It’s no exaggeration to say that a friendship provided part of the impetus for us to finally bite the bullet and take a family trip to Scotland and England last year. Doug and I had last seen Simon and Rachael at their wedding in 1997 and every year it seemed like we both lamented and marveled that another year had passed. They had children that we never met, and we had children that they never met. And suddenly these children were no longer babies or even toddlers–they were becoming teenagers without us having met them!
We always hoped that they’d make it to this side of the Pond–that the draw of New York City would mean we’d see them, since we’re only an hour south. Though we had spent many years mailing Christmas cards back and forth, we rarely talked on the phone (truthfully, I still shudder inside when I think of the horrible connections we used to get when calling overseas–the continual buzz on the line, the echoes, and the feeling that you were talking over one another). Facebook kept us closer in the last several years, and allowed us to see the kids and the pets, and each other. It was better than nothing, but we still hoped to see everybody in person one day.
And there they were, opening their front door, greeting us in person after all the years.
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t remember exactly how the trip idea began, but I do know that the prospect of seeing Simon and Rachael and their kids is why we didn’t keep the trip just in Scotland. Then, of course, once we planned to venture into England, we just had to add in London and Bristol and potential other destinations.
Simon and I were friends first, not Rachael and me, not Simon and Doug. We’d met during my Junior Year Abroad in ’91. Spending my year in England was something I’d been wishing and planning for long before I was in college and I was blessed in many ways to be able to go. I’m not sure how I picked Bristol–I think I liked its location so close to Bath and Wales and not overly far from London via train. How my life would have been different if I’d gone anywhere else. Bristol is my heart city: My memories of my time spent there will forever make me smile wistfully. It’s a city of hidden treasures–tourists won’t usually see them, but residents know where to find them. But you know what? I can talk about that later, since we visited Bristol with the kids (and Simon & Rachael) and it will be the end of my blogging on our trip.
So, I believe Simon and I met walking across Clifton Downs one day not long after university had begun. He was in his junior year and, though I was also a junior back in the States, my transfer classes were first-year classes and not third-year ones. We both lived in Wills Hall and we struck up a friendship based largely on proximity at first, but I have no doubt we recognized a sarcastic kindred spirit in one another. He did have an annoying habit of trying to mimic my American accent that came out more like John Wayne after a mild stroke. Believe me, he wasn’t the only one who tried on their American accent for me. Or, better yet, tried to “teach” me the proper way to pronounce words.
Simon was a blast to hang out with. He’s not just funny, he’s also pretty darn smart, so conversations were usually fun AND enlightening, although I can’t swear there weren’t times I just wanted to slap him. Then there were the lunches when I’d let him talk me into a pint (yes, all his fault). I never could drink in the middle of the day, and those lunches were usually the precursor to a nap. I pulled all “A’s” for the year from Rutgers, so the liquid lunches obviously weren’t a huge impediment. I don’t remember all of the trouble he got me into <ahem> but I do remember we had a lot of conversations, many of them about the future.
He did have an annoying habit of trying to mimic my American accent that came out more like John Wayne after a mild stroke.
My junior year abroad eventually ended, but I returned to England a time or two and visited with Simon and other friends. When Doug and I were set to get married in ’95, we invited Simon over and were thrilled when he said he could make it. I had no doubt that he and Doug would hit it off–what I didn’t expect was how well and how quickly they would do so. Back then I was commuting to my publishing job in New York City and Doug was still a student. I’ll never forget coming home from work and finding out that the two of them had gone through a whole bottle of Port in the middle of the damned day. More kindred spirits.
Needless to say, Simon was a hit at the wedding too. You know how Americans love British accents! I think all of our single girl friends fell in love with him just a little, and quite possibly the married ones too. But Simon had just started dating a girl named Rachael back in England and was lamenting the fact that she might find someone else while he was with us. Luckily for everybody involved, that didn’t happen. We saw him next at their wedding, where we met her for the first time. A whirlwind friendship for us; a perfect match-up for them. ❤
So fast-forward to the summer of 2014. We’ve left Augill Castle with the anticipation of finally seeing our friends after far, far too long. The M6 Motorway wasn’t kind to us as we drove towards Worcester. I got more and more stressed, as the time we had to spend with our friends shrunk with each traffic delay. FINALLY, we got to our hotel, checked in, and phoned them to say we were on our way. And there they were, opening their front door, greeting us in person after all the years. They met our kids; we met theirs. We sat down to a delicious home-cooked meal. And we talked and talked and continued to talk long after the table had been cleared. The kids (and dog) played chess, and we still talked. It was like we’d seen them only the day before. Thankfully, it wasn’t our only time with them, so goodbyes that night were more like hellos. We didn’t have to miss them yet.
Friendships that stand the vagaries of time and place, of changes and silences, intact and strong, are special beyond definition.
Simon & Rachael: Let’s make sure that another 17 years don’t go by until we do it again.