We owe a lot to Toni Lloyd’s persistence. From the start of our lawsonsontheloose adventure good friend Toni and her husband Joe (former teachers in the Mesa school system and members of Central Christian Church) reminded us their oldest son Chuck lives in Oxford. If we should be anywhere near there, she instructed us, we must look him up.
So we did. We couldn’t get there in our first year (Round One of our Next Phase–But Not Our Last Phase) but this week we did. And are we glad! Chuck picked us up at the Oxford train station and drove us to his home to meet the family who were there: his wife Joy, her father Joe Martin, their daughter Jean and her husband Jacob and their son Asher—and their ducks and dog “Happy” and their garden.
It was an inspiration to see these four generations living together. This is family life as practiced throughout most of human history. Modern Western families have become so fragmented and separated and isolated we’ve lost sight of the benefits of living together: mutual support, inter-generational education, security in times of trial, and the daily lessons in the art and science of practicing the forgiveness, grace, and encouragement we all need. This family is doing it right.
Chuck was a teenager when he, his parents and brothers became part of Central Christian Church. They brought with them a rich Methodist heritage and an openness to continue exploring the meaning of Christian faith. Here in England we saw that faith being lived out in Chuck’s administrative work in public education (where this jazz musician now, like his father before him, teaches and oversees music teachers), in the family’s participation in their church, and in father-in-law Joe’s tutoring of budding pastors, teachers and theologians from the inviting comfort of his enormous personal library. These people take their Christian walk seriously.
Our visit was too brief, though capped by an excellent lunch in a pub nestled near Port Meadow. The pub, by the way, once hosted President Bill Clinton. We keep the best company!
As I said, we owe Toni a big thank-you.
Then Chuck and Joy drove us to our other stop in Oxford, the Fleggs at 71 Abbey Street, who live less than a 10-minute walk from the train station and the edge of Oxford University. We spent the rest of the day with Robert and Chris, who is our son-in-law Michael’s older sister. Yes, more Aussies, more ex-pats! For the last nine years Chris has been the head librarian in Oxford’s Said College of Business.
You can see her building from the train station. And in that train station is an M&S (Marx and Spencer) store, where Robert is one of the managers.
We eagerly anticipated this visit, also. We’ve only been with the Fleggs on three other occasions. The first was in their home on our initial visit to Australia after Candy and Michael married, when they hosted their huge extended family for Easter dinner. It was a warm, wonderful, even hilarious and certainly unforgettable experience. We felt we’d stepped into the movie set for “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Only Armenian.
Then Chris and Robert joined the Ohanessians and Lawsons on our Christmas holiday in Fez, Morocco a couple of years ago. The highlight of that trip was our Sahara Desert safari to a Bedouin camp. Joy and I had ridden camels before, but Chris hadn’t. Let’s just say we admired her courage. She was scared, her camel was unpredictable, her comfort was nonexistent, but she toughed it out and we’ve been laughing together about it ever since.
Our third visit was when they came from Oxford for a restaurant dinner together in London the last time we were in town.
This time they took us for a walk along the river to Port Meadow. We were amazed to learn that what we thought was a canal behind their garden was actually the Thames, small, channeled, looking not at all like the mighty river that flows past Michael and Candy’s apartment in London. But then, almost all rivers start with a trickle, don’t they?
We talked, we reminisced, we discussed politics and religion and didn’t fight, we enjoyed the company of their nearby neighbor (Karen Taylor—a delightful person and conversationalist), we ate heartily (when Chris cooks, you eat very well), and we gave thanks that Candy married into this delightful family.
The other big treat this week was a visit from the Telford family: Stuart, Dana, Jack (8) and Millie (6). They are on a holiday break from their administrative duties as educators in the Abu Dhabi emirate of the United Arab Emirates, where they have lived for the past four years.
Dana was a lead singer in Central Christian Church’s contemporary services. That’s when I fell in love with her (she has an extraordinary contralto voice). I wasn’t alone. When this Englishman Stuart came into her life he swept her off her feet and eventually out of her country. I think it’s because he is tall and speaks with an English accent, a decided edge over any would-be American suitors.
Stuart and Dana love their jobs in Al-Ain, which has enabled them to gain a broader perspective on the Middle East–as well as on both their homelands. Living there has been a plus for their children as well; they are fluent in more than one language. (As mono-lingual Americans abroad Joy and I often feel handicapped and not exactly smart as we try to communicate in something other than English! Jack and Millie can already move around internationally more easily than we can.) What we noticed most about the Telfords’ lifestyle, though, was their ability to devote generous time to their family. Many of our American friends would envy them.
The Telfords are now in Hastings, England during their summer break, with Stuart’s family. They stole away for a couple of days in London with us.
I should mention something else about these special friends. I got to marry them. Well, it was a joint effort. Their friend and our Velcro son Brian and I “tied the knot,” as we used to say in the marrying business, and we tied the knot tight. This marriage works.
We were not only glad to see Stuart and Dana but doubly glad they brought Jack and Millie along. And now, wouldn’t you know, we have to add Abu Dhabi to our never-shrinking bucket list.