Sunday, June 21, 2009
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.