember my mum losing her watch after "setting it right by Big Ben" - irony...

I am attached to this country and my body has begun to call me home. I have had to scrimp and save and now I know I will return to her soon.I will see the green patchwork of farmer's fields and walk the paths of some of the greatest writers ever known. I will cry for family gone, to whom I never was able to say my goodbyes. I will walk and walk through the streets of London and breathe deeply in the arms of remaining family. I will know that I am from this land. I am of these people and I am one with England through my bloodline and the soil and ocean that surrounds this faraway island. I will see the new friends I have met through the wonder of Twitter and we will sit and talk story over tea. 

I will see you soon, England (and, hopefully Ireland and France!) I carry you with me always. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. May 18, 2014.
Edited and re-published,  August 30, 2015.

My mum and my eldest brother, Chris
Circa 1949
It would have been Chris's 65th birthday tomorrow, August 31
RIP Chris Cornwall


Susan said...

Gillian - I did not realize how much you and I have in common. We are about the same age (doing the math from what you say in your post) and I was conceived and born in England but 'made' in Canada. We came in 1967 on the Corinthia (Cunard ship) but unlike your family my dear mother was so seasick that she spent almost the whole trip in the cabin even getting intravenous anti-emetics because she couldn't keep oral ones down. I have only very vague memories of the trip though I wasn't sick (or at least nobody told me that I was).

I have a dream of living in London for at least a year and used to visit a friend and stay with her in the city (Haringey - definitely not glam) but she has since moved to Bristol - which is also pleasant. I feel very at home in London and find it tremendously exciting and I hope to make my dream come true within the next 5-10 years.

I hope we'll get the chance to chat in person before you leave for your trip.


TALON said...

My mother was English. My father (a Newfoundlander) met her there right after the war and they married six weeks later. They had 2 children and my father brought them all back to Canada and settled here in Ontario where three more children (me included) were born. Having English relatives come to visit was the norm and my mother went back several times, but I've never been. It's something I hope to do before I die because my mother's heart was always there.

There is something magical about old family photographs, isn't there?

Safe travels, Gillian.

Gillian said...

Thanks for the comment, Susan - I hope your London dream comes true!

Gillian said...

Ah, Talon - I sure hope you can make it happen. I am an ex-Ontarian! And, yes, I love the old family photos - they make me both nostalgic and hopeful somehow. There are stories in those faces. Imagine if they could see the world now - what a different place it is!
Very best wishes to you and thanks for reading!