Thursday, March 31, 2022



               Chapter 4

We had driven from Central London that afternoon with one, and only one, goal in get our bulky caravan, with its wrong-side steering wheel, away from the big-city traffic....street after street, car after car, all of it on the wrong side of the road. And all the while Gil was struggling to shift with the wrong hand and Roma was ducking each time we came close to some roadside obstacle.

Because the Stevens Agency was closer to the southern edge of the city than any other, we had headed south. (We have sometimes wondered how different our English experience might have been if the Stevens Agency had been on the northern side of the city.) 

So we started driving south, toward what our map told us was the nearest non-urban countryside. Yet even that promised-land was miles from where we began. It was afternoon by then and traffic was heavy. As we were learning, traffic was always like that in London.

And then there were the roundabouts....those devilish traffic-circles where we waited for a break in the circling traffic that would allow us to make our way into the rapidly moving loop. 

Once there, the trick was to locate our desired exit and get in the proper lane for that. The one saving grace....if we missed our exit the first time we simply continued around the circle a second, or occasionally a third  time.

It would take us more than two hours to escape the clutches of city and suburban traffic. Finally, a few miles south of Guildford, in a area of green pastures and rolling hills, we spotted what we were looking for....a grassy, parklike grove where we would hopefully not be bothered. 

The place even had a name. The English have a thing about naming everything and everyplace. Our home that evening would be on Headley Downs. Though we were not sure if overnight stays were allowed there, we were too tired to worry about that. Our day, which had begun in suburban Philadelphia, had finally ended in the peaceful quiet of the English countryside.

It was there we awoke the next morning ready and eager to begin our exploration of the Mother Country. Truth to tell, however, though we may have been eager enough, we were woefully unready for the daunting challenge that faced us. 

Think about it. What sort of world travelers would set off on a great adventure with no idea of where they were going, what they were looking for, or how they would know when they had found it?

The process was called “preparation” or “planning.” By the summer of 1972 Gil should have been well acquainted with the concept. For several years he had successfully co-managed a thriving group of small businesses, using detailed action plans that he and the staff had created. 

He had even studied (sort of) business analysis and planning at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. By the time our tired family reached Headley Downs, he had successfully scripted our cross-country journey, navigated an intimidating Customs hurdle, and arranged for the caravan we were driving.

In short, Gil knew a thing or two about planning....and how to do it. At that moment, if you had asked him point blank, he would have claimed to be prepared for what lay ahead. Yet, when we woke that August morning in a quiet English woodland, it soon became very clear that we were not at all prepared for what came next.

Where would we settle for our English stay? Some places were bound to be better than others? What about schools for the boys? There were surely good ones and not-so-good ones. How would we know the difference? 

In the end we started off that morning with a single overriding question in mind, and no clue how to answer it. What choices did we have? Until we knew what was available, how would we know what was the best location for us?

With that single task in mind we set off to find what would be our new home. Our first stop was in Farnham, which had earned the top spot on our city-search list by virtue of being the nearest large town. 

At the edge of the downtown business district we stopped to buy a copy of the local newspaper. A few minutes later, having failed to find a single rental listing among the sparse classified ads, Gil had concluded there were no rental homes available in Farnham.

In a matter of hours we had met with similar results in nearby Aldershot and Basingstoke. By the time we stopped for lunch we were growing discouraged. We had traveled across the Atlantic to live an English life. We could see that it was a country full of houses....detached, semi-detached, apartments, and flats, even grand estates. They were all around us. 

Yet after several hours of searching we had not found a single property for rent in the entire south of England. One newspaper after another confirmed that dearth of rental offerings. Still, we had to keep trying. With that in mind we started down the motorway toward Winchester.

At the Winchester turnoff it took only a minute or two to realize that we were not going to drive the winding and narrow, centuries-old streets of downtown Winchester. Instead we found a half-empty car park a couple blocks from the High Street and walked to the center of the cramped and crowded business district. 

Once there, it took no more than a few minutes to fall in love with the place. It was one of those magic spots you find in every corner of England. Take away the automobiles and electric lights and we could have been strolling through the sixteenth or seventeenth century. 

The buildings were worn, weathered, and picturesque. And looming beyond the High Street, Winchester Cathedral stood guard on the it had since 1093.

But we were not there to see the sights. We were house hunting. Though our hopes of finding a suitable place had been dashed at every turn, there was no turning back. That meant getting our hands on a local newspaper.


By 1972 the downtown Winchester business district was slowly evolving from its centuries-old ways to what we Yanks would consider a more progressive, Americanized shopping area.

Sainsburys, the grocery giant, had recently opened the city’s first supermarket. (More about that later.) On the busy High Street the Boots Pharmacy would not have looked out of place in any American shopping center. Yet up and down the street most of the shops and stores still retained their long-standing, specialized roles. 

That meant if you wanted a newspaper you looked for a newsagent or tobacconist. Because those were the places, the only places, where newspapers were  sold.

Fortunately, what we would later learn was the best tobacconist in town was right next door to Boots. So while Roma and the kids waited on the sidewalk outside of what looked to be a male sanctuary, Gil went inside, eyed the offering of newspapers and picked up a copy of the Hampshire Chronicle. 

In a matter of seconds he located the classified ads, and for the umpteenth time confirmed there were no rental properties being offered in the Winchester market. How could that be?

For a moment he debated whether to pay for the essentially worthless newspaper in his hands. Apparently the kindly old fellow behind the counter was wondering the same thing. Laying the barely-read paper on the counter Gil fished for his wallet.

As he handed the clerk a bill he took a moment to study the cigarette offerings on the shelves that stretched across the back wall. There were so many brands he had never heard of. More to the point he did not see his brand. Though he had enough smokes to last for a few more days it seemed like a bit of fact finding was in order.

“Do you carry Kools?” Gil asked. He had smoked those menthol killers for a long time. Perhaps he ought to have a few spares on hand.

“Don’t have much call for those,” the clerk replied, still smiling. There was no need for Gil to explain that he was a Yank. The old fellow had known that from the moment he entered his shop. Who else would be wearing dark glasses on a cloudy day?

“I believe I have a carton of them in the back. Would you like me to get them?”

“What would they cost?” Gil asked. A moment later he was doing the mental mathematics, arriving at a price that was more than twice what he paid at home.

“I think I’ll pass,” he nodded. 

The accommodating clerk made change for the newspaper, then paused to ask, “Are you wanting to know more about our part of the country?”

“We’re looking for a home to rent,” Gil answered. Poking at the paper he grumbled something about, “Doesn’t seem to be anything for rent in this part of your country.”

“I’m sure there must be quite a few.”

“You’ll have to show me where they are.” Returning to the classified ad pages, with their columns of small print, he spread the paper out on the counter for the clerk to see. “I don’t think I missed anything. If it’s here it must be hiding.”

The clerk took a moment to reply. Perhaps he was trying to stifle a laugh that wanted to escape. When Gil looked up into his face the old gentleman was shaking his head very slowly. “In the newspaper?” he finally asked. “You’re looking for a housing rental in a newspaper?”

“Of course. Where else would I.........?” Suddenly the light was dawning. Could it be that we had spent the whole day looking in the wrong place? “Where would you look?” Gil asked.

The clerk looked away as another customer stepped to the counter....a regular client it appeared from the way he was greeted. In fact, the clerk was speaking directly to his friend as he answered Gil’s question.

“If I was looking to rent a home I believe I would visit my local Estate Agent. Don’t you think, Leonard?”

“Estate agent? You mean a real estate guy?” Gil asked. Apparently the fellow did not understand. “We don’t want to ‘buy’ a house. We want to ‘rent’ one.”

“Then you really should be talking to an estate agent. They rent homes as well as sell them. And you just happen to be in luck. If you go to the end of the block and turn right you’ll come to Fox and Sons. They’re one of the best estate agents around.”

It was a decidedly sheepish grin Gil was wearing when he rejoined the family. Roma noticed that right away. That in turn had her grinning too. “Did you find something?” she asked. “Do they actually rent homes in Winchester?”

Down the block and around the corner we went, walking straight toward the Cathedral until we came to Fox & Sons - Estate Agents. The long front window was full of sales displays for the properties they had to sell. There were photos, wordy, adjective-filled descriptions, and eye-popping prices. In all likelihood Winchester was going to be too pricey for us.

We went inside, probably disturbing the efficient office quiet. There were six of us....Gil in his shades and all of us dressed in our rumpled travel finery, looking for all the world like we had spent the night in our car. Still, the gentleman at the front desk stood and extended his hand.

The agent, a friendly and helpful fellow, took a few minutes to hear our story. When he finally offered his explanation, he began with a brief history lesson on “housing the British way.” 

It was post-war England we were dealing with ....complete with the remnants of their recent Socialist experiment. In urban areas like Winchester a high percentage of low-cost housing was government-owned “Council Housing.” Though the homes were very basic, not much by American standards, they were very inexpensive, much-prized, and never came on the market. There were always waiting lists for the next available Council Home.

As a result the rental market in Winchester proper was limited, especially for homes that would accommodate a family of six. After leafing through his entire cardex file the agent finally settled on one lone candidate, in the suburban neighborhood of Harestock. It was the only listing he had that was large enough for our family and fit our budget.

At that point the calendar too was working against us. It was late Friday. The soonest we could see the Harestock house was Monday afternoon. We made an appointment for two o’clock Monday, though at that point we were not sure we would return.

But at least we had one fish on the line, and a better idea of how to find other possibilities. With that much accomplished, it was time to spend the weekend seeing a bit of our new country. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022





                            Chapter 3

You have heard of, perhaps even seen, the famous inscription on the Statute of Liberty….the one that implores the world to send us “your huddled masses.”

Sadly, in today’s world of immigration squabbles we are not as universally welcoming as those words might indicate. Yet it remains a noble statement of intent, worthy of our admiration. For many of us the mental image of those “huddled masses” arriving at our shores remains as powerful as ever.

True, in 1972 England still had its immigration welcome mat out for members of its once-great Commonwealth. But on that August morning our forlorn troop of traveling Yanks, which so closely resembled a “huddled mass,” was apparently a more serious test for the starched and stern Custom Agents who greeted us at Heathrow Airport.

To be sure, we were a uniformly disheveled bunch….rumpled, tired, and grumpy, even barefoot ….thoroughly intimidated by the chaos of what claimed to be the busiest airport in the world. In the coldly-efficient eyes of the Customs clerk we approached we must have looked like a trans-Atlantic reincarnation of Jed Clampett’s hillbilly clan….resembling “displaced persons” more than tourists.

To further complicate things, it took only a few seconds to realize that the fast-moving “Tourist Arrival” lines would not accommodate the likes of us. We claimed to be “Long Stay” candidates. Though the British Consulate in Portland had mentioned that distinction, they had not explained how it would impact our encounter with the “Customs people.” We were about to find out.

The first Long-Stay clerk we talked to never did seem to grasp what we were about, or why Gil was standing there in the dimly-lit room wearing his very-dark sunglasses, the only unbroken pair he had. 

In the clerk’s eyes the six of us must have looked for all the world like Third World refugees, asking for permission to stay in his country for an “extended period” of time. As near as he could tell we had no jobs, no idea of where we would live, nothing but a desire to locate somewhere in England.

To illustrate our good intentions we showed the clerk the Application for Indefinite Stay permit provided to us by the Portland consulate. Moments later things were further complicated when Gil explained that we planned to stay for eleven months. That had the poor fellow scratching his head, trying to make sense of our request to use an Indefinite Stay permit to cover such a well-defined, very-definite period of time. 

There was nothing for the poor fellow to do but to retreat to the back office for a discussion with the higher-ups. Fortunately for us his supervisor was an older fellow, perhaps used to dealing with young and foolish Yanks. When he stepped out to join the conversation he calmly began his remarks by explaining that an Indefinite Stay permit would not allow any of us to hold a job. 

How did we intent to support ourselves? There would be six mouths to feed, with absolutely no expectation of help from the English welfare system. He emphasized that fact more than once. At that point Gil produced our Cashier’s Check, confirming that we could fund our stay. Thankfully the Consulate had warned us to be prepared for that necessity. 

With our passports and Cashier’s Check in hand….the most precious of our possessions….the supervisor returned to his office. For the next ten or fifteen minutes we would be waiting….the six of us, the last remaining travelers in the Long-Stay service area. 

We sat huddled in a corner, wondering if the ever-efficient English bureaucracy would allow us to stay in their country, or put us on a plane back to New York. There we waited, tired, hungry, and out of sorts…. growing more impatient by the minute.

Finally, wonder of wonders. When the pair of Customs officers, the clerk and his supervisor, returned the older man was actually smiling. Perhaps against his better judgment we had simply worn down his resistance. 

Stepping to the counter he stamped our three passports with an authorization for a ninety-day stay, then gave us a form to complete once we had a permanent residence….requesting permission for a longer stay. By then we were too relieved to argue with his semi-suitable offer.


Having won, or at least survived, that skirmish the six of us set out through the crowded corridors, deep in the heart of Heathrow, following the overhead signs to the Baggage Claim area. 

It was 1972, before the days of endless conveyer belts that brought your luggage to you. What we found instead, was a single tilted shelf, perhaps two city blocks long, where luggage was slid down an incline to be retrieved, hopefully by its rightful owner. An overhead signboard displayed the flight number of each assembled clutch of suitcases.

It took a while, but we finally found our flight number, marking what appeared to be an empty shelf. To our chagrin, it appeared that we had been detained in Customs long enough for all the luggage from our flight to be claimed….including ours. Then, before we had a chance to complain, we spotted the “Unclaimed Baggage” space at the end of the long shelf. We were in luck. Our bags were there, along with quite a few others.

At last, reunited with our luggage we made for the nearest exit….out to a sidewalk taxi-stand, where dozens of identical black, boxy cabs were lined up and waiting. 

There we paused to glance at each other. Those taxis were uniformly too small for the six of us and all our bags. By then I was doing the mental math. If we had to hire two cabs to take us to downtown London, our stash of English Pound notes would surely take a major hit.

In fact there was no reason for us to worry. With the help of a pair of fold-down seats the cabbie we hailed was able to scrunch the six of us and our suitcases into his vehicle. That was undoubtedly a good thing, because we had no idea how long and slow the trip would be. 

As we started off toward the city Gil’s eyes were glued on the taxi meter, prominently displayed on the dashboard, watching as it ratcheted up our fare at an alarming rate. We were getting our first lesson on the high cost of London taxis. If two cabs had been necessary it would have indeed been a serious setback.

Our ride to the Stevens Travel Agency, deep in the midst of downtown London, took the better part of an hour. At every stoplight, and there were many of them, we watched the meter-total mounting, even while we were sitting still. 

At the Stevens office we were scheduled to pick up the caravan we had reserved. In those pre-internet days everything we knew about the vehicle, which was little more than a modest-sized camper van, had been gleaned from a magazine ad the travel agent shared with us. 

It was said to include minimal kitchen facilities and sleeping space for six. With that basic information we had sent them a sizable check. Though we had yet to lay eyes on it, the van would be our home for the next ten days.

Finally our taxi pulled into the Stevens Travel parking lot to unload. Minutes later we learned that our unlucky streak was still intact. More precisely, it had become “bad luck times two.” 

First of all the van was “not quite ready” for us to take possession. Gil’s first reaction to that aggravating news was to grumble a bit. After all, we were anxious to get away from the big city craziness….to some place quiet enough to park our van and get a good night’s sleep. 

So he grumbled….at least until we turned our attention to the stack of bags the cabby deposited on the sidewalk outside the company office. About then “bad luck number two" was rearing its ugly head.

“There’s only five suitcases,” one of the kids announced.

“That’s all the luggage you had,” the cabby explained. 

A quick recount confirmed the ugly truth. Gil retrieved the baggage-claim tickets from his pocket. In only a second or two he identified the ticket that had no matching bag. 

There we were, preparing to spend a year abroad. Until we were reunited with our shipping boxes everything we had to our name was stuffed into six suitcase….one of which was missing-in-action. There was nothing to do but find it.

Far too soon we were facing a significant decision point. We could wait for the van to be ready, then drive back to Heathrow and hopefully locate the lost suitcase. But was Gil prepared to make his maiden voyage piloting a right-hand drive vehicle through a strange city in the heaviest traffic we had ever seen? We had effectively answered that question even before it was asked.

Our only other choice, the one we finally settled on, was to send our cabbie back to Heathrow armed with a claim ticket for the missing suitcase. By the time he returned, bag in hand, from his very expensive round-trip, it was nearly two hours later and the van was still “almost ready.” 

In the meantime we had managed a restaurant lunch, watched our first English television in the dealership showroom, and with our large, folding road map spread across a table, charted the most direct route we could find to the nearest bit of open country. By the time all the pieces finally came together we were more than ready to be under way.

Yet as excited as we were, it took no more than a few minutes on the road to have us asking ourselves if our caravan-rental plan was a good idea. To begin with, the vehicle itself was substantially wider than the small European cars that shared the busy streets with us. 

More importantly, Gil was driving from what was for him the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road. The floor mounted transmission had to be shifted with his left hand. Not surprisingly, the grinding rumble of missed shifts was a common sound in the beginning.

At the same time, while he concentrated on staying on the right (left) side of the road, Roma was enduring her own unsettling trials. We were a wide vehicle on narrow streets. She was sitting on the left side of the front seat….”curbside,” if you wish. 

For the first few miles every parked car, telephone pole, mail box, and roadside hedge we passed had her flinching, ducking away from certain danger. Her concerns were not eased when Gil managed to clip a tree, knocking off the outside mirror on her side.

The last lines of Gil’s journal that day read,

The right-hand driving is not so frightening as long as my mind is on driving. But if my mind wanders even a little bit I find myself heading straight for the right lane.

Sunday, March 27, 2022



                           Chapter 2

As far as we knew everything was in order on that July morning. After all, our planning had been meticulous, our preparation thorough. Or so we thought. 

Looking back it is easy to see how the fates would conspire to prove us wrong….concealing the numerous mini-disasters we would confront in the course of our travels. Yet, as often happens, it would be those memorable mishaps that added spice and texture to our ambitious journey. Most of us do not remember the boring days, do we?

We would be a party of six. The older boys, Adam and Marc, were ten and eight. Daughter Amy would be turning four that September and Terry, our youngest had just celebrated his first birthday. 

Think about that for a moment. Four children ….energetic, vocal, and prone to scuffle, with none of today’s electronic distractions to entertain them. During the sometimes-boring three-thousand mile Interstate drive from Oregon to Pennsylvania Roma would be leading the communal singing, dispensing the snacks, and trying her best to maintain law and order.


Stage one of our journey….a three-week drive from Oregon to brother Roger’s home in Pennsylvania….had been plotted with care. In those pre-Google days that had meant arming ourselves with a stack of AAA road maps and a thick AAA guidebook for each of the dozen or more states we would visit….listing approved sights and lodging, along the way. 

With that, the best information available, we had charted our course, taking in the tourist highlights, and most important of all, ensuring that each night’s motel had a swimming pool.

By itself our three-week trek across the US would have qualified as a wonderful vacation. On our last afternoon in Oregon we took in the rugged grandeur of Steen’s Mountain, not far from where we had spent a memorable year and a half as Harney County ranchers.

The next night, in Idaho Falls, we watched on motel television as George McGovern accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. Gil’s notes from that evening read…… 

We start our year abroad with high hopes, among them the possibility that a now-unknown McGovern can prove to be the real thing. The next year will tell.” 

Sadly, in Gil’s somewhat biased eyes, the next year and a second Nixon term did tell us a thing or two….though not what we wanted to hear.

Another day of Rocky Mountain sights and scenery brought us to Riverton, Wyoming to visit Gil’s old college friend on his mini-ranch. A banker by trade, as a sideline Ron Bisceglia broke and trained horses. 

A year before, on our own ranch, our kids had a Shetland pony. Their lack of enthusiasm for what we assumed would be every child’s dream had been a bit disappointing. Yet on the back of Ron’s full-sized horses, in the relative safety of his training facility, our youngsters seemed quite at home.

An afternoon at nearby Thermopolis Hot Springs was a welcome diversion….lounging in the warm waters, visiting in the shade, and driving through a herd of inquisitive bison. Had we rolled down the car windows a couple of the more brazen buffalo seemed willing to poke their heads inside to check us out.

From Wyoming we were on a fast track to visit Roma’s brother in Gloster, Mississippi. It was mid-summer on the Great Plains and uncomfortably hot. By then we had settled into an easy, budget-conscious routine. 

In those pre-continental-breakfast days, at least in the motels we frequented, our morning meal for six was an in-room, dry-cereal and sweet-roll affair. Once on the road the Suburban’s air conditioner was going full blast by ten or eleven o’clock. Lunch was invariably a picnic of cheese, crackers, and coke….consumed in the shadiest spot we could find.

As you might imagine, with six of us on board, we rarely drove past an interstate rest area. In those states that had yet to build out a network of rest-stop facilities we were forced to become adaptable, relying on whatever alternative arrangements we could manage.

Once settled in our motel room for the evening, after the kid’s predictable grumbling about our uninspired luncheon menu, we would search out a respectable-looking restaurant for our evening splurge. Though we don’t claim to remember all those meals, one has to wonder what prompted Gil to include the following rant in his notes after dinner at Terrell, Texas.

Without exception it seems there is a great conspiracy afoot among all highway restaurants to try the limits of our patience. My four-dollar steak this evening was a dry, tasteless disaster. Even a distinguished non-gourmet like myself can read the signs of an assembly-line dinner.”

Sounds as though he was a bit worked up. I suppose traveling with a band of wild Indians will do that. Or perhaps it really was that steak. In any case, today takes more than four dollars to buy a real “assembly-line meal.” They call it a Big Mac Combo.

By the time we reached brother Larry’s home in Gloster we were literally wilted. It felt as though we had endured as much “down south” heat and humidity as we could take. There were certainly things to see and do, but if they meant moving beyond the cool comfort of an air-conditioned building or car chances are they were not part of our Mississippi experience.

Larry was a transplanted Oregonian, hired by Louisiana Pacific Corp to run their Gloster plywood mill. When offered the opportunity to tour his sprawling facility, Gil braved the elements for a couple hours to see what it was all about. What he saw was a bit shocking.

The large metal building was not insulated. The afternoon was hot and the humidity high. On the plant floor, near the high-temperature laminating ovens, it was absolutely stifling….making it hard for his northern lungs to draw a breath. 

No wonder the dozens of workers, both white and black, seemed to move around in slow motion. How could anyone “hurry” in that environment? It would be hard to say how many times in the course of the next few days we gave thanks for the temperate paradise of the Willamette Valley.

Still, Gloster would provide its own special moments. Travel, especially with children, is bound to produce highs and lows. 

An afternoon at the Gloster Country Club swimming pool provided a pair of “firsts” for Marc when he dove off the diving board for the first time, then proceeded to swim the length of the pool, also a first. Those highlights were duly noted in Gil’s log, as was the moment, a few nights later, when Amy first put her face under water in the motel pool.

And of course there were “lows” along the way, those often-innocent appearing times that can haunt you for weeks and months to come. Like the morning in Gloster when Gil dropped his glasses on the floor, breaking one of the lens. 

At the time it was no big deal. After all, he had a pair of prescription sun glasses to wear. A phone call home to the Salem Eye Clinic assured him they would expedite a replacement and send it to brother Roger’s home in Pennsylvania in time for our departure. We would revisit that promise more than once in the weeks and months that followed.

From Gloster we traveled on. Our New Orleans visit, which we had looked forward to, was nearly washed out by the mother of all downpours. There were stops in Alabama and Virginia to visit Roma’s nephews, and a memorable side trip to the Edgar Cayce House in Virginia Beach. At the time Gil was a big fan of the so-called “Sleeping Prophet.”

From there we moved on to a much-anticipated stop at colonial Williamsburg. As it turned out, we should have known better before we ever set foot in that famous village. Pulling into the expansive parking lot we had never seen so many tour buses in one place. Once on Main Street in downtown Williamsburg we could scarcely make our way through the crowds. Every single attraction had a long admission line. 

Before long our little army, most of whom were not all that interested in early American history, had grown disenchanted by the charms of colonial America. Without waiting in a single line we invested in a few cheap souvenirs and made our way through the tour buses to our car.

The next evening we reached Roger’s and had a welcome chance to visit with family and decompress. For five days we relaxed, with day trips to Valley Forge and Gettysburg Battlefield. It was a good time, well worth the long cross-country drive. The next Tuesday, after celebrating our twelfth anniversary, Roger drove the six of us, with our six suitcases, to New York City for our flight to London.


By the time we checked our luggage at JFK airport we were giving thanks that our “suitcase days” were nearly over. Before long we would be settled into our new home and reunited with our shipping containers. Though by then we had already forgotten exactly what we had packed in those two boxes, we were operating on the assumption that whatever we needed would surely be there.

Then finally, we were off to the Motherland. We left New York City that evening, scheduled to land at London’s Heathrow Airport just after 8:00 AM. The idea was to sleep during the flight and arrive well rested, ready to take on the big city. Of course it did not turn out that way. 

In truth, every one of us was too excited to think of sleep. Fortunately it was 1972, the era of “friendly skies.” We were served a great meal and pampered with pillows and blankets. The movie Caberet was a new release, and enough to entertain most of us. Best of all, the only likely distraction from what we hoped would be a quiet flight was something we could deal with….or so we thought.

Terry, we called him Tug, had celebrated his first birthday just months before. Now he was suffering from an ear infection that had him cranky and out of sorts. Luckily, Roma has a knack for seeing around corners, and she was prepared for such an occurrence. 

Tug was a high-strung youngster. His mother had known from the beginning that even in the best of health, eight hours spent confined to an airline seat was not going to work for him. So she had asked our family doctor for a low-grade tranquilizing syrup, which he was to take an hour or so before our flight. With that chances are he would sleep most of the way to England. At least that was the plan.

It is sometimes hard to overestimate the wonders of modern medical science….the many ways it has to provide the answers we seek. Occasionally, however, those best-laid medical plans go wrong. For the first seven hours of our eight-hour flight the tranquilizing syrup that was meant to calm Tug seemed to be having the opposite effect. The kid was absolutely wired. 

His ear was hurting more than ever. He could not sit still. For most of our non-stop flight he fussed non-stop, keeping our fellow flyers, the ones who hoped for a restful sleep, awake. Roma, who was holding him most of the time, never did get any sleep. 

Finally, just before the stewardess announced our long descent into Heathrow Airport, the tranquilizer seemed to kick in….or perhaps Tug had simply exhausted himself.

Meanwhile daughter Amy….she was about to turn four….had managed to get some sleep. In the process she had taken off her shoes. When she awoke and was told to get ready for our landing she discovered that her feet had swollen. Nothing she or we could do would fit her oversized feet into her very proper Mary Jane shoes.

It was eight o’clock that morning, after a long and traumatic night, when our rumpled and wrinkled, tired and cranky troop gathered its carry-on bags and deplaned….preparing to face the prospect of a new and unknown life in a new and unknown country. 

By then Tug would not, or could not wake up. Gil had to carry him off the plane. Amy followed with her shoes in hand. Roma and Gil were simply looking at each other, shaking their heads, and wondering if the prim and proper English would even allow our band of gypsies to enter their country.

Friday, March 25, 2022


                            Chapter 1

It was late spring, 1972. The Stewart family’s world had turned hectic….a whirlwind of passport-photo sessions, reservations to be made, maps to be studied, and containers to be packed. The six of us were making ready for a great adventure, a journey into the unknown.

To make matters a bit more confusing, though it wasn’t marked on the big activity calendar in the kitchen, it seemed that Gil, at the tender age of thirty-five, was perhaps on schedule for his third mid-life crisis in five years.

Just over four years earlier he had taken leave of the family businesses, where he was being groomed to succeed his father as CEO, to move our family of four to Palo Alto, California, where he had. been accepted at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. For that worthy purpose Morse Stewart had agreed to postpone his retirement while his oldest son soaked up some of that Stanford magic. Everyone assumed it would be a beneficial step in Gil’s business career and good for the family enterprises. 

Gil believed that too….at least until the second term, when he ran head-long into a required Statistical Analysis class. Sadly, his undergraduate General Math Review, fifteen years earlier, had not prepared him for the hydra-headed monster they called Calculus. With that distressing confrontation, and  ultimate failure, still fresh in his mind he had brought the family home after two terms, confident that the rarified realms of ‘Statistical Analysis,’ at least as defined by Calculus, would not be a part of his future.

As humbling as it had been, Gil seemed to take that career setback in stride. Stanford, after all, was a prime launching pad for young men and women intent on reaching the upper echelons of the business, banking, and finance industries. 

While there he had spent months studying the workings of major-league business up-close, and in the end realized that the world of Wall Street finance was not for him. (Or perhaps the world of Wall Street finance had decided that about him.)

In any case, that in turn had apparently set Gil thinking about the world of minor-league business, and how he might do in that universe.

In our part of the world there were few places smaller, more isolated….more minor-league….than Burns, Oregon. Look at any map of the Oregon outback and you will find Burns sitting by itself in the middle of the sprawling southeast-Oregon emptiness. 

Perhaps it was that “small town-ness” that led Gil, just two years after returning from Stanford, to move our family, which numbered five by then, to the fourteen-hundred acre ranch we purchased just north of Burns.

Once again Morse Stewart’s hoped-for retirement was put on hold while Gil went off to play cowboy. We made the move with the help of friends and a rented truck containing all our material possessions. 

Not surprisingly Roma hated everything about our new home, which she had not laid eyes on until we arrived to move in. And with good reason. What was there to like about the ancient house, with its creaky, unlevel floors, the bleak hay fields, and the old barn? Worst of all was the isolation….being stranded miles from town and not knowing a soul.

A year and a half later a new reality was taking shape. It did not require graduate-level Statistical Analysis to determine that the mathematics of buying a ranch, purchasing the necessary equipment, and funding a herd of cattle were not adding up. In the face of a sinking livestock market we simply could not sustain the rapidly-mounting costs. 

By then Roma, who had rued the day we bought the ranch, was shedding tears at the prospect of leaving the friends we had made and the lifestyle we had come to enjoy. Still, it had to be done. So it was back to the family businesses, and the chance for Morse to finally have his retirement.

Except….less than a year later, before Morse could make his retirement break, Gil was making new plans.

What is it they say about the “third time”? By then he was thirty-five years old, a failed graduate student, failed rancher….and trapped in an unsatisfying business role. And now, for reasons that were hard to explain, he had decided that he was meant to be a writer. 

Not only that, somewhere along the way he had been captured by the notion that his new obsession would fare best if we escaped to a more exotic locale. After minimal thought Gil had concluded that he must move the family, which now numbered six, to England to pursue his career as a novelist.

Well, you have heard the old saw about the “best laid plans.” At that point we definitely had plans to make. But none of them could happen until Gil took the first and most daunting step of all….announcing his grand intentions to Roma and his parents.

That’s right! Just as it had been with his graduate school and “playing cowboy” decisions, Gil’s initial steps toward an escape to England were again a one-man show. The two persons most affected by his grandiose dream had heard nothing about it until Gil stepped forward to proclaim it as a “done deal.” What kind of husband and son would not have included them from the beginning?

Perhaps he should plead insanity. But after all these years since that fateful time, it is too late for that. Instead he can only confess his shame for being such a slow and selfish learner. 

Fortunately, for the sake of the family we were then, and the even better family we would become, Roma and Gil’s parents were willing to set their perfectly rational doubts aside and accept Gil’s logic. With that our escape to England was set in motion.


The next two months were a flurry of planning activity. Our house on Mertz Drive would be rented out for a year. The furniture would remain, but our personal items were sealed in an adjoining storage shed. 

Passport photos were scheduled….individual pictures for Roma and Gil, and a third of the four children together. With those in hand the passports were ordered. We visited the British Consulate in Portland to learn about the UK’s “extended-stay requirements.” Truth to tell, their help was not as helpful as we had hoped. It seemed as though they were more interested in serving the high-volume tourist trade.

We planned to enroll Adam and Marc, our oldest sons, in English schools, so we requested transcripts that we could pass on to their new school. 

Then, per the Consulate’s recommendation, we purchased a ten-thousand dollar Cashier’s Check that would enable us to prove financial viability when we applied for extended-stay permission. (This was 1972. $10,000 dollars went a long way.) Additionally we bought a thousand dollars worth of British Pounds to fund our travels until we settled into our new home.


The first stages of our proposed itinerary were simple enough. We would drive our Chevy Suburban van across the US to Pennsylvania, where we would leave it with Gil’s brother, Roger. 

From there we would fly to London and pick up our rented caravan….a miniature RV that would be our home for the first ten days, while we located a place to live. As was the norm in those pre-internet days, our local travel agent arranged for the plane tickets and van rental.

With those details, and others too numerous to mention, taken care of, we were nearly ready to be on our way. There was, however, one last challenge to deal with.

We planned to be abroad for a year, which meant our journey would be more than a “living-out-of-a-suitcase” affair. Setting up housekeeping in a foreign land would require a lot of “stuff” that we already owned, but needed to move from Oregon to England.

The answer we settled on was a pair of large wooden shipping containers, each one somewhat larger than a standard washer or dryer, that would be shipped by sea from Portland to London. Though it would not be cheap, we were sure that we would need the clothes, kitchen items, bedding, toys, even Terry’s high-chair that we stuffed into those containers. 

Looking back, for the cost of sending those items half-way around the world we surely could have purchased all of it in England. In any case, we hauled the heavy boxes to a freight forwarder in Portland, confident in the knowledge that they would arrive in London about the time we got there.

With that bit of business completed, we loaded the Suburban and on July 10, 1972 started off across America on the first leg of our great adventure.

Monday, March 21, 2022



                               Chapter 31

It was all about finding the most promising of the uniformly unpromising choices....about finding the least bad answer, when every option she had considered was flawed in some way. For nearly a week, since Aaron Peck’s dramatic declaration that he could be her friend, but nothing more than that, Beverly Weathers had rehashed the possibilities, growing more frustrated by the day.

Twice she had sat down, phone in hand, to dial Henry Reynolds’ number, wondering each time how he would greet her renewed interest. Had he moved beyond his hopes for a San Francisco weekend? More to the point, how would she feel about having settled for his company?

The daytime film channels she often watched carried bold advertisements promising to find her the perfect mate, even at her age. Was she ready to pursue the hi-tech lure of computer matching? Probably not. Besides, she already had a mental picture of what he looked like and the person he was. Sadly, he had withdrawn his name from consideration.

Beverly’s latest insight had arrived unannounced two nights before as part of a dream, or perhaps imbedded in the drowsy, middle-of-the-night mind ramblings that sometimes interrupted a good night’s sleep. 

Having considered that admittedly unorthodox possibility for a day or two she had decided against any new overtures to Henry, at least until she talked with Aaron Peck one more time. It was her phone call that led to their Friday afternoon visit over coffee and cookies in her tastefully-appointed dining room.

“I’ll admit I was a bit surprised to hear from you," Aaron said as he set his cup aside.  “Especially with an invitation for coffee and good company. I thought you’d probably be in San Francisco by now.” What else could he say? It was, after all, her party. He ought to let her take the lead.

“Not yet,” Beverly grinned. “It did cross my mind, along with some other things. But then, before I got very far down that road, something new popped up. Something I wanted us to talk about.”

“What can possibly be left for us to talk about? It seems like we’ve talked everything to death. If I remember right, we keep coming back to the same answer....that it’s time for me to get out of the way.”

“Are you saying I’m not allowed to have a new idea, a different way of looking at this?” She tried to look hurt, but Aaron saw only a teasing pout. “You could at least listen to what I’ve come up with.”

From the carafe Aaron topped off their cups, reminding himself again that he must stand his ground and be strong. That caution had become a constant, his newest mantra, at least until Beverly’s soft-spoken invitation melted his resolve. 

He should have refused on the spot. A polite “No” would have sufficed. But in truth he wanted to see her again. Now, having come that far, it was time to hear her out.

“Okay,” he nodded. “Tell me about your newest ‘something or other.’ What’s that about?”

Beverly had spent the last two days refining her hopeful appeal. It need not be complicated. A few brief sentences would cover everything. But how to say it? Now Aaron was there, sitting directly across from her. The rehearsals were over. Could she make her point without running him off again?

“To begin with, it has to do with that ‘love talk’ you don’t like to hear,” she began. “I’ve been thinking that .....”

An instant later her words were drowned out, lost in Aaron’s emphatic protest. “Don’t go there, lady. Just don’t do it.” He pushed his chair away from the table and stood. “There’s nothing left to say about that. It’s done. Do you understand?”

In a matter of seconds Beverly shrugged off his angry outburst and mounted her own counter-attack, with words just as demanding as his. 

“Aaron Peck, you sit down. Right now. If you’re half the friend you say you are, you’ll let me finish this.” She paused, then in a halting whisper, “After that you can be through with me, if that’s what you want.”

He sat down, fussing for a moment with his cup, seeming to study the dark liquid. Then, without a word he looked up and nodded.

“Now then,” she said, sounding more composed. “Here it is. You’ve told me about the feelings you might have for me. And how you can’t let yourself feel that way and still keep your promise to Leona. Right?”

“I can’t help it. It has to be that way.”

“I understand. But how about this?” She was smiling now, arranging her thoughts, knowing she had reached the moment of truth. 

“I am one of your best friends, maybe your only best friend," she continued. "You’ve said that more than once. Well, what if I told you that, in fact, best friends love each other? What would you think of that?”

It required a concentrated effort, holding back his angry response, but Aaron managed to frame his reply in a quiet conversational tone. “Come on. They may like each other. But, loving my best friend? I don’t think so.”

Ignoring his disclaimer Beverly plunged ahead, clearly intrigued by the chance to make her case. “Think about you and Johnny for a minute. Tell me why ‘love’ isn’t a good word to describe how you two felt about each other.”

“Come on. Guys don’t talk about ‘loving’ each other. At least not the guys I know.”

“Don’t you get macho on me. I saw the two of you at the hospital, when Johnny wasn’t doing too well. I heard you talking and saw how you worried about him.” 

She was grinning now, more confident than ever in the soundness of her argument. “I saw you caring about that old man and what he was going through. What I saw I’d call love. You tell me. Am I wrong about that?”

Aaron was nodding as he processed her point. Beverly was clearly expanding his normal understanding of the word, applying it in a way he would never have done himself. Yet when he considered how he and Johnny had cared about each other, it was hard to find a word that described their relationship any better?

“If you want to say I loved Johnny I won’t argue the point. That’s not the way I usually thought of it, but I suppose that’s what it was. Still, if that’s your point, you can’t stop there.”

“What do you mean?”

“At the same time Johnny and I felt whatever we felt for each other, each of us had a different kind of love for someone else. That’s what I think of when you talk about love....about me with Leona, Johnny with Jan, or you with Ronald. You seem to be saying that I was living two different kinds of love at the same time.”

“Of course you were....and more than that. You loved Mindy and Carol too, and all those grandkids.”

Hesitating for a moment, Beverly was giving thanks for how well Aaron appeared to be receiving her unorthodox reasoning. With that in mind she carried on.

“But knowing how you felt about Johnny, and loving all those other people at the same time, didn’t make you feel like you were cheating on Leona. Did it?” 

“Heck no. Because they were never taking her place. It was a different kind of love. Except I wouldn’t have called it that. Johnny would have had another heart attack if he had heard me talking that way.”

“So tell me," she continued. "If those feelings for a guy were okay, what about a best friend who happens to be a woman? Why are those feelings okay for a he-friend, but not for a she-friend?”

“Come on, Beverly. It’s not the same. You know that. Johnny and I were buddies for sixty years. I’ve known you less than one.”

“Does that make ‘best friend’ a seniority position? Is that it? A matter of time-in-service?”

“Of course it’s not. It’s nothing like that.” 

She was leading them beyond Aaron's comfort zone, triggering an urge to escape her interrogation. “It’s about what a man feels for a woman. That’s totally different than how I felt about Johnny. You know exactly what I mean.”

“So you’re saying I can be your best friend, but not the way Johnny was your best friend. Right? What does that make me....Best Friend - Second Class?”

Aaron’s hand slammed down on the table, rattling cups in their saucers. Looking up, he stabbed a finger in Beverly’s direction. “Damn it," he barked. "Don’t you be blaming me. You’re the one who wants more than that. 

"And that’s exactly what you deserve. It’s what I want for you. And that’s sure as hell isn’t going to happen with me hanging around all the time. That’s why I have to get out of your way.”

Flexing her shoulders, she was trying to chase the growing tension. “Thank you," she answered. "For thinking about me and what I want. I appreciate that. It helps me know I’m on the right track.”

“I’m not sure I know what track that is.”

Beverly stood and turned to the wide picture window overlooking the back yard. While Aaron waited she appeared to be surveying the colorful, manicured gardens. He could not see that her eyes were closed. Then, after a few seconds, she returned to her chair, ready to carry on. 

“It was your disappearing act at the beach had me thinking,” she said. “Then, on the phone the other day you told me that I should go looking for what I wanted. I know you had your own reasons for saying that. Reasons that were meant to make things better for both of us.”

“That was the idea.”

“I know. But when we were through talking I didn’t feel any better at all. It was like I’d been cut loose, on my own. The person who had helped me through all this craziness was walking away, leaving me alone. I didn’t like that feeling. Not even a little bit. I still don’t”

Aaron filled their cups with the last of the coffee as he replayed Beverly’s unexpected admission. “I thought we agreed,” he said. “That was the best way for you to get on with your life. Besides, I still wanted to be your friend. That hadn’t changed.”

Their dialogue was playing out more or less as Beverly had hoped. If anything, the process had been easier and more natural than she expected. Now, if only Aaron would hear her out and not run away before she was through. 

“At the time I thought that’s what I wanted too,” she nodded. “It turns out I was wrong. I had let myself get hung up on kids’ stuff, like I did thirty years before, with Ronald. That was fine back then. In fact it was exactly what I wanted. But I’m not a kid anymore. What I want now doesn’t look like what I wanted then. I’ve changed. And my priorities have changed too.”

“What’s changed?”

“What I need. What I want,” she answered, glancing at him over the top of her raised cup. “That’s what has kept me awake the last few nights. Especially when I realized that I was feeling the same thing you told me the other day....when you said that you needed a best friend more than a lover. Remember?”

”God, that must mean we’re both getting old?”

“Probably so," Beverly nodded. "And I’ll admit, it hurt when you first said it. But the more I thought about it the more I understood that’s what I wanted too.”

With an embarrassed grin, he asked, “You mean you’ve outgrown the kid’s stuff?”

“Not exactly outgrown. It’s just not as important as some other knowing if someone is really who he seems to be. Not everyone is, you know. What if I made a bad choice? I don’t think I’d be up to starting over again. So I want to be very sure the first time.”

“Sounds to me like you’re talking about a lot more than a best friend thing.”

“No, I’m not. What I’m talking about is having someone to share things with, the good times and the bad. Someone I can care about, who cares about me.”

“So you’re back to Harry and San Francisco. Is that it?”

“Stop it!” she yelled. They were getting close to the heart of the matter. Why could he not be serious? 

“I said that I wanted to share. That doesn’t have to mean the same house, or the same bed. It’s about doing things together, helping each other, supporting each other. It’s about being there for one another when we need a friend;”

“You could settle for that?”

“I think so.” Beverly was grinning again. Finally, they had made their way to what she wanted him to hear. 

“I could if I was allowed to be a real best friend ....a Best Friend - First Class.” She paused to let him absorb that possibility. “If that turns out not to be enough, I suppose I could always go back to the man-hunting business.”

For a moment Aaron sat staring into his folded hands, his mind awash in thoughts of the pleasant scenario Beverly was describing. How had she managed that slight-of-hand....blending best friends and love into a single, newly-minted form of relationship? 

She wanted to make it sound simple. Yet what he heard was something else, something forced and artificial, masking as much as it revealed.

Was that where his promises to Leona and Beverly were meant to lead? If so, why were the answers so unsettling? 

“I’ll tell you what,” he finally said, shaking his head as he looked across the table into her hopeful gaze. “You get an ‘A’ for effort. It was a good try. But I don’t see how it could work. You’re giving me credit for a lot more will power than I probably have.”

Aaron was on his feet. Gathering his jacket from the back of his chair he started toward the door. In stunned silence Beverly followed him across the room, undone by his abrupt leaving, gripped by an unexpected  panic.

Standing in the doorway he turned to face her, half grinning into her sullen frown. “You deserve so much more. You just need me to get out of your way. That’s the best thing I can do. It’s what I have to do.”

Before he could step out onto the porch, Beverly had his arm. “Don’t you be telling me what I should want. I’ve just told you the best answer I have....a way to make sense of this, and you won’t even listen.” 

A moment later her voice had turned into a soft whimper. “Aaron, I’m just as frightened as you. I have just one best friend. What will I do if he runs away?”

Without looking back he walked across the porch and down the front steps. Slipping into the car, he buckled his seat belt and started the engine before looking back toward the house to see the door close behind Beverly.


Pulling out of Beverly’s driveway into the street Aaron started down the gentle hill toward home. A few blocks later, at the first traffic signal, he waited for a green light. Gripping the steering wheel he closed his eyes long enough to replay her parting question. "What will I do if he runs away?"

Small wonder her words sounded so familiar. She had admitted to having only one best friend, just like him....and wondered what she would do if that friend went away, just like him.

He was laughing to himself, revisiting the ironic truth the two of them shared. Beyond his daughters, Aaron Peck’s reshaped universe contained only two persons who could touch the heart of him....two special souls who could take him beyond himself and his loneliness. 

The first of those two had effectively left the scene, unable to offer the caring he had relied on for so long. On the other hand, the second candidate seemed willing to offer more caring than he could accept. Why wouldn't he be conflicted?

They had gone round and round for days, talking in circles, never finding the common ground they both longed for. Now at last the talking was over, but what had his reluctant objections accomplished?

There he was, on the verge of fleeing the one place he wanted to be and the company of his only friend....the one person he wanted to be with. What was the sense of running away from that? Was that the best he could do?

For seconds those troubling questions dueled for Aaron’s attention, until he was reeled back to the present by the impatient honking of the car behind him. With an apologetic wave he turned the corner and pulled over to the curb. 

Slumping forward, head against the steering wheel, he relaxed long enough for an intruding insight to capture his thoughts. The idea itself was not new, though it seemed to arrive with a renewed clarity.

Beverly had set a remarkably uncomplicated choice before him, as elemental as choosing between living or simply existing. She was asking him to decide if his future would be something to look forward to, or something to be endured.

Moreover, she had offered that choice in a way that seemed to honor his commitment to Leona. So why was he resisting those possibilities? Why was he settling for “simply existing” when he so clearly wanted to choose “living?”

Slamming his palm against the steering wheel Aaron wiped at the tears he had not felt coming. Then, muttering something to himself, he started the engine. Seconds later, having made his way around the block, he was driving back towards Beverly’s house.

His return to her front porch was a hesitant thing, reluctant but necessary. He drew a single deep breath and pressed the doorbell button. A moment later the door inched open enough for her to see him there. Daubing at her reddened eyes with a tissue, a puzzled frown broke across her face. Before she could ask her question, Aaron was ready with one of his own.

“Are you sure you could do that?” he asked through his sheepish grin.

“Do what?” 

“Be a best friend. Like you said. Could you do that?” It felt as though he owed her an explanation. “I have to keep my promises, you know.” 

Beverly was showing no inclination to reply, so he continued. “I need to do that. But there are other things I need too.”

“What other things?”

“I need that best friend. And I need it to be you, the one person who can help me get through this. Could you do that?”

“I assume you are talking about a Best Friend - First Class.”

That had him laughing to himself, knowing he should have seen it coming. “Is there any other kind?” 

“In that case," Beverly continued. "It sounds like the sort of thing best friends would do for each other. Doesn’t it?”

Finally Aaron edged inside and closed the door behind him. “It feels like I got ahead of myself, running off like that. Maybe we ought to slow things down a bit. 

"We’re not going to get this sorted out in one day. It’s too complicated for that. But if we agree that we’re best friends, then I think we should keep working on it.

“That would be a good place to start, wouldn’t it?” 

Beverly reached for his hand, soaking up the welcome relief of his offer. “We don’t have to hurry, you know. We can take as much time as we need.”

His laughing smile wanted to break through, but there was one last point to be made. “You know how much I love that wife of mine. I have to remember that, along with those promises I made to her.” 

At last his grin had arrived. “But I don’t want to forget how special it is to have a friend like you. Most of all, what I want is a way to have them both. I’ll need your help to do that. ”

“Oh my,” she said. “So now I’m the fox guarding the hen house.”

“I’m betting we can do that.” He draped an arm over her shoulder. “Did I tell you that all this talking makes me hungry? It makes me want to take my best friend to lunch.”

                                                                    THE END

There you have it, dear Reader.....Aaron Peck’s torturous, often-conflicted efforts to be true to his promises, while retaining the best friendship he needed so badly. 

As always, if you have thoughts or opinions about Aaron’s trials, and the slightly unorthodox answers he and Beverly created, I invite you to offer your comments below.

Meanwhile. we are about to begin a new, very different sort of story......OUR story......about our young family's year abroad......A YEAR TO REMEMBER.

I invite you will join us as we explore a new and exciting world.