It was early September, 1973. I had just graduated from college and several weeks later would begin graduate school.
For more years than I can remember leading up to that, I had been in love with England. I loved Shakespeare, Jane Austen and Agatha Christie in equal measure. I had a small library about the royal family and yes, a crush on Prince Charles. (Dodged that bullet.) I was studying theatre and longed to see the wonderful theatres in London, to ride the underground and scoot through city streets on the “wrong side of the road” in a black British taxi.
And so, on that early September morning, my mother and I went to London for what would be two weeks of theatre, history and fun.
I was finally a grown-up (though I’d always be her little girl!) and we could talk about things in a grown-up way. I was so comfortable with England that I could truly be the “adult” and guide her around as though I’d been born there.
I chalked up her exhaustion to the differences between a 54-year-old woman and one who had just turned 21, not knowing there were underlying causes.
My mother died several years after that trip, but it wasn’t long after we returned home when she learned she had cancer. Our trips after that were limited to the lake, to relatives within driving distance and to Mayo Clinic. So, in my heart, those two weeks, one-on-one with my mom, were two of the most important weeks in my life.
Last month, I returned to England. This time I was with my life partner, the forever guy that my mother never knew. It was his first real trip there, though one might count a 24-hour layover we enjoyed a few years before. That trip I had a temperature of 102 and it rained. (It’s England. It rains.) Did I let it stop me? Not on a bet.
I didn’t let this trip stop me, either, even though I was walking around on ruptured tendons (which I learned after I returned home). I was traveling for myself and to be with Rick, certainly. But I was also traveling for my mom.
She was a constant presence in my heart as I revisited Kensington Palace. There was so much I didn’t remember from before, but I do remember that we were enchanted with the beauty and the history. This time there was an exhibit of Diana’s dresses. Mom would have loved that.
She was in my heart when Rick and I met our friends from the other London (Ontario) to see Stephen Sondheim’s new version of “Company.” Oh, Mom would have been in her glory! She loved a good musical and this one was top notch. And she would have been so happy to know that I was in London with Suzanne — one of my oldest friends and one of a very few who actually knew my mom and remembered her.
She was in my heart when the city bus we were on stopped outside of Westminster Abbey and let us all out because a demonstration up ahead had blocked the route. (We looked and never did find the demonstration.) But I remember going to Westminster with her on a Sunday morning and being in awe of this magnificent structure.
She was in my heart when I rode the escalators from one level to another in the underground, remembering how nervous we were the first time we got on one and realized how steep they really were.
She was in my heart when Rick and I went to Harrod’s and looked at the magnificent food hall. And again when we were in Fortnum and Mason where she and I shared a delectable lunch with one of her old friends.
She was in my heart when I would see brass rubbings hanging in galleries, shops and churches as I remembered our going to a small country church and making our own.
She was in my heart as I visited the church where my great grandmother, whom I never met, was christened and where her parents, my second great-grandparents, married.
Mom never even knew their names — that was one of my genealogy discoveries. She would have been thrilled to be at my side while Rick and I tracked down information on them in the Westminster archives.
She was in my heart at the National Gallery when we saw Leonardo’s “cartoon” of The Madonna and Saint Anne,” which we had seen together so many years before. I still think it’s my favorite of all his works.
And she was in my heart when Rick and I did things I hadn’t done with my mom, too, as we made our own memories and had experiences she would have loved.
With Rick I carved out new places for my memory bank as we explored the British Library and the Churchill War Rooms; sat under a very old oak tree and ate the sandwich we bought at a deli on the way to Hyde Park; heard magnificent music and spent time with new friends, enjoying the hospitality of a blogger as warm and wonderful in person as on screen. I will remember Rick’s patience and goodness as he pushed me on a wheelchair through museums when I could no longer walk.
We visited cities that Mom and I didn’t have time to see and we made in those places our own memories of things we’d love to see again — Blackwell’s bookstore in Oxford; Evensong at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor; the countryside near Bath where we stayed in a charming cottage and enjoyed tea after a morning walk in a pub while we waited out the rain.
But even then, I knew. Mom would have loved it. Because in a way, she was there. An invisible companion, lodged forever in my heart, watching me create new memories for another day.
About the Author: Jeanie Croope
After a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.