My first boyfriend was British.
His name was Stuart and he was seven-years-old.
So was I.
You see, when I was four, my mom (28) and dad (31) were called in to meet with one of the general authorities of our church. They asked them if they would be willing to leave their business and political ambitions (my dad had stars in his eyes to run for the senate) to go serve for three years as mission presidents in the England, London South mission, taking care of 200+ young missionaries.
We packed up and left, and from there, the love story with Stuart began.
Ok I kid about that, I don’t remember a whole lot about Stuart except that from the looks of that picture I sure must have liked him a bunch. And that he had a twin sister named Alison who I hung out with partly because she was nice, but mostly because it meant I got to hang with Stuart too.
I cannot comprehend in my wildest dreams how scary that mission call must have been for my parents. They had four young children and had never before traveled outside of the United States. But they are adventure seekers at heart, so I’m sure that all that trepidation must have been mixed somehow with sheer adrenaline-rushing excitement. If they wanted adventure, this was it.
This is how our family looked on the back porch of the mission home when we arrived. (That’s me with the awesome ruffled shirt on in the front.)
I wish I had a picture to show how different we were when we came home, wide-eyed at how sprawling the American streets and cars were, and in awe that America didn’t have a Queen to put on their “pound notes.”
And also with two more children clinging to my parents’ legs.
But although a post mission picture would be interesting to compare growth in height and numbers, it could never do justice to show how everyone grew on the inside. Because an adventure like that is sure to have helped those parents of mine grow by leaps and bounds in how they viewed the world.
One of my two brothers born over in England arrived quite miraculously two months early. He had to stay in the hospital for two months. Here’s my Dad with him the day we got to bring him home from the hospital:
And here’s the arrival home of the second brother:I think I look like I was about to cry up there on the right since my sister Saren got to snag the coveted role of holding him for the picture and not me. Oh boy did I ever love those babies.
There we go:A little happier there.
I have no idea how my parents managed all that as they helped all those 18-25 year olds maneuver through their own struggles and triumphs away from their own parents for two years. Hosted missionary dinners to welcome the new ones and say goodbye to old ones each month. Helped us adjust to new schools and a new culture. Traveled to all the outlying parts of the mission to take care of everyone.
No, I don’t know how they did it.
But they did.
With flying colors.
They even endured a pretty public missionary kidnapping while they were there (that ended well, thank heavens).
At some point maybe I will have a chance to post their point of view (my sister’s view is also more detailed here), but for now I am just posting my memories, mostly pasted together by random pictures that have surfaced through the years.
We lived at “12 The Ridings” and went to a little Church of England school every day sporting our navy blue school uniforms.
Here we are, me and my black front tooth caused by something I can’t even remember, in a school picture.
Is that an awesome haircut or what?
I started my schooling career there as a four-year-old. I was in the “first class” (they didn’t call them grades). My teacher was Mrs. Ball and she smoked like a chimney.
I was scared to death of her.
I loved being with the missionaries though. I still remember sitting with one of them at church. He taught me to draw a cartoon bunny rabbit. I think I had a crush on him from that day on. (Until I met Stuart…)
I remember loving that we “got” to sing to the missionaries when they came over some Sunday nights for meetings. I think our main song was “So Long, Farewell” from The Sound of Music and we were pretty proud of the actions we put together for that little number.
I know we did go into London but I don’t remember that part very well. I love this picture back in the days where you could park a car right next to Buckingham Palace:
I remember a lot of birthday parties.
…and a little passageway we could crawl through the trees in the back of our “back garden” to Mr. Godwin’s house.
It had the biggest tree we had ever seen so my Dad got permission to rig up a swing hanging from what seemed like miles and miles of rope.
We were in love with that thing.
My Dad also made my brother and me some styling cucumber glasses.
Yeah, those were the good days.
When our three years were up we said some sad goodbyes, moved back to the states and slipped back into life here. But we were forever changed by that trip.
The crazy thing is that when I was a freshman in high school my parents got word that the mission home filled with so many of our memories would be relocating to a different house.
My parents put their minds to work to figure out how we could get over and rent that thing for six months before it sold.
And surprise, surprise: they did it.
Much to my shy teenager heart’s chagrin.
The day we left I thought I just may as well lay right down and die.
I pulled out my journal from that trip the other day. It is a fat, filled with mementos from all over Europe.
I was clearly enamored with Laura Ashley (these kinds of pictures flank a huge majority of the pages).
I was mesmerized by tennis when we got to go to Wimbledon:
I think I was a little more excited about finding a “Mrs. Fields” there than I was with that map of the Tate Gallery.
As I looked through that thing, the homesick scribbles along with the postcards from all the places we visited (even a packet of salt from the restaurant we went to on the middle level of the Eiffel Tower), I was overcome once again with gratitude for the place that London and England now have in my heart.
I will thank that trip forever for starting the gradual break from my locked-down shy shell. And for opening my eyes to parts of the world I never imagined I could love so much.
And to think that that love all started with a cute seven-year-old named Stuart…