Saturday, August 1, 2009

Back home again

It's now over a week since I returned to Sydney so it is about time to complete this family reunion blog. I should have completed it before this, but somehow, ordinary life took over.

And you should see the weeds!

The house however was tidier and cleaner than when I left it. What does that say??

When I last wrote, I was spending my last evening in Totton near Southampton with Ange and Paul. The next day Ange was taking her mother Enid (my dad's 3rd cousin) out to lunch for her birthday, so all four of us went to a modern restaurant at Ocean Worlds, which is the port from which many ocean sailing events commence and had a very pleasant lunch. The bay reminded me of Darwin or Fremantle, except for the design of the buildings.

At 3pm, having said sad farewells, Ange delivered me to Southampton Central railway station, where I was able to catch a train directly to Horsham, with Linda and Peter meeting me at the station. It was a very pleasant journey through lovely green Hampshire, Surrey and Sussex countryside, and took about 90 minutes. Purchasing a rail ticket a day ahead for a particular journey is very cost effective, and even more so with a seniors railcard, which cost me 26 pounds. It is valid for a year, but not transferable. However, it was beneficial because I did so many train trips, but not enough to warrent purchasing a Britrail pass.

That evening, we walked around to Linda's son Dave's place, since young Ruby was turning three. She is the youngest of Dave's children. This was the second time I'd seen them on this trip, and she decided I was worth talking to! That's not always the case - note young Isabella in Panama City - so I was chaffed. After a big lunch, the chocolate birthday cake didn't agree with me, so I didn't eat any dinner that night.

On Wednesday, I basically had a lazy day with Linda and Peter, preparing for my flight, but we did go into Horsham for lunch at a very nice pub. The following day, it was an early start for Heathrow since Peter wanted to avoid the worst of the M25 traffic. It was very sad saying goodbye, but they are planning to come out to Australia for a four week visit, all being well. Next year? or 2011.

Just before I checked in my luggage, for a flight which I knew was heavily booked, I was offered - by Qantas - 516 pounds if I would take the 10 pm flight instead of the midday flight! I refused because my mind was set on seeing John at that stage, and I really am too old to sit around an airport for 12 hours prior to a 22 hour flight. But of course, John said I should have accepted - he could have bought the camera he wanted for that!

The flight was 50 minutes late leaving Heathrow since the airbridge wasn't functioning, and after failing to fix it, we had to walk over the tarmac and up the stairs to the plane. Nevertheless, we arrived in Sydney 10 minutes early, so we made up some time in Singapore and on the Sydney leg.

If I ever take another flight from Heathrow direct to Sydney (not really recommended!), I'll time it the same, because I didn't really suffer jet lag on the return leg. Probably because the Singapore to Sydney leg was in daylight, and we arrived in early evening. I slept very well that night.

John reckons I haven't stopped talking since I got home. I had so much to tell him and show him, despite being able to communicate by email and/or Skype most days. I'm sure he's still confused about who's who in Florida with so many cousins! He loved the video Margaret meets Shirley, as did everyone I've shown it to in England. He reckons it's right up there in erms of interest compared to those we've seen on TV.

I was able to bring home a considerable amount of information about my new "grandfather", the Oxford professor, which also generated a lot of interest. I may have mentioned that Olivia gave me one of his childhood books (probably from about 1891) inscribed with his name in his own handwriting, so that will become part of my treasured memorabilia. A highlight was the trip to the former family "ancestral" house in Kent, arranged by Olivia. Purchased by our stockbroker gg grandfather for his son in about 1881, it has been out of family hands since World War II.

I met an elderly 5th cousin - so really does that count? - in Chippenham in Wiltshire, and she invited me back for lunch. We met through GenesReunited, so it was good to put a face to a name. Jean's family has remained in Wiltshire - our common Tucker ancestor was born in 1788.

And it was so good meeting up again with Ray and Trish in Banbury, Ange and Paul in Southampton, Dot Gurd (family researcher extraordinaire) in Salisbury and Linda and Peter in Horsham. Surprisingly I achieved most of what I set out to do, but missed out on Weymouth (yet again) and couldn't face going to London because there were increasing number of tourists by the end of July and I was getting rather tired.

It was an absolutely fabulous trip - quite different from last year with John - and there was many a time that I wished he were there to share it with me, but at least I could talk to him via Skype and email. This time I was able to stay with my various cousins, including Olivia and they were all exceedingly generous with their time, their hospitality and with taking me out various places.

None of it would have happened if Ray (my second cousin in Banbury) hadn't shown me the photo of Shirley as a young child in 1935, and I hadn't been curious as to where she was! Thank you Ray! And thank you JoAnn, Cheryl and Elizabeth for making my trip to Florida possible.

And to John, who said "Go for it! And why don't you detour via Heathrow on the way back to Sydney?" YES indeed.

Thank you to the many friends and colleagues who cared enough to read this blog. Some of you commented on the blog, seven of you became "followers", but I'm aware of many more, particularly members of Parramatta Computer Pals for Seniors and ASCCA who followed my journey and the links to my various Web Albums.

And thus ends this story of cousins lost and found, furtive fathers "found out" 100 years after the dastardly deed was done, and family friendships cemented across the world...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bath and back to Southampton

It's now Monday, and I have been spending the last day and a half - when I'm not being spoiled rotten by Ange - looking around old graveyards. Ange and I have common ancestors who were baptised, married or buried in various towns and villages on the outskirts of Southampton. It was quite a business finding some of the old churches - they were not where we expected. Often they were down a country lane - usually called Church Lane - in the middle of a paddock. We didn't have much success with graves of ancestors though - they were usually too weatherworn and covered in algae.

Before travelling back to Southampton, I spent much of Saturday exploring Bath. John and I had been there last year, but we explored not much more than the Roman Baths, the Abbey and the Pump Room. This time, I walked up to the Circus, and I was absolutely enchanted. See the photo above. I simply couldn't believe the symmetry of the Georgian architecture. I wandered around the streets, went to a museum at No 1 Royal Crescent, and then found the Jane Austen Centre, where we were allowed to take photos inside.

At the Centre we were treated to a presentation by a youngish woman who'd obviously learned her talk off by heart. At the beginning, she drew her shoulders back dramatically, took a deep breath and launched headlong into her talk! At the end, I said - to no one in particular - Phew! And the guy next to me chuckled and said you are not wrong! No chance for questions... But all in all, it was well worth the five pounds.

I found the Assembly Rooms as well, but it was being used for a show so I couldn't see inside.

I peeped inside St Michael's church where they were advertising lunch and found a quiet little restaurant operating in the area usually reserved for the baptismal font. Different anyway. After that it was time to collect my rucksack from the YMCA and head for the station. The trip from Bath to Southampton took an hour and a half of pleasant rail travel.

Ange picked me up at Southampton Central and we headed for the St Mary's football stadium, where we watched the relegated Saints (Southampton) play a Dutch team at soccer. As Paul's "enabler" she managed to get back in to see the game and bring me in for free. Despite Paul's best advice to the players, the Saints lost to the visitors.

Tomorrow we are taking Ange's mother (my dad's third cousin) out for lunch and then it's back to Horsham to Linda and Peter's place.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Plymouth, Southampton, Bath and Chippenham

Summer seems to have disappeared - maybe it was just last week - and we have had nothing except grey skies and rain!

On Tuesday, I caught the bus from Tavistock to Plymouth - about 50 minutes through beautiful rolling countryside - but Plymouth was a real disappointment. It was probably nicer down near the Hoe, but the city itself is quite dismal. Very 60s, with unimaginative town planning. I was glad to get back to Tavistock, which I really like.

On Wednesday I said farewell to Tavistock, and Brown's Hotel which I really enjoyed, although it was 69 pounds per night, and headed for Southampton. Now you'd think that would be easy by train, but in fact it was three trains from Plymouth - changing at Exeter, Westbury (in Wiltshire) - three hours altogether. In Southampton I am staying with Ange and Paul. Ange is my 4th cousin - we have a common ancestor William Moody born 1784. We met them for the first time last year and clicked straight away. We were able to have a four way chat with John yesterday morning.

On Thursday morning Ange drove me up to Salisbury to meet a most remarkable family history researcher, Dot Gurd, who is extremely helpful to anyone who asks on the Moonrakers List (for people who have ancestors in Wiltshire). She also manages a one-name society for the Gurds.

On the way, we stopped at Bramshaw in the New Forest, because I discovered since we were last in England that that is where my Tucker ancestors lived in the early 1700s before they migrated to Downton a little further north in Wiltshire. We poked around an ancient graveyard and Ange found one Tucker grave for me.

John and I had met Dot Gurd last year, and she insisted on buying us lunch so this year it was my turn. We had a great chat and took a walk around the outside of the cathedral which I will never get sick of looking at. It's as awe-inspiring as Uluru!

Mid afternoon, I took my leave of Dot and Ange who dropped me at Salisbury Station because I'd booked two nights at the Bath YMCA, so that I could have another look at Bath (I loved it last year, and didn't see enough) and spend today at the Wiltshire History Centre at Chippenham.

The YMCA accepts women (of all ages) these days, and is much the same as a Youth Hostel. I have a single room for two nights @ 27 pounds per night. Much cheaper than Browns in Tavistock, but VERY basic. One pillow, not a power point in sight, no pictures on the walls, and a shared toilet block down the hall. But fine for two nights. I am currently using wi-fi in the common area, surrounded until 30 minutes ago by about 50 young people from Spain. It doesn't worry me at all, but I'd hate to live like this for a month! I've certainly had extremes - the Hilton in Panama City for a week; comfortable rooms with various cousins in Horsham, Shere, Banbury and Southampton.

Today was a VERY wet day, but with an umbrella I managed to get to Chippenham by train without too much damage - just needed to change shoes and socks when I got back. Chippenham is the home of the Wiltshire History Centre (county archives) and I was looking for some Tucker wills to assist in filling in the missing links for my Tucker ancestry. And I was successful. I found a baptism certificate for my William Tucker (c 1728) who married in 1761, and also a couple of Tucker wills which confirmed relationships. so I can now go back to a William Tucker of Bramshaw who died in 1710 and his widow Mary who died in 1725. So they must have been born in the second half of the 1600s.

I'd arranged to meet up with a 5th cousin (sounds ridiculous doesn't it) who lives at Chippenham, and so Jean met me at the History Centre and we cabbed it back to her place for lunch, which was very nice of her. She is a former school teacher who I met through Genes Reunited (computer site) and she is an active member of the Wiltshire U3A. We have a common ancestor William Tucker born in 1764.

After lunch she called me a cab to go back to the History Centre. Did you know that in the UK, taxi drivers actually knock on the door?? Instead of blasting the horn in the street as they do in Winston Hills!!!

Tomorrow, after exploring Bath some more (I'm particularly interested in exploring Jane Austen's Bath) I catch the train back to Southampton where Ange will once more pick me up, for three more nights at her place.

This time next week I shall be back home. The time has gone fast, but I'm getting homesick. I've been able to talk to John via Skype about four times per week and we email each day, but we are really missing each other. It will be good to see my dad as well. John has been visiting him, so he's also following my trip via large print copies of the blog and some photos.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Tavistock and Milton Abbot, South Devon

Friday morning: I said my goodbyes to Ray and Trisha at Banbury station, and sat in a “standard” carriage on the train (Cross Country train) at a table, with my Netbook connected to a powerpoint at the side. How civilised can that be? I must say that I found the privatised British Rail very good, both last year and this year. This train only stops at Oxford and Reading. I have to change at Reading and again at Redhill.

Later: I take part of this back! I changed at Reading, and must have caught the slow train instead of the express, because I was over an hour late coming into Horsham. A pleasant evening with Linda and Peter, and early to bed with a long journey to Devon in the morning.

Saturday: Unfortunately the weather turned bad, and we couldn't see in places because of thick fog and rain. However, I could see enough to enjoy the countryside – lots of hedges dividing fields, and pretty villages. I was very impressed with Arundel and its magnificent castle, the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk. It is not far from Portsmouth.

We arrived at Tavistock, near Plymouth (South Devon) where I am staying for three nights in time to enjoy a pub lunch. Peter was very impressed with my hotel – Browns – and thought it would be a good place for he and Linda to stay in the off season. After lunch they continued on to Cornwall where they are staying for a week, and I explored the town in the rain. I found myself in the Pannier Market, where they boast that it is the best market in England. It was certainly impressive.

Sunday: My great great grandfather Robert Reed, a seaman, was born in Milton Abbot, just six miles from Tavistock, so I called a taxi (£9 one way) since there was no public transport except on Tuesdays! I explored the graveyard of St Constantine church and found the graves of three generations of Reeds, who were blacksmiths in the town. Unfortunately these are not my ancestors, although they are probably related. After lunch at the Edgcumbe Arms (quite deserted apart from me) I returned to Tavistock by taxi, and further explored the town. It is really quite impressive, with the ruins of an abbey, a beautiful church, wonderful architecture and a huge railway viaduct. And very hilly. Wheelchair users wouldn't like it much!

I had been told by hotel staff that another Australian was staying at the hotel, also researching his ancestors at Milton Abbot. He eventually found me, and said he was from Darwin.

I decided to spent a fourth day at Tavistock, and found that my room was available. I had intended to go to Weymouth, but public transport was difficult, and I hadn't been able to find any accommodation anyway. I will travel by rail directly to Southampton instead.

Monday: Today I spent most of the day at Tavistock Library, researching the Reed family on microfiche. I don't think I found out much that I didn't already know. Tomorrow I will catch the bus to Plymouth and see if I can find the place my great grandfather, Robert Henry Reed was born.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Chipping Campden in the Cotswalds

I arrived at Ray and Trisha's place on Tuesday evening, and we had intended to visit Chipping Campden yesterday, but a showery day and my tiredness combined to delay our trip until today. After two weeks of poor sleep, I slept nine hours Tuesday night, and another eight hours last night. So yesterday we just chilled out, and popped around to see the grandchildren and their parents last night.

Chipping Campden is only 20 miles from Banbury, but off a main road, so Ray and Trish had never been there. Like me, they were very pleasantly surprised. It attracts a great many visitors, even on a weekday, to see the grand village buildings made of Cotswald stone and the various arts and crafts created and sold there.

In 1902, Charles Robert Ashbee (CRA), who married Nevill Forbes' sister Janet, moved to Chipping Campden with many skilled craftsmen who were members of the Arts and Crafts Guild, and established quite a community of craftsmen and women. It was however a poor business decision and five years later it was closed down. However, individual craftsmen stayed and others were attracted to the village. Today there is a museum of crafts and design called Court Barn, and it is there that CRA's work is displayed along with the work of many other artisans.

Last month, an exhibition of Felicity Ashbee's multi-facetted life was held, and Olivia, Felicity's niece, obtained a catalogue for me. The former curator showed me Felicity's desk, wh'ich was awaiting collection by her relatives. Felicity was Charles and Janet Ashbee's daughter, a prolific writer, artist, teacher and community activist who passed away a year ago at the age of 95.
We wandered around the village taking photographs of the houses, shops and the almshouse, which you can see on the latest web album linked to this blog.

Tomorrow I will go back to Horsham by train - a three hour journey, which won't be a chore - the trains are a quite pleasant way to travel. I booked ahead, thus saving a considerable amount. I'm really enjoying my stay with Ray and Trish, it is very relaxing and we always have lots to talk about, remembering Philip and digging into our memories about our Reed ancestors. Ray's grandmother Alice and my grandmother Edith Annie were two of the six Reed sisters of Southampton.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A day in Oxford

An early start yesterday, with Reg driving Olivia and me to Guildford Station, where we caught a train from Guildford to Reading and changed for Oxford, arriving there at 10 am. It was a 15 minute walk to the Taylorian Institute, the library for Slavonic studies.

I'd been corresponding with a libarian, Nick, and he produced two big boxes of Nevill's photographs of his travels, photographs of Nevill – all ages – and correspondence by Nevill to his sister Janet and condolence letters about Nevill after his death. It included letters written by Nevill in the days before he died (of his own hand) and a medical report which created great fear in his mind about infection, and letters by qualified friends of Janet's who were convinced that the doctors put unfounded fears in Nevill's mind.

I found these letters and notes quite unsettling, and I'm sure Olivia did too.

I photographed many of the photos, but I was not happy with the quality. But fortunately we had free use of a photocopier so brought away a great many copies of fascinating letters which I am reading today. There was a copy of his application for the position of Reader in Russian at Oxford, which was a potted history of his education and travels up to 1910.
Olivia left early to go back to Guildford, but I stayed because the librarian, Nick promised to take me around to see the hotel which used to be the 8 bedroom, 3 reception room house that Nevill had to himself with just one or two man-servants. It was owned by Christchurch college, and obviously leased to Nevill. The charwoman, Mrs Cornelius (the mother of his other two children) used to come in three days per week. He mentioned “his excellent charwoman, Mrs Cornelius” in a letter.

After viewing the hotel, Nick dropped me at the station where I purchased a Seniors Rail Card for ₤26, which will give me a 33% discount off rail tickets.

My next stop was Banbury, only 20 minutes by train from Oxford, where my dear (second) cousin Ray met me at the station. Raymond (Bayford) is also related to Shirley and it would be great if Shirley could meet Ray on her next trip to England.

Today Ray planned to drive me, at my request, to Chipping Camden where Janet Forbes lived and her children were born, but I didn't wake up till 10.30 (first decent sleep I'd had), and it has been raining frequently so I suggested we go tomorrow. We are just chilling out, which is very nice indeed. Daughter Tracey of course is at work. She works for a bank, and so far, her job is safe!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Meeting Olivia

I am now in Shere, Surrey, not so far from Horsham, but we have travelled here via Godden Green near Sevenoaks in Kent. Olivia picked me up yesterday morning from Linda's place, and in just over an hour we were at the grand house where our ancestors lived, and my grandmother worked as a parlourmaid.

You will see from the photos that the house and gardens are very grand. Olivia was last here in 1942, when a bomb dropped in the garden. She was just a baby. The house was taken over by the military about that time, and not long afterwards, Janet Ashbee (nee Forbes) - Olivia's grandmother - sold the estate. It is now about 25 acres, although it was larger.

Olivia had arranged for us to be shown around the house and gardens and it was a wonderful experience, and I was able to take some good photos. I was particularly looking for rooms where Nevill was photographed playing the piano in the early 20s, and where my grandmother might have served meals and freshments for guests.

Olivia's grandfather "CRA" or Charles Ashbee was an architect and designer, and he made major changes to the structure of the house in the early 40s. However, these changes are reflected in the photos I took yesterday.

On the way home to Olivia's place, we had a puncture (back wheel driver's side) on the very busy A25 and we waited two hours for the RAC. In the end a good samaritan changed it for us, protecting himself and us with his own van.

Today we are just having an easy day with two dogs - Oscar and Ashbee - as company, and a walk around this pretty village. Olivia and Reg have a work studio up the back yard so they are in and out all the time.

Just now, Olivia presented me with one of Nevill's books - a Ruskin fairy tale with his name written in childish handwriting. A lovely gift.

John and I have been able to talk on Skype about every second day and of course by email most days, but his latest email made me wish I were back with him. He had just found out that one of our dearest friends - Maruska - died last Saturday of cancer. John met her in hospital not long after his accident, so that was 39 years ago. So I too have known her since I started work in the disability sector in 1982. She had been to most of our parties and we volunteered or worked together on many an occasion over the years. Vale Maruska.
Tomorrow we are travelling up to Oxford University to the Taylor Institute where much of Nevill's academic material and various photos are kept. He was the second professor of Russian between 1922 and his death in 1929.

Linda's birthday party, 4th July

Linda's birthday party, delayed by a month so that her family in Qatar could be there, was a great success. It was lovely meeting many of her long time friends and their partners. The photos are on the web album and there is a link on top right hand side of the weblog.

Linda wasn't eating on the day, just drinking water sadly. She was being careful after her 24 hour illness the day before. However, she looked and felt much better.

That night, Linda and Peter had four visitors. I'd taken over the second bedroom where her son Paul and his wife Mel usually sleep when they stay, so they went off to a friend's party and to a hotel for the night, although I don't know if Mel was feeling up to partying. She'd not long flown over from Qatar and was dealing with two young ones and settling back into a house in Kent.

Additionally, Mel's mother Carol - the children's other grandmother - and George (4) and Alex (nearly six months) were also staying. It was happy family chaos, which suits me just fine. But I kept out of the way changing nappies, since both grandmothers were there!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Heatwave in West Sussex

Well, who 'd have thought after a week in Florida that I'd be feeling the heat in Sussex! But yes, it's hot, and the shops have sold out of electric fans. It's the humidity really. Very hot overnight.

After a nice relaxing lunch at Cheryl's place, we watched the DVD that JoAnn prepared of Shirley and I greeting each other. What a wonderful introduction Kathryn gave. And I bet if there had been flies around, Shirley would have swallowed a dozen, she was so amazed.

At 4pm it was off to the airport, where I got into trouble for having my lipstick loose in my bag, and not in the transparent container! The flight to Atlanta was packed since the previous flight had been cancelled, but it was only one hour. Just over two hours later I was on the plane to London. I didn't think Delta was up to Qantas standard, and no upgrade this time, but did I sleep! Cheryl had given me a magic pill and it worked.

I passed through customs at Heathrow with as much ease as I had in Los Angeles, and just managed to catch the National Express coach to Gatwick where Linda (maiden name Tucker) and Peter picked me up right on time. John and I met Linda and Peter for the first time last year. Like Shirley, Olivia and Ray, Linda is my second cousin. Ray (Bayford) was the only cousin I'd heard of pre Internet.

We had a lovely chat catching up (between snoozes) and planned our Friday, but these plans were thrown into disarray because Linda had been up all night with some sort of bug that she probably caught from one of her grandchildren currently visiting from Qatar with their parents. She isn't at all well.

So I went into town by myself to change some US$$ into pounds, and found myself with English and Australian coins all mixed up in my coin purse. Most embarrassing. Unlike last year, I found the old part of Horsham and went to the museum. Horsham is a historic market town and was a base for the redcoats around the 1790s when life was so tough for those tempted to shoplift or pick pockets.

Tomorrow I shall see the five grandchildren, who include a new addition - six month old Alex who was born in Qatar where his dad Paul is working for Shell in HR.

We are all hoping that Linda (who I discovered just over two years ago) is feeling better tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

So sad to leave

Today I say my goodbyes to my extended family in the deep south, and head for the UK via Atlanta. I'm all packed, just waiting for Elizabeth to pick me up. We will go to the church offices to say goodbye to JoAnn and Debra who organised the trip for me, and pick up a copy of the video of the big event.

Then it is to Cheryl's for a final lunch with as many of the family who are not at work, see Zoe who has become a new friend, and then to the airport.

Yesterday we went to Seaside, principally to see Trisha's gallery - check out the photos in the album - and to take photos of this resort area where many better off residents of land-locked states have second homes. There were many holiday makers around, riding bikes and trikes.

Later we went to Shirley's house for a roast dinner. There were so many cousins there that we had TWO dining rooms set up. Shirley's house is right on a lake (part of the Bay actually). She has her wedding dress (from 1951) set up on a dressmaker's model in her bedroom, a nice idea - never thought of that!

As you can probably tell from my journal and the photos, I've had an absolutely wonderful time here in Panama City - what a wonderful family. We seemed to have clicked immediately - all except young Isabella who after a week is still sizing me up. But at three, that's her prerogative. At least she knows who I am.

I shall be so sad to leave. I do hope I see them again one day, maybe in the UK, maybe here, and you never know, we may even persuade one or more to take the long journey across the Pacific and show them some of the delights of Sydney.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Barbecues, church and ladies who lunch

After the emotion of Friday night, everyone was pleased that Saturday's activities didn't start till 4pm. A large marquee had been set up on a cleared area beside the church for an informal buffet tea - it was called a barbecue, but not in the sense that we know it. It was a great opportunity to sit and chat to Shirley and circulate and meet lots of folks. I was constantly being stopped and told how emotional people felt when Shirley was introduced to me, and how pleased they were that I'd come over.

Sunday morning was church. I'd felt no pressure at all to go - quite the contrary - but I'm so glad I did, even if it was "strange". But strange in a lovely way - with the congregation really joyous - it sure isn't boring. I didn't feel I had to conform at all, I was just made very welcome. I even knew one of the choruses they sang. The service lasted for three and a half hours, although that isn't normal. There were people in town from all over the United States, plus Trinidad and Kenya. After church there was a lunch for the family and many people who'd come from other places, followed by family photos taken by a professional photographer to mark the occasion.

Today four generations of women went to lunch at a seafood restaurant overlooking the sugarwhite sands of the Bay - Shirley, her three daughters, a granddaughter (Elizabeth) and her young Isabella. It was extremely humid today - 90 degrees but it felt like 95% humidity.

After lunch, the plan was to go back to a boutique where I had my eye on a nice shirt last Thursday, but not before I'd dipped my toes in the water. It was beautifully warm - 85 degrees they said.

So by the time I went shopping, I was wet (where do those waves come from, and full of sand. I then not only bought the shirt but also three other items of clothing. The variety is amazing, and it is not expensive. Shirley and her daughters have excellent dress sense so I was in good hands.

I am finding I need at least two or three changes of clothing per day, it is so humid. Fortunately the Inn has a guest laundry.

At 6.30 I was picked up and taken to Cheryl's house for a family tea, where I was not the only guest. Enoch, a pastor from Kenya was also there. He told us that there was a man in Kenya who had 68 wives, and was going to take a 69th, but discovered it was his own daughter, so he gave up accumulating wives at that stage. We reckon he should have been well satisfied by then!

Elizabeth grabbed my camera and took lots of photos, since I was too busy talking. Here is a photo of Cheryl's house. I am intrigued by the different architecture.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Jack in the Box

Well, what a night! These southerners sure know how to put on a show! And keep a secret, even if they have to ask their friends for forgiveness for telling fibs. I was Elizabeth (my middle name), a friend of Zoe's daughter in the UK for the night - people were so friendly and wanting an introduction. I even had to pretend to be unsociable for a couple of hours.

I should explain to my Oz and UK readers that the purpose of the evening was to celebrate the 40 years ministry of "Apostle and Miz Shirley" as they are known to this congregation in Panama City.

Whilst the early part of the evening focussed on the Apostle's ministry and the impact the Apostle had on the many many he'd sent out to minister in other parts of Florida and other states, the second half looked at their family life through a variety of skits, songs etc.

Who ever said that Americans don't have a sense of humour? These southerners sure can laugh at themselves. There was a very funny video where Cheryl starred as her mother getting her exercise going to the shops. It was full of alusions to things that had apparently happened to Shirley because the audience was cracking up with laughter.

Apparently Shirley had arrived in the US with her wedding gown under one arm and her Frank Sinatra records under the other, so her grandson Chad did a Frank number taking off his grandfather's courtship of Shirley.

What talent that family has.! The three daughters - Donna, Cheryl and Katherine - did a great number, and grand-daughter Erin did a solo backed by the choir. There were many other musical items and a great solo tap dance in the manner of Riverdance. All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening, even for one who isn't part of the scene. And Zoe was a joy to share it with. We were towards the back of the room, whilst the immediate Ball family were of course in the front row.

And then the moment I (and the junior members of the family) had been waiting for. Katherine's husband made a moving speech and a presentation to Apostle Ball, then it was Shirley's turn.

They brought out this huge box, then Katherine set the scene, recalling Shirley's dedication to her immediate and extended church family, and then stated that it was ironic how much she gave, when she didn't have any family of her own that she knew of. She related how an email had arrived from Australia and that began a correspondence and exchange of photos that brought back memories of her mother's childhood. She told Shirley that the box contained a scrapbook about her family that Margaret had put together.

By this time, Shirley had opened the box and seen the scrapbook and her face was a picture of emotion. Katherine then announced that they thought that it might be even better if Margaret could be here in person, and in actual fact she was in the audience! By this time, Cheryl's husband Steve was escorting me down the aisle and up on to the stage.

You've all seen the television shows, and of course it was just like that. I was already teary whilst Shirley was looking at the scrapbook. So she was just amazed when I walked up on stage. She grabbed my hands and looked at me, and then there were big bear hugs. Apostle Ball was very moved, he knew exactly what it meant to Shirley. And of course the family was very excited, they'd been looking forward to this moment. She is a well loved grandmother and mother.

I was able to tell her publicly that her great aunts back in England had really grieved when they'd lost touch with her, and never forgot her. Our contemporary Ray - our only second cousin still in the UK - was not born until 1943, the year after Shirley had disappeared from their lives, but he had heard all about her.

That was pretty much the end of the evening, except for the Apostle's final word(s), so we were all tired. But today's the beginning of getting to know each other and go through the stories and what happened to all the aunts, so I'm looking forward to that. After the event I gave Shirley a couple more presents - a small photo album and a digital photo frame with a thumb drive full of photos, so she and the family can share them around.

So all in all a great day.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Meeting Shirley's family

Yesterday Cheryl introduced me to three generations ofShirley's family over a seafood lunch on one of the many bays in Panama City. Cheryl is the second of four - three girls (the others are Donna and Katherine) and their young brother Mark still in his forties. Mark is much quieter and not as gregarious as his sisters - the poor fellow is well and truly outnumbered! He is a script writer and spent a number of years in Los Angeles, but is now back in Panama City. Katherine lives in Nashville, Tennessee. I forgot to ask her if she knows our Nicole and our Keith.

Then there was Elizabeth, Cheryl's 29 year old daughter) who is due to give birth next month to a second girl, and her three year old Isabella who is just as quiet as our namesake at the computer club (Hazel and Deb's young grand-daughter), but I suspect she will thaw out when she gets used to me. Later, Kathryn's daughter Erin turned up.

Now I noticed there are good genes in Shirley's family - very pretty women all of them - and amazingly warm. Listening to their stories of family life, I began to get a real picture of just what my visit means to them, and what it will mean to Shirley. I can't wait till tonight, and neither can they.

I learned that for whatever reason, Shirley's father - an intensely private man - cut off Shirley's relationship with her mother's family the moment her mother died. On the day of the funeral in 1942 when Shirley was 12, she was not told of her mother's death, but taken out for the day by her grandmother. She was told eventually and became very close to her grandmother whilse her father was elsewhere managing wealthy men's English estates.

So when I made contact, continued the research and sent her photos, it was a very emotional turning point for Shirley. She and her daughters had tried without much success to undertake research when they'd been to London, but didn't have enough information to make the initial breakthrough.

So it seems that I have been the key to opening up her mother's family for her, and it means so much to the family that I was able to tell them that Shirley and her deceased mother Kathleen were very much missed by all the aunts, who simply didn't know where she was. My sister is also a Kathleen, and dad said she was named after cousin Kathleen, whilst mum always said she was named for a song they liked - I'll take you home again, Kathleen!

Of course families never turn out to be as "perfect or normal" as our older generations would have us believe, but that's life isn't it. I've found birth records of further relatives who we may never be able to track down, it was all so long ago, and the names were so common. All I have is my dad's fragmented memories of Shirley's grandmother's other children being sent to Canada because their mother couldn't look after them.

On to more mundane things. I am still having trouble with jet lag. Yesterday I woke up at 3 am after four hours sleep, so went for a walk at 6, knowing it was the only cool time of the day (temperatures are constantly in the 90s), then another walk after breakfast to see the church, which is only 10 minutes walk from here.

I later went to the Mall to purchase a sun hat. The mall seemed strange because there was no supermarket, paper shop or chemist (drugstore). They are separate here. Panama City has no public transport - no trains, no buses as we know them. Even poor people rely on cars. Of course petrol (gasoline) is much cheaper here. The terrain is perfectly flat, only three feet above sea level, the soil seems very poor - sandy of course - and the water table is at 10 inches! Incomes are low, although vary widely.

After a late lunch, I asked the younger generation - Elizabeth and Erin - to help me purchase an iPod Nano, which I duly did. After a rest, I was collected by Zoe, a family friend and taken down to a nice shopping centre where we window shopped, looking at bookstores and clothes. Zoe was very easy to talk to, into literature and historyand psychology. We had intended going for a meal, but neither of us was hungry! She took me to her house to collect an electric jug (I'd been boiling my water for tea in the coffee percolator), and we stealthily drove past Shirley's place for a look, in the dark of night. If only she'd known! Cheryl is keeping away from her mother at the moment - she reckons she couldn't keep the grin off her face.

My next tale will be about my role as the Jack in the Box, and Shirley's reaction.....

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

It's hot in Panama City, FL

Here I am in Panama City, population about 110,000 Cheryl tells me. (Cheryl is Shirley's middle daughter who arranged all this). This morning, after nearly missing the connecting flight (it was 50 minutes earlier, vastly different terminal than on my ticket), I arrived to a welcoming party of four - Cheryl, her daughter Elizabeth and the cup) and the two church workers I've been dealing with - JoAnne and Debra. Photos were taken, then Cheryl delivered me to the Hilton Garden Inn.
I made some tea (they had delivered a tea pot) and ate some grapes from the huge basket of fruit, cheese and biscuits they'd packaged up for me and crashed till 5 pm. This is getting ridiculous - no sleep at night, sleep all day. I have to try and sleep tonight - fortunately I feel somewhat tired.
Cheryl collected me for tea prior to her rehearsal at the church and we exchanged family stories and I showed her a locket with photos of two of her great great grandparents - the Reeds of Southampton.
I managed to purchase the electronic gift I had in mind for Shirley, because the shops are open till 9 pm every night. The stores are made for cars - great distances between the shops with car parks surrounding them. Otherwise, Panama City reminds me of a well laid out regional city like Dubbo. Of course I haven't seen much of it yet.
Cheryl is dribbling information to members of her family - her Nashville based sister and family arrive tomorrow and we will join them for a seafood lunch by the beach. Everyone in the family will know by Friday except Shirley and her husband.
So off to bed right now and try to sleep. Whilst I was having tea with Cheryl at a Mexican restaurant, John was running my one hour computer class in Beginners 2 in XP. Poor fellow - he had to run for two weeks prior to this whilst I had the flu. Luckily I'm over the flu and didn't get questioned at immigration about my froggy voice.
Till next time! Margaret

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Los Angeles and it's still Tuesday

Well, my computer time says 10.23 am Wednesday, but here it is 17.23 Tuesday, and I don't feel quite with it right now. I had about six hours sleep on the 12th floor of the Radisson overlooking the airport and all I'm likely to see of Los Angeles is concrete and palm trees. Tarmacs, car ports and flyovers. Oh well.

But I had a marvellous flight - I was upgraded to Premium Economy - Florida prayers or our second lucky break of the day - who knows? Very roomy, decent blanket, great food and even a linen table cloth. As well as a very nice young pharmacist from Detroit who'd fallen for an Australian from Brisbane, making it a very expensive romance. Got to see her photos and all, so I dragged out my scrapbook which I was still utting together on the way to the airport. (You should have seen John's eyes roll!)

Everything went according to plan, but very much jet lagged right now. Looking forward to crashing for a few more hours. I have a reception party of four meeting me at Panama City at 8.30 am Wednesday. An overnight flight to Atlanta with Delta Airlines, then change planes. I now have four bags - one full of Australian soft toys etc. but all easy to carry.

Thanks for all your comments - I very much look forward to them.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Still packing

In just over 48 hours, I will be setting foot on American soil for the very first time. If you'd told me six months ago that I'd be doing that, even less that I'd be going back to England, I'd have told you you were crazy. So how did this happen?

Well it started just over 12 months ago, when my second cousin Raymond in Banbury said "Have you heard about Shirley?" Well, no I said - who is she? Another second cousin, great Aunt Minnie's grand-daughter. He had a photo of her at age 5, taken in 1934. He thought her other grandparents had taken her to America after her mother had died during World War 2. I later found that this wasn't quite right - she'd married an American serviceman in 1951, but had indeed lost touch with the family when she was 12. The Reed family (my grandmother was one of six sisters) was very saddened that she had disappeared out of their lives.

I was intrigued - she was such a pretty little thing, but would now be 78. I decided to try and track her down. I found who her mother married and when she was born. She had an unusual surname (what luck!) Try Googling her, I thought - and bingo!

I found a church website in Florida, and her husband - an apostle in The Rock of Panama City - said he'd married a Shirley Navello in London. So I emailed the church in the hope that it was her. And sure enough, within a day I had an email saying she was so pleased to hear from me, because she didn't know she had any relatives left in England. She visited London every couple of years.

We started corresponding and I was able to send her photos of herself and her mother, and answer some of her many questions. Her daughter later told me that she'd cried when I sent her a photo of herself with the Reed great aunt who had reared her mother after her parents split up in about 1910.

In February I received a very surprising invitation - to go to Panama City as the guest of the church to be Shirley's "present" on the occasion of Apostle Ball and Mrs Shirley Ball's 40th anniversary of their ministry in Panama City. Their church is Pentacostal, rather like Hillsong. Quite outside my Anglican church experience.

As you can imagine, I was "gobsmacked" and had to stop myself saying YES! immediately until I'd talked it over with John. Who said "Go for it! And why don't you go on to England for a few weeks as well?" Was I going to disagree - not on your life!

So it's been a lot of organising and still some to do, but in less than 36 hours I will be on the plane. I'll let you know what the airport hotel is like. That's all I'll see of Los Angeles - a short kip and then on to Panama City via Atlanta.