It started with the Beatles (I was six when Ed Sullivan hosted them on his show; I'd never even heard of England....), and then just grew from there. I fell in love with 'Sherlock Holmes', read 'National Velvet until my copy fell apart, learned to like hot tea. I dreamed of riding a pony in full English kit. I swooned over Mr. Darcy. I stalked Prince Charles from afar.... I read about quaint villages, thatch-roofed cottages, church fetes, and steeplechases. I used 'gymkhana' in sentences. I asked Santa for jodhpurs.
In high school, my Poetry teacher and I discovered we shared a love of All Things England, and she and I became close friends. Gretchen encouraged my English interests, and over tea we often talked together about our individual dreams of going there someday. She shared with me a story about her best friend from college and how the two of them planned to visit England together, but then their youthful travel plans were shelved as the two enjoyed careers, got married, raised families. Still, they continued to dream together about their trip of a lifetime. Until her friend died unexpectedly....
It broke my heart when I heard Gretchen's story, but I told myself that would never happen to me. I was young! I had YEARS to make my travel dream happen! But after graduation those years barreled along. I got married, worked a bunch of jobs, and started a family, and during that time I began a correspondence with a woman in Derbyshire by the name of Maureen. At the time that we became 'pen pals' we were both young mothers with two small children, and the two of us had a lot of common interests. I looked forward to her letters, and over the years she and her loved ones became like Family to me. She was my connection to England.
Time passed and our friendship deepened. Maureen and I exchanged long detailed letters as well as cassette tapes on which I heard her voice and the voices of her children. Then e-mail became our mode of correspondence, followed by Facebook. I think all that somehow worked to mollify me, to make me think that through the miracle of ever-fancier technology I was somehow fulfilling my dream of meeting my friend.
I never forgot Gretchen's story and she never let me forget it either, often ending our visits by reminding me NOT to follow her example and put my trip off until it was too late. I kept insisting to myself that I was going to be smarter! I was going to make the dream happen! But in reality I was afraid to. I was afraid to travel alone, yet I didn't want to do the trip any other way! And it's one thing to write to someone over the years -- editing and honing and choreographing my words until those paper 'visits' were Just Right -- and another to spend a week in their company. Plain and simple, I was afraid I'd get to England and Maureen wouldn't like me....
Our kids grew up. Our lives changed. I got divorced. My nest became empty. Money was tight for me, so foreign travel was out of the question and never seemed to be IN the question. Still, every year Maureen wrote asking, "Do you ever think you'll visit England?" and every year I'd answer, "Maybe this year, who knows??"
Well, this year I know. I know. And when she asked me again for the umpteenth time and I told her, "Yes!," I think we were both so surprised that neither believed it at first.
I'm not sure what, exactly, prompted me to finally make it happen. I do know that being 'unwell' not long ago got me thinking Big Time. It was a serious and dramatic kind of unwell (at least to me), one that I'm sure was just the flu, the kind a person should annually get vaccinated for (I hadn't, but I've never missed an opportunity since). I've never experienced anything quite like it. It made me fear for my life.
As I suffered in the throes of that flu, drifting in and out of fever dreams, I thought about what all I’d regret if I somehow didn't recover from it. What were the Important Things? What was I doing or not doing with the remainder of my one wild life (that felt like it was hanging in the balance)? What were my regrets?.... As it turns out, there were LOTS. And one was having never met Maureen proper when meeting her was (and still is) so dang do-able.
So, not long afterwards I went online and booked my own tickets, to hell with the expense. And I'll be leaving soon! Like SOON soon. My big wish is to keep you abreast of this Dream Come True experience by posting photos and snippets here, but I have yet to figure out how to do that exactly from so far away. If I do, you'll be along for the ride! And if I don't, I'll tell you all about it once I return, 'k?
Wish me luck. I'm a big Travel Baby! But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't over-the-moon excited about stepping out of my comfort zone and taking myself on this Epic Adventure.
(P.S.: And if I can do it.... Well, just imagine what YOU can do.)