Lately I’ve noticed online I’m enjoying the company of many people from the UK. Although it’s probably because they happen to be lovely and entertaining, there’s something more, something until recently I couldn’t quite put my finger on. It has come to my attention that my mother may have raised me to be secretly British.
First, there are the obvious things. My maternal grandfather was born in England and lived in Birmingham for the first 6 months of his life before his family made their way to America where the streets are paved with designer knockoffs. For some unexplainable reason the result of this pitstop in the land of Dickens, is that my grandfather acquired certain verbal mannerisms, and a fondness for afternoon tea. His daughter, my mother, then passed these anglophile words and behaviors down to me.
There are other things of course, like my genetic predisposition to rain, also passed down to me by my mother. If you live in a state struggling with drought, give me a call. And please, never invite either of us to a garden party, I’m warning you.
Also, there was the almost religious viewing of Masterpiece Theater’s, Upstairs, Downstairs. For those of you unfamiliar, this was a hugely popular TV series that ran in the UK during the 70’s about a family in a London Townhouse; the tawdry trials of the well-to-do upstairs, and the comic sometimes scandalous activities of the butler, maids, cook, and chauffeur, downstairs.
Here is a photo of the wealthy Major James and Hazel Bellamy dancing joyously as all rich people do. Here’s the hard working head house parlor maid Rose Buck pouring M’lady some tea.Here is Heidi age ten polishing her father’s shoes.
From this we can deduce my mother groomed me to be a parlor maid which, given my propensity for leaving the bed unmade, was folly at best. Also, I use terms like folly at best, which ought to be a clue about the secret British upbringing. .
How about my fondness for marmalade, Earl Grey Tea, and Dr. Who? I’ve seen My Fair Lady at least 20 times, does that count? Did I mention there’s a fairly good chance I’m the reincarnation of The Avengers, Emma Peel?
I feel somehow you remain unconvinced. Still, it doesn’t answer the question what is this strong kinship I feel with those across the pond? Not until I look at the best loved books of my childhood, that is. Here now, my favorite books from ages 4 – 10:
- A Bear Called Paddington – Michael Bond
- The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
- The Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett
- Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
- Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne
- When We Were Very Young – A.A. Milne
- The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton
- Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie
- The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
- Watership Down – Richard Adams
- Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
- Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
- A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
- From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsburg
Notice anything? The first eleven on the list are all British authors. I got to thinking about this because someone online mentioned treacle toffee and I vividly recalled a description of this delicacy from a story I’d read in my childhood. At the time, I imagined it to be the most exquisite candy ever made. It wasn’t just the candy, it was the tale as well. In an enchanted wood children climbed a tree filled with magical creatures. At the very top, worlds spun around them, some dark and scary others, happy and carefree. The mention of that treacle toffee and I was back there again, in this fantastical place that had meant so much to me growing up.
I tried to describe the book, as I could not remember it’s title, only the gold embossed binding that had so attracted me in the school library. My friend Peter Wilkin figured it out and sent me the link to author Enid Blyton and The Faraway Tree collection. This kind gesture unearthed a treasure trove of memories.
It all makes sense now. My new found UK friends speak the language of my childhood, no wonder I feel such warmth. But it’s so much more than that. I think up there in that lovely list of books is the reason I write. The Magic Faraway Tree left an imprint on my heart, just as Charlotte, Peter, Alice, Mary and all the rest did as well. The worlds built in those books were transformative. They taught me the beauty and power of the written word, although at the time I wouldn’t have known it. But here I am many years later and, like a worn stuffed bear, I pull the memory of those books close, recalling again the feel of words casting their spell over me.
Do you remember books from your childhood that had this kind of impact? I would love to hear about it.