Friday, July 31, 2009

Duke and Duchess


Watching a movie this evening about English aristocracy, Hilary and I were reminded of our holiday trip to England and Scotland the year before our daughter was born.

A dream come true to avid students of English literature, art, history and Scottish culture. Lovers of the current monarchy. Lovers of theatre, old architecture, darts, shepherd's pie. Seashores, cathedrals, heather covered hills. The list goes on.

But almost in the same breath this evening, the two of us blurted out "Blenheim Palace". This is the home of the Dukes of Marlborough (pronounced "Mollbra"), the family of Sir Winston Churchill.

The night before we had lodged in Oxford, drizzling wet, gray ancient buildings. Too tired and late to sight-see. But we had a delightful conversation in a common room with a foreign exchange student, a girl form the east, who simply needed some companionship and a few smiles as she adjusted to the big English centre of learning.
Our little stints at UWO in London, Ontario seemed small by comparison.

Back at our room we were delighted to see that BBC One featured a nature documentary on the Scottish Highlands and a dramatic presentation on the Battle of Britain entitled "Churchill and the Generals". We were being primed for what lay ahead.

To our pleasant surprise we were up early the next morning. The sun was shining. After a hearty British breakfast of fruit, bacon, eggs, kippers and "stiff" toast we were down the road to the palace, arriving long before visitors' hours. Parking the car we decided to wander the beautiful landscaped grounds in the forefront, complete with man-made lake, swooping stone bridge, wood lot, sculptured shrubs and lush lakeside pathways. Suddenly we noticed two on horseback coming from the far end of the lake toward us as we stood on the bridge.

They appeared to be in their young forties, handsome, dressed smartly in riding attire. They gave us warm smiles and a ready "good mowning". The unspoken comment was that it was pleasant to meet in this uncommon, private, quiet part of the day.
I can still visualize my wife, back towards me, hands in her trench-coat pockets, watching the two riders progress up the cinder roadway toward the impressive columned palace.

Then it dawned on us! Who would have liberty to ride these beautiful grounds during the off-hours? The Duke and Duchess. Once inside the palace we saw the portraits confirming our supposition.

Now the ironic part is that in former years Hilary's family had nick-named her "the Duchess" and my high school basketball chums had nicknamed me "Duke".

There you have it! The Duke and Duchess drop in on the Duke and Duchess.

You may not be getting anything out of this. No matter. It is for us. Thanksgiving is both a delight and a tonic. We remember that beautiful time. Four days after our fifth anniversary, which was September 21st, Battle of Britain Day, 1979.

Shortly thereafter, ten months to be precise, little Lauren arrived.

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