Friday, May 3, 2013

110 Toes—England

My first boyfriend was British.

His name was Stuart and he was seven-years-old.

So was I.2009-07-20 eyreslides 48089

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.

They agreed. 

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.

On steroids.

This is how our family looked on the back porch of the mission home when we arrived. 2013-04-05 misc 72551(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:2009-07-20 eyreslides 48087

And here’s the arrival home of the second brother:2013-04-17 misc 73802I 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:s_9acqy2vl30641A 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.2009-07-20 eyreslides 48088

Here we are, me and my black front tooth caused by something I can’t even remember, in a school picture. 2013-04-17 misc 73803

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:2009-07-18 eyreslides 48085

I remember a lot of birthday parties.2009-07-18 eyreslides 48086

…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.2013-04-17 misc 73796

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 wrote more about that trip back here and here.  But I wrote the most about how horrified I was but what an ultra-amazing learning experience it became in this post back here.

I pulled out my journal from that trip the other day.  It is a fat, filled with mementos from all over Europe.

2013-05-02 misc 74835

I was clearly enamored with Laura Ashley (these kinds of pictures flank a huge majority of the pages).2013-05-02 misc 748362013-05-02 misc 74837

I was mesmerized by tennis when we got to go to Wimbledon:2013-05-02 misc 74840

I think I was a little more excited about finding a “Mrs. Fields” there than I was with that map of the Tate Gallery.2013-05-02 misc 74841

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…



  1. Oh how I would love to just jump ship and move to England for a year.

    My husband is not so keen on the idea.

    I am working on him though!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. This was such a fun post to read - your father was my mother's mission president! (her name was Sister Smillie). Such a small world really.

  4. My brother served in the London South mission field in the mid-90's. He has such fond memories of his time over there. I can't imagine what a wonderful spiritual experience that must have been for your parents to be able to serve in that capacity at that time of their lives. I'm sure Heavenly Father watched over your little family in miraculous ways during that time.

    Such a neat post!

  5. I got teary reading this!!! I served in the London & London south mission ( sign language mission), that's where I met Jonah!

    I cannot imagine been 28 a mother of 4, and a mission president, heck, I can't imagine that now at 38 with 3 children!!! your mom is amazing.. your dad too!!!

    oh and have u ever tried to find Stuart? LOL

  6. My moms college roommate is in London right now serving alongside her husband the mission president. I dream of the day I will get to visit such a beautiful place.

  7. Can not get OVER how much Grace and Lucy look just like you did! Love that!

  8. This is fabulous Shawni! What a great treasure for our family history! Oh that Stuart was such a dream with those rosy British cheeks!

    Thanks for taking the time to write all this. Love that I had to LOL several times. Great memories!

  9. Thank you for this Shawni. I've been wanting you to do this for ages. It's extra-special for me because I'm British & was in your Dad's area when he was the mission president.

    I was first taught the gospel discussions in 1975 & then had a road accident & lost interest in the gospel/church. In 1977 I attended a fireside at Bracknell chapel (my
    ward, Reading stake) that your Dad gave & I decided
    that I wanted to be taught again.

    The spirit that I felt during that fireside was amazing - & was even more special because we sang "The Spirit of God." (The words "Without any Ire" (Eyre!) made me chuckle:)

    I was then taught the gospel by Chris Brown & Marilyn McMurdie & was baptized by Kevin Duncan. A very special day:)

    At another fireside that your Dad gave at Bishop Clint Guerney's house he (your Dad) asked me a question & I actually answered it! (I'm quite a shy person & find things like that hard to do). I realised after reading his books that he must've noticed that I was shy but still wanted to include me.

    I will always be so grateful that I attended that fireside at Bracknell & that I felt the spirit so strongly.

    When your Mum & Dad finished their mission it was great to still be in touch with them via their books. Teaching Children Joy & Responsiblity are 2 of my favourite books. (notice British spelling:))

    Thank you for this blog, it's brill:)

    1. Sorry about the long gap there, I accidentally hit enter & couldn't work out how to change it:)

      By the way, I love your school uniform:). Did you also wear a gingham (checked) dress in the summer?

  10. My dad served in the London mission when he was 19...around 1968. Now he and my mom are there, in the London South mission, serving for 18 months. They will return to the states in September. Somehow, I convinced my sweet husband to use his vacation time to stay home with our 4 children so I (and my sister) can go visit my parents for a week! You will have to do a post on the best "non-touristy" things to see there :)

    1. What's your Mum & Dad's surname & whereabouts are they? I mainly ask because my stake (Reading) is in that mission. (I think it is still is anyway!)

  11. We lived in London too and it was a life changing experience. My question is...did you come home with an accent? Many of the American kids we knew had British accents but mine were too little to pick it up (darn). What a wonderful experience for you! And your parents...amazing.

  12. It would be super swell if you could find Stew on Facebook!!

  13. I just got called to serve in the England, London South mission! What a fun connection. I can't wait to go to that beautiful place.
    And I also have a black tooth elementary school picture... another random connection!

  14. At your parties did you have jelly (jello) & ice cream for pudding & play pass-the-parcel & pin the tail on the donkey? Those are still typical things to have & do at Children's parties here:)

  15. wow! A mission like that with little ones! What an incredible experience. I loved reading this memory filled post. I think everyone should experience life outside the US a bit. I agree with you, it changes you in such neat ways.

  16. ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS! What a walk down memory lane! LOL at the stars in your eyes when you are near Stuart! Bet it would be pretty funny to find him again after all these years. Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. It's awesome!


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