Battle of Britain Day, 2019

Today, September 15, is Battle of Britain Day, marking the date in 1940 when the German Luftwaffe launched an enormous attack on London and South East England, but the Royal Air Force pushed back victorious and turned the tides in the larger “Battle of Britain”- a nearly 4 month long campaign.

I know this, not because I am a WWII fanatic.  I know this because it streamed across my computer this morning.  The universe handed me this nugget not so much as a random byte of information, it seems to me, but as a beautiful gesture of syncronicity, an acknowledgment of battles we face.

My parents grew up during WWII.  They took form, in character and outlook, from the struggles and victories of that era.  If their lives have a soundtrack, it is generously sprinkled with Big Band music,  Ella Fitzgerald, and the tappity-tap-tap of my mother tap dancing her way through a recording of “The Boogie Woogie Buggle Boy from Company B.”  It may not be my generation’s music, but I do find that my heart swells when I hear it because it so pulses through the veins of my parents in their youthful moments.

It will come as no surprise that my dad has always been a student of WWII era aircraft.  He indulged that love of Spitfires and Corsairs, poured over books about them and history magazines that featured WWII battles, and built model airplanes with my brother when we were young.

I observed this and, although I never shared the obsession or built the model airplanes, I loved his love of the history and of the forms of flight and defenders of freedom that these metal birds represented.  Because I love my dad.

There was one way in which my dad and I shared his love of WWII history and aircraft, and I suspect he doesn’t know this.  In fact, I never thought about it until this week– it’s one of those memories of childhood that doesn’t get fully processed until some time later in life. It’s like a shiny pebble you pick up and put in your treasure box as a child, just because it delights you.  Years later, you open the box to have a nostalgic look at those simple prizes of childhood, only to realize that you have pocketed a gold nugget.

This is one of those nuggets:

The church system was older than this, but this gives you an idea of what it looked like.

In the 1970’s, my dad would often man the P.A. (public address) system at our church on Sunday mornings.  The control board was a large metal tower of dials and toggle switches that had to be monitored for volume and switched at the right moment, to turn on and off microphones that were placed around the sanctuary. Was someone reading a lesson from the lecturn? Was the minister stepping up to the pulpit to deliver a long and learned sermon?  Wherever the action was, there the microphone should be turned on.  Wherever the action wasn’t, it should be shut off to avoid buzz and background noise.

The fellow in the pulpit may have the figurative spotlight for a speech, but if the PA system wasn’t properly aligned, the whole morning fizzled.

Manning the PA system was important, but it wasn’t exciting.  You sat in a small room behind the sanctuary, armed with a church bulletin and notes on where each “act” of the service would take place.  You stared at a large metal tower set into a recess of the wall, and you navigated the service while you listened in on the giant aviator-style headphones that were provided. 

Yes indeed, you navigated the service in your aviator headphones.  So it seemed to me.  You see, my dad would occasionally let me join him when he manned the PA system.  From his perspective, it was probably just a chance to spend a little more time with his children.  Or maybe he knew my fascination with aviator headphones.  Either way, on the rare occassion, I was his co-pilot in this cockpit.

When I was lucky enough to join my dad, it was a big deal to me. I liked the headphones, and I marveled at the dials and switches, while sitting on a metal chair with my feet dangling above the ground.  If I fidgeted and squirmed, it was only between moments of staring, enrapt, at the towering cockpit and keeping an eye on my dad’s deft piloting of the apparatus.

I wasn’t old enough to see it then– I loved the experience, but wasn’t self-aware enough to know why.  Today, it is crystal clear to me.  In these moments, I was flying a Spitfire over the skies of London.  I was piloting a Corsair over the English Channel.  I was a green co-pilot to my dad’s flying ace, and I loved every moment.  Sure, we got off easy: when Dr. Joe Mullin stepped to the pulpit for a long sermon, we’d flip on his mic, then leave our post and scramble down to the kitchen for donuts.  But we’d always be back in place before Joe finished, and we’d fly that service back into a safe and smooth landing before shutting down the cockpit and hanging up our headphones for the day.

We were a great aviatorial team, my dad and me.  The best.

So today we honor those brave souls who fought The Battle of Britain, and my dad is still the best pilot any co-pilot could have.  He’s fighting his own battle with cancer now.  It’s very difficult and grueling.  Some days, it’s just a wing and a prayer.  But no matter that– today is a day to lift up the brave, and, although my dad was just a school boy at the time, he’s my favorite WWII hero.

I love you, Dad!



Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to my brilliant mom!  And to my mother in law, my sister and sisters-in-law, and to all the moms out there!  (I know we are well past British Mothering Sunday, but this weekend is the American holiday.  Feel free, all you Brits, to have an extra celebration on us!)

Two glamorous girls– my mom and me– on a beach in South Carolina,  where so many of my fist travels took place.  Circa 1969.

Had We But World Enough, And Time

Our power must have gone off yesterday.  The two electric clocks we have in the house were inexplicably set to zero in the afternoon.  And that got me to thinking about time.  Well, that and the shock that June is almost upon us (where did April and May go?).  And the real live cuckoo bird who is nesting somewhere in the neighborhood and sounding for all of the world like my clock, but “going off” at random times.  And the son who appears to grow by inches on any given night.  And the beloved dog and best friend who passed away last week.

Time engulfs us and confounds us. We decorate our towers and homes with it, wear it on our wrists, celebrate its high holy days, and mourn its passing.  Time heals all wounds, but steals all souls.  And if we respect it and appreciate all the fine gifts the years bring us, we still fear it.  We don’t understand it at all.

So, today, I offer a few photos and let time speak for itself.

Giant Cuckoo Clock on the Rhine River in Germany--looking out on new shops and very old castles.
Giant Cuckoo Clock on the Rhine River in Germany–looking out on new shops and very old castles.


Victoria Clock Tower, which stood by our house in Ripon, England
Victoria Clock Tower, which stood by our house in Ripon, England. On a personal level, a very special reminder of 4 great years in our lives.



The fabulous Corpus Clock in Cambridge, England--revealing less of itself in the gleaming sun and more of a reflection of King's College.
The fabulous Corpus Clock in Cambridge, England–revealing less of itself in the gleaming sun and more of a reflection of King’s College…because, after all, time is a canvas for the things of life.



Sienna, Italy
Siena, Italy–Town Hall and Clock Tower standing tall over the historic piazza.


South Gate Clock, Chester, England
South Gate Clock, Chester, England– is it a coincidence that clocks so often mark thresholds like this?


An 1820 Longcase clock from Leyburn, England stands sentry at our door.
An 1820 Longcase clock from Leyburn, England stands sentry at our door.
The Best Friend we loved and lost
The Best Friend we loved and lost. At 15 years old, she had lived a long dog life . . . but not nearly long enough for those who loved her.


The past came alive at a history fair at Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire
The past came alive at a history fair at Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire. And why is it that little boys always want to grow up to be soldiers?


Having fun with the past at Tweetsie Railroad in NC many years ago.
Having fun with the past at Tweetsie Railroad in NC many years ago.


And so, time marches on. . .

They are young one day, and all grown up the next.
They are young one day, and all grown up the next.

*”Had we but world enough, and time” is the first line of Andrew Marvel’s poem “To His Coy Mistress”