It’s 3:53 in the morning and it’s already growing light in Yorkshire. I think I hear the milkman. Is it possible the milkman comes round at 4:00 am? A clinking of bottles outside, anyway, and I keep changing the title of this blog post – updating and revising and all of it, trying to entice the wifi to stay with me until I get it right, and the words will never be the exact right words I want to say but never mind. I’ll give it a go.
A Humpty-Dumpty Story
Tony & Sally
Third Day in the UK or maybe 4th or 5th?
At any rate it’s flying by, and the wifi whispers, “Maybe I’ll let you load this picture or maybe not,” because I’d meant to be posting at least every other day. In a few hours we’ll be on the moors, and I’ve got rip-roaring insomnia. But honestly, I don’t even think it’s jet-lag anymore. I think it’s too many glorious cups of bog tea and the excitement of being in Yorkshire.
But I suppose I’ve settled on ‘Home in Yorkshire’ because that’s what it feels like here. I feel like I’m home. When I brought Norah here two years ago, Tony, my friend from Manchester University Drama Department days, said, “Keep July 2, 2016 on your calendar as that’s when Sally and I are celebrating our 30th.”
It seemed impossibly far away. It was 2014, and I was racing after Norah on the moors after she’d disappeared chasing one view after another exhilarated to be running about after days of jet-lag and traveling, and suddenly she was cut loose to explore the same path the Bronte sisters tread. Some of Bronte sisters’ spirits must have slipped into Norah that day because she became five-years-old again on our picnic on the moors, and she was gone, not answering as I called her name into the gales of wind, and soon I disappeared, too, looking for her, and Tony said he thought to himself at our picnic suddenly alone, “Hmmm, what shall I tell Kiffen?”
But I kept July 2, 2016 in my head and now here it’s already passed and what a celebration it was, but I’m still in Yorkshire with Kiffen, which seems impossible, but he is next to me reading “The Bastard of Istanbul,” (or was when I began this blog) and the author of, Elif Shafak, is a friend of Kiffen’s sister, Eppie, who lives in London and we’ll be meeting her next week, and there is so much in my head I hardly know where to begin.
Now I’m watching the sky over Shipley grow light, and I am remembering when Tony and Sally fell in love. It’s silly to say that, I know, but I do remember it. Tony had taken me to Howarth to see the Bronte Parsonage over spring break in 1983 when I was on a grand tour of the British Isles during my exchange year. I’d visited Mary and Michele near London, Fiona in the Midlands, Tony in Yorkshire, and Mike in New Castle, but while I was in Yorkshire, Sally met us for a day at the parsonage, and I remember watching Tony and Sally talking, their heads together, laughing, and it was so lovely. I took a picture of them by a gate with the sun shining on them, and it hit me – they love each other. We’d all been in the drama department but Sally was studying medicine, so I didn’t know her as well, but then I could see them clearly together for the first time, and I remember this feeling of warmth and kindness and love right near the Bronte Parsonage. I have some very old pictures that aren’t very clear, but I’ll try to upload them to capture a hint of the day.
Anyway, Tony and Sally married in 1986, the same year Kiffen and I got married and they came to visit us in 1988 when I was just newly pregnant with Flannery, and we took them to Milledgeville, Georgia to Flannery O’Connor’s home. On the way, we saw a shop of hubcaps on those Georgia backroads. I had my first sonogram then, and I brought it with me to Flannery O’Connor’s home. It wasn’t open to visitors then but somehow I recall slipping through a fence to get a closer look. We have a picture of us there with my mother, who later said, “I look like Kathy Bates.”
So many memories – and the days stretch out full of possibility. We’ve already walked through Shipley along the canals (Saltaire) and gone see the Salt Mills again near where David Hockney grew up and returns here to paint and again. I’ve read about Titus Salt and seen Hockney’s new springtime paintings.
And on July 2nd Tony and Sally threw a celebration of their thirty years together, and Tony and Sally’s daughters, Emily and Harriet, were there, of course, and the four of them all came to Los Angeles years ago and hung out with Flannery, Lucy, and Norah when they were all just kids, and Norah was tiny. The girls remember Norah chewing on spare ribs, bathed in barbecue sauce and being supremely happy about it.
Tony and Sally’s party began at four in the afternoon in the old Victoria Hall filled with Prosecco and golden sunshine and friends from all over, followed by dinner and speeches and dancing, and you would think when a party begins at 4:00 and lasts until 11:30 pm, it’s going to be long and you might want to slip out, but it flew – it flew by in a heartbeat from Frank Sinatra to Mustang Sally. Each table was the title of a book from Jane Eyre to Pride and Prejudice to To Kill a Mockingbird to The Once and Future King to Nicholas Nickelby Breathing Lessonsto The Complete Works of Shakespeare.
Tony and Sally are the kind of people you feel so lucky to be around – they have great hearts and hilarious stories and they’ve raised beautiful daughters, and they know the importance of taking time in life to stop and celebrate and make every single person feel special and welcomed. And they listen to every single word. So I’m home in Yorkshire and grateful that Tony and Sally fell in love such a long time ago on an ordinary day in the Yorkshire springtime.
And Norah is with my sister, Keely, for most of July in New York being a big sister to my sister’s boys Casey and Kolya (she landed safely – hooray!) and Lucy has moved into her new home in Chicago with Trent, and they have a sun room to make art, and Flannery posted a picture of himself teaching piano lessons in Topanga Canyon.
So we’re spread hither and yon, but somehow we’re all still in the world, which seems miraculous.
And one story over this weekend came from this hilarious thirteen-year-old kid, Alex, who looks just like “Anne of Green Gables.” She began talking about “Humpty Dumpty,” and she said, “I never knew Humpty-Dumpty was an egg. I thought he was just a round man, and I thought they’d made a mistake and got it all wrong – when Humpty Dumpty had a great fall, they called the soldiers instead of doctors, didn’t they? And soldiers don’t know how to put people back together again, do they? So I thought it was a warning that they should have called doctors and not soldiers to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”
I keep thinking that the next time I see Alex again she’ll probably be grown up and I wish I could bottle that thirteen-year-old irrepressible joy and curiosity or go back to Norah slathered in rib sauce or turn back time and bring Flannery and Lucy to the moors when they were thirteen, which is something I wish I’d done.
Well, that’s enough for now. It’s the 4th of July in England, and the sky is bright lavender and I can sleep when I get back to the States. And tomorrow, the 5th of July, is Ireland. Oh to hang onto the days.
Fingers crossed this posts without too many mistakes. For now I’ll sign off. On our way to the moors, we might even visit the town where “Happy Valley” is shot by extraordinary Sally Wainwright who is also making a Bronte series which airs around Christmastime.
Milledgeville, Georgia. 1988. Andalusia. Flannery O’Connor’s home.
Mom as Kathy Bates with Sally.
Tony and Sally in Atlanta.
On the moors
Entrance to the Parsonage
More Moors 🙂
Sally and Tony on errands 🙂
Norah kissing Emily 🙂
Happy 4th of July – look what we woke up today 🙂
And just for fun…a little of my Bronte-influenced novel, HOP THE POND. She used to be Shelly but she’s renamed herself George after Boy George and George Eliot upon arriving in England to leave her boring old self behind.
Hop the Pond
(somewhere in the beginning)
George, an American exchange student, paused at the red post box near Manchester flat in Rushholme to read over the three postcards from the Bronte Parsonage that she’d written to Granny Maime all the way over in Maryville, Tennessee. She needed to hurry because she also had fliers to hang up to advertise for her room to let. The postcards were now a few weeks old but she’d only gotten around to buying stamps. She had one for her brother, Billy too, since she’d had a letter from Granny Maime saying Billy was in trouble again, and was causing nothing but great gales of grief and heartache to everyone in his warpath.
She read Granny Maime’s first:
Part One: Dear Granny Maime,
Here is a picture of Charlotte. She was very near-sighted. I’m really and truly here at the parsonage. Can you believe it? Fun fact: Patrick Bronte, the father, fired a gun out the window each morning to greet the day. Some casings are still in the clock tower across the way. I saw the couch where Emily died, and the table where the sisters wrote their stories. This picture of the three sisters is by Branwell, the wild brother, but he painted himself out of it. I don’t know why. See part two.
Part Two: Dear Granny Maime,
And here is Emily Bronte. The Bronte sisters chose masculine pen names just like me, so maybe you will get used to calling me George one day – Currer Bell was Charlotte’s, Ellis Bell was Emily’s, and Acton Bell was Anne’s. Fun fact: One critic said this about Wuthering Heights: “Brilliant if written by a man but scandalous if written by a woman?” Branwell spent many days and nights in the Black Bull pub. Sound familiar? See part three.
Part Three: Dear Granny Maime,
This is the baby, Anne Bronte. Is it terrible to say I want to do something both brilliant and scandalous one day like the Brontes, like George Eliot, and of course, Boy George too. But how can I possibly live in East Tennessee and be scandalous? Fun fact: I saw a brilliant graveyard with slabs of stone and marble headstone filled with magnificent crows. Quite gothic. Anyway, I’m out of room. More soon.
Love and kisses,
P.S. I’m sorry about Billy. What a bother/abomination – take your pick. It’s so annoying that he can’t seem to learn his lesson. I love you!
George glanced at her postcard to Billy, which was a map of Angria, drawn by Emily Bronte of the imaginary world she and her siblings created and played in on the moors. Hadn’t George and Billy played wild games in the Smoky Mountains, chasing rabbits and deer in Cades Cove and pretending to live in the little frontier houses on sorghum-making day. Her mother had been begging her to write to him for months. He’s your only brother, blah, blah, blah!The truth was she was still just so mad at him. He’d almost wrecked her trip to England by getting a DUI the night before she was supposed to fly out. Drama seemed to follow him everywhere, and he blamed everyone but himself. It was embarrassing to have such a reckless/feckless brother. He didn’t use to be like that. He was game for adventures and dress up and chasing rabbits and playing the Brontes. Would he even remember when she made him play Heathcliff and sword fight with her?
“Give him enough rope and he will hang himself.”
P.S. Remember her? Do you remember anything we used to do? We used to play like we were the Brontes, remember? You were Heathcliff and Helen Burns (Sorry about that.) I’ve decided to communicate with you through literature, since I don’t know how to talk to you anymore. England is beautiful. The world is a bigger place than Maryville, Tennessee, Billy. Please don’t drive Momma crazy. Please no more DUI’s. What are you thinking? And I am NOT coming home to take care of your messes. Okay?
She sighed and felt better after dropping all four postcards in a red letterbox. She sounded like a bitch to Billy but whatever. Maybe he would heed her words and become his old self again. Never mind. With fliers to hang, George strolled past a butcher-shop advertising, “wood pigeons, lamb knuckles, loin pork, and dried venison.” An Off-License boasted several different lagers on special. A student walked by wearing a poster board that said, “JOIN THE ‘NO BLOOD SPORTS’ AT THE UNIVERSITY.” What were blood sports? George noticed a rifle on the poster. Oh, hunting, of course.
If the British “Blood Sports” crowd could have seen her family basement with the mounted doe and buck heads, antlers and hooves circling their faces and glassy brown eyes, they would have been horrified. There was even a frozen duck, feathers and all, still in the freezer from a dead cousin’s last hunt. No one wanted to pitch it out for sentimental reasons. Thank goodness she had left all that behind. She whispered a prayer of thanks to the wisps of smoke coming out chimneys – a thank you to all her good fortune to actually be in England and to have the possibility of money coming into her Barclay’s account, an unopened packet of Digestive biccies in her satchel. She reached into her handbag and hung on a bulletin board full of advertisements.
URGENT SUBLET AVAILABLE – MOVE IN NOW!
Student Flat to Let at Owens Park, Please ring George at Drama Dept.
FULL DISCLOSURE: THE AMERICAN FLOOR
She went around campus hanging up fliers, ignoring her mum’s decree of “Stay with the Americans” in her head. Camilla and Mary Colleen were right. If she cashed in her dorm and meal plan, she would have more than enough to pay for a single room in a flat with British Drama students with money left over. She would still need to find a job under the table in the winter term, but this was a step toward taking control of her own life.
Smoke burned in her nostrils as it turned early evening. She noticed children were out pushing around prams of stuffed dummies yelling “Penny for the Guy.” It was Guy Fawkes night – a night that celebrated a bloke who tried to blow up Parliament back when Edward the Second didn’t reinstate Catholicism, and Church of England sprogs, not the Catholic kiddies, torched his dummy every fifth of November for a lark. As it grew darker, the streets filled up with more children traveling in packs, faces flushed with cold yelling, “Penny for the Guy!” All over the city, kids burned miniature Guy Fawkes dolls in their back gardens, lighting firecrackers. She smiled at every single face, fossiled and cherubic alike under the street lamps on her first Guy Fawkes’ night in England, and she saw a little boy who looked exactly Billy at age five, which pierced her heart a little. She knew that Charlotte, Emily, and Anne had tried everything to keep Branwell on the straight and narrow too. But never mind.