Last years in the District

One of the memorable events was in 1990 when The Queen came to Newcastle to distribute the Maundy Money. All the Church Leaders took part in the procession before and after, and their spouses were invited guests. I was very pleased to be sat behind one of the rows of elderly folk who were to receive the bags of coins. When Her Majesty came along I was able to see her clearly and admire her lovely complexion. It was a very enjoyable occasion.

One of the District Churches was a few miles over the border in Scotland, Eyemouth. It was a small fishing town in those days. In 1989 the September Synod was voted to take place there and it caused quite a stir. The Scotland Chairman and his wife did the opening devotions. Somebody joked it might be the start of a total invasion and it was reported in local newspapers! It was an unusual and ‘jolly’ day. I believe Eyemouth Methodist Church is no longer there. Like many small fishing communities, I suppose their trade diminished and became unprofitable and the young would have to seek further afield for employment.

If my memory is correct, Eyemouth was connected to the Berwick Circuit. The Super there was Rev. Richard Teal for whom John had high regard. He asked Richard to become Superintendent when he was hardly past being a Probationer, and now he is Chairman of the Cumbria District. His wife, Susan, usually invited me to come when John was preaching at Berwick and we had very enjoyable times with them. I remember the Manse had a very steep staircase with narrow steps which were not very suitable for large feet!

In 1986 the Church Leaders were invited to take part in Blyth Harbour Commission Centenary. They all seemed to enjoy the occasion, and each was presented with a commemorative plate which had been made at the Tower Mint in London using traditional methods. Along with the plate was a ‘Certificate of Authenticity’ from the Mint. Until we retired it stood on John’s desk and afterwards on a bookshelf, his retirement desk only being big enough for computer, printer and lamp!

Conference was in Newcastle in 1992 and it was spoken of as being one of the best ever. It certainly seemed to have a lot of party atmosphere at times! I was one of the Catering crowd so when I wasn’t catering at home I was helping out somewhere else. The first woman President, Katharine Richardson, stayed with us. Katharine now sits in the House of Lords. The weather was very good and I’m sure all went home thinking Newcastle was a great place and Conference had been in good hands – the main ‘good hands’ being those of John Mitchell supported by a great Committee.

We had been to Kansas in an exchange a couple of years before but John’s Committee said they thought we should now have a break to recover. So we did! We had 6 weeks in Nebraska and stayed with our Alabama friends for a week afterwards and came home feeling good. I’ve written quite a bit about Alabama and Michigan but nothing about Kansas and Nebraska, not because we didn’t enjoy being there but we were left pretty much on our own to begin with. After the first week, the Kansas [1991] exchange minister phoned one of the people and told them about the great Programme John had arranged for them in Newcastle District and they got busy! We had an Open Day Coffee at the Parsonage and were taken aback to hear none had been in it until that day. We were not entertained in many homes but mostly taken out to dinner, which was very good but we would like to have met people in their homes. It all worked out fine and we got a great surprise when Betty and Dan, who were on an extensive Mobile Home trip from Alabama detoured to come and see us. It was a real highlight!

Nebraska was 1993, we had hoped for another eastern Exchange but were too late in applying. It is incredibly flat and full of farms. We were tickled when one couple took us to see the Irish Hills. There were two wee bumps and hardly noticeable. I guess they didn’t travel much. We weren’t looking for excitement on that exchange, a good rest was better! Fortunately we were feeling good when we got to Alabama as Betty had ‘Open Day’ each day unless something else was planned. It was a very happy visit and we were all shedding buckets when a crowd took us to the airport knowing it was unlikely we would meet again. The friendship continued until Betty and Dan died.

There were many other District events which I’m going to bypass. The fourteen years were full of interest, many people stayed with us and many spent days or evenings with us. We were welcomed in many homes in the District and friendships survived. All but one of our Pastoral Exchange friends have gone and Fay and I write to one another every Christmas time.

Although we worked hard we also had some lovely holidays, among the best being Germany in 1987 when we stayed with Joy Heffter at their guest house in Altenfeld in the Sauerland of Germany. Her parents were Consett folk who moved to lived there, Jean and Joe Pattison. John had married Joy and Hans-Jurgen in Consett. Anabel and John were with us and we had both cars so that we could do things independently. We were enfolded like members of the family. We did some outings together but John and I enjoyed walking to the small villages nearby and having coffee or lunch. The locals were friendly and much more helpful and less critical of our lack of their language than the French were! We were there for a month and had such a joyful time never to be forgotten.

1989 found us in Interlaken in Switzerland and making our way up to the top of the Jungfrau and another mountain where there was a superb restaurant and where I was bitten on the face by a nasty large fly while surveying the amazing view from the Garden. I went back down the mountain hoping John wasn’t being looked at as a wife beater, HaHa. By then I had a swelling of black and blue!

Malta in 1990 was an eye opener. In spite of the smallness it had so many large domed churches and other spectacular buildings. We did all the tours and on the first one thought we had travelled a long way until we looked at our map and saw the winding route which only covered a short distance!

Retirement was coming near and we wanted to stay in the District which, after 38 years, was home to us. We meant to find a small house or flat somewhere near the North Sea and be ‘invisible’ for a year. This was customary to allow the new Chairman to be settled into the job without his predecessor hanging around! After we came back from Nebraska something unexpected happened that raised doubts about it, but more of that next time.


Michigan – part 4

One of the very enjoyable forays around Michigan was quite unexpected. Fran and John rang one morning to say they would like to take us to Niagara, something we would never have thought of. They made all the arrangements and we heard that David Knapp, Minister of the Parish, was sharing the cost of the trip and it was a gift to us at the end of our time with them. We were quite overcome and appreciated their kindness. The Exchange folk at our end would have told them what our stipend was and that we paid our own way with no grants, whereas the US exchanging ministers were funded by the Church. Early in our stay John had a ‘financial discussion’ with the Treasurer who gave him a cheque from the Church. She went with him to the bank and had it changed for American Express Travel cheques of which we already had some. It was a surprise but John found out when we came home that it was normal procedure. It helped us with entertaining folk etc., we were grateful for it.

Larry and Blanche would arrive home on 11th August and we spent the previous day getting the house ready: washing the linen, changing beds and making the house spick and span. Next day, we lunched with the Knapps, then Larry drove us to the Parkers with our luggage. When John and Fran were ready we left about 2.30pm and crossed the border from Detroit to London, Ontario, in Canada. We had to show our passports but the Parkers just walked in!

It was a 6 hour journey which we enjoyed very much. We travelled along the lake then through farming country, but not our kind of farming. We saw no livestock but we saw more very large tomatoes than we had seen in our lifetimes! Field after field of them. We stopped at a rest area and had lunch, chicken etc, bought the night before. This was also a ‘potty stop’!

The farm produce changed as we drove along: peaches, grapes, and apples. On one side we had Lake Ontario, and on the other all these exotic colourful fruits! We stopped at Historic Queen’s Town which had a military history. A short way across the Niagara River on US side was Fort George. Around 1812 this area was the scene of much fighting. The last stretch of our journey was along North Parkway, a very beautiful landscaped road part of which was a horticultural college area. There was a bridge over to US which we crossed, so again we showed our passports and had one foot in each country! (I never could resist that sort of thing since, as a ten-year old, I had been at Greenwich Observatory with my parents and wee sister Annabel. My Dad invited us to stand with one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and the other in the Western Hemisphere. If the phrase had been invented I would have said it was real cool!)

We stayed at Niagara-on-the-Lake, a little town dating back to the 1800s. The small hotel was called The Old Bank House, and had been a private bank. It had four rooms and a two-room suite. Our rooms were lovely and looked out over the lake and the river. Ours was the pine room, and both floor and furniture were pine. We could see the lights of Toronto and New York State at night from the Lakeside. The town had been called Newark when it was Capital of ‘Upper Canada’, 1791-96, and was said to be the best preserved town in Canada. We had a walk round the shopping area which was very ‘posh’, with lots of lovely shops to look at. I looked it up in Google while writing this, and it is obviously much bigger and busier and not the quiet, homely place I remember.

Next morning we had a very ‘elegant’ breakfast! Various cereals, hot muffins and jam, fruit (blueberries etc.), tomato omelette, toast, coffee. We set out for Niagara Falls (the town) at 9.30, passing beautiful gardens. Our first sight of the Falls was breath-taking and spectacular: it was all so huge! The misty spray came right over all the gardens – no wonder everything seemed so fresh. The American Falls are impressive, but the Canadian ones are something else. We took photos from every angle, gradually working our way along to the wall at the edge of the Falls, where you could almost lean over and touch the water, and we just stood there, mesmerised or hypnotised. We felt emotional, it was so overwhelming to think we were standing close to Niagara Falls!

We had all decided not to go on the boat because of the time we would have had to wait in the queue. There was a large statue of King George VI, King of Canada. The high tower had an outside lift like a wee ladybug going up the wall! Fran and George had to almost drag us from the Falls and we reluctantly turned away. We had a walk round the shops, then back to rest at Hotel. I realised I had set the camera wrongly at 200 instead of 100 as the film I used needed, so was a bit dashed and hoped the slides weren’t all useless.

After dinner we went to Theatre in the Round to see ‘On the Rocks’ by G.B. Shaw. It was well done but long! We got back about 11.15 and had a good night’s sleep. In the morning, we had a stroll to look at the river and lake, then left for Jackson. We had a detour by accident which slowed us up. We had been meant to bypass Hamilton but drove through it! John and I quite enjoyed the chance to see a large Canadian town. We stopped downtown for lunch. We learned that John P. collected clockwork money-boxes and would stop at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit where he might see some. We had been to it a few weeks ago but it was only an hour till closing time so John and I just browsed around admiring the massive rail cars, etc. There was also the President Gerald Ford Library in Ann Arbor. It was quite interesting but when you’ve seen one Presidential Library you’ve seen them all, if you aren’t a native!

We stopped to buy steak which John P. cooked on the outside fire while I got some washing done. The two John’s ‘shucked’ green corn, I set the table and Fran took care of the rest. David and Jane Knapp came by and gave us an album she had padded and covered with fabric with an embroidered panel ‘Memories of Jackson’, which is now on the desk beside me. John P. (obstetrician) had to go to the Hospital to get records for the operations he had to do next day. So we were late to bed, but all up and breakfasting at 7am. This all happened at the end of our Michigan time, so I’m back-tracking now!

Going back a few weeks, we had had a surprise call from Marvin Rosa a U.M. minister in Traverse City, northwest from Jackson. He and his wife Annette would like us to come and spend a few days with them. They had had an exchange with someone in England who knew John. We had to ask our ‘committee’ who also seemed to think we were tourists not workers! They thought it was a good idea and began planning. Probably if we had said we’d like to visit the moon they would have got in touch with the Space Centre! Lee and Helen Zimmerman would drive us there and visit friends. We set off at 8am and arrived at the Rosas about 3pm. The scenery was lovely, so many small lakes. Lee had decided to go via Leland, the fishing town of Michigan which is on two lakes, large Michigan and tiny Lelanau, and very attractive. There was so much to see and we enjoyed finding out about the fishing which was a major industry. We passed a place called Petoskey which was famous for stones full of amoeba fossils easily found on the beach. We got some of them later and were delighted. I still have a few, having given some to my granddaughters. I hope they have kept them! We got a great welcome from Marv and Annette, and Lee and Helen went off to stay with their friends. Two of the Rosa boys were at home, Mark and Marv Jnr, both friendly and charming lads. We all went to a Farm Market to get sweetcorn for dinner and to see the Main Street and the Lake.

They took us to see the replica of the ‘Bounty’ of mutiny fame. We were amazed to hear it had been built by MGM specially for the film about the mutineers. It was a beautiful ship as the photograph shows. We felt very much at home with the family and they obviously had good feelings towards us! On the first night we were there we heard they were all going to a wedding out-of-town. It was at a place where he had been minister for some years and Marv was to officiate. We were rather taken aback but they were happy for us to be there. They went off next day leaving us with the key and their lovely house and garden to play in! The house was furnished in what would be known as Shaker style, dating from the 1800s. Shakers were a religious group who did a lot of dancing hence the name, or so we were told! Many of them were furniture makers and their style was ‘plain but elegant’. They were among the first to make rocking chairs and there was a very comfortable one in our temporary home.

Like most U.S. homes we’d been in it was ‘perfect’. It was almost like a museum, full of interesting things. The Rosas collected old things: china, clocks, dolls and glass oil lamps were the main items. Most rooms had at least one oil lamp (which reminded me of my Kilmacolm Grandparents’ house where the lamps were the only source of light.) The Rosa lamps were collector’s items and very ornamental. The dolls, every kind you could think of, were all beautifully dressed. It was a real delight to be able to handle them and wonder about their history. The old china was nicely displayed and you couldn’t miss the clocks! We had no transport but we walked down to the shops and all around the area, getting some funny looks from passing car folk. Walking wasn’t fashionable at all! There were no foot paths and some of the roads we walked had grass at each side and we were walking under fruit trees laden with fruit. We stocked up with postcards and stamps. Traverse City is the Cherry Capital of Michigan but we were either too early or too late for it, I forget which. We saw some ‘harvesting’ by people on a very high rising platform called (surprise!) a cherry-picker. We were sorry to have seen Marv, Annette and the boys for so short a time but we had a very enjoyable time nevertheless. We left before their return but kept contact for many years.


The blog will be taking a short rest now while I recover from a cataract operation. I will be back once I have my new glasses and can see clearly again.

Michigan – part 3

We had a leisurely start on Monday 7th – up at 7.15 and down town for coffee with the staff at 9am. Most folk started work about 8am until 5 or 6pm, and many who had no job volunteered. Later we met a small group of women who called themselves ‘Rockers’. They spent time at the infant ward in the hospital where there were rocking chairs in which they sat with babies whose parents were unable to be there cuddling and rocking them. We were able to see this for ourselves in a visit and thought it was a lovely idea. While we had our coffee, others were busy counting the Church offering which was $6000.That was on a holiday weekend!

John did some organising then we hit the town. We toured a couple of department stores, Fields and Jacobson’s, and the P.O. for more stamps and to post our cards. We had a super lunch in Fields Rose Room: omelette and French fries garnished with fruit. This was a crisp lettuce leaf covered with slices of melon and peach. We had that for dessert. As soon as you sat down iced water arrived followed by coffee. You could have as many cups as you liked and no extra charge. Not bad for $7.50! We then found Westwood Mall and toured J.C. Penney and became very extravagant. I got two skirts, one pair of trousers, and three pairs of cotton socks. John got two caps, plus shoes and trousers. Cotton stuff was cheaper than at home and we were pleased with all our purchases, including  We more postcards. We were home before 6 having only got lost once! We had a cold drink and some fruit, then sat down to write postcards. I had to soak my feet, they ached! We were very tired so went off to bed after Joanne Snell rang to say she’d call for us next day at 8.30 and take us a tour around the local area.


Joanne arrived on the dot on the 8th and we visited her office first to see the set-up. They raised funds for various organisations, also ran a Big Brother/Sister project and Back-up friends (adult) for children of single parent families. Next was a school for handicapped children, not fully operational at the time but there were a few children and staff about. It was very well equipped. Next was the Prison Craft Shop where you could buy cedar chests, etc., and smaller items made by obviously very talented prisoners. I bought a ‘whirligig’, beautifully carved, which hung from then on at various places inside and outside. It disappeared after our last move so I fear it must have been left in a box when we unpacked. The Prison is the largest walled one in the world and looks very menacing. Our next stop was at the Ella Sharp Park. It was a farm given to the City in 1912 and developed as a leisure centre. We didn’t have a lot of time there but saw the two lovely lakes, Vandercook and Browns, and some of the beautiful flower gardens. One path had a little notice saying, ‘Caution, chipmunks crossing here’! We had a brief look at the Space Centre. Next stop was at Spring Arbour, a Free Methodist dominated community. No liquor, no dancing, conservative theology. A small College adjoined it whose facilities were used by residents of the Care Centre we also visited. It had three grades: elderly hale and hearty; sheltered accommodation, not so fit where meals were provided; and the nursing home with full-time care. All the rooms were more like up-market hotels, warm and comfortable. They were far ahead of the UK but I think we have caught up now. We also had a walk round Meyers’ store where it was said you could buy anything. Didn’t see any anchors!

The outing ended with a tour round the ‘poor’ black and ‘poor’ white areas, quite an eye-opener after the homes we’d been in. Whatever President Reagan thought, there was poverty in the US. There were real slum houses with junk all over the place and, at both, loungers hanging around, presumably jobless. Sad. We had travelled a good distance and seen so many places we came home quite confused and very tired. We had lunched at McDonald’s so we just had a drink and slept for almost two hours. We were tuned in to daytime sleeps now! The weather was hot and wet. After we had tea we watched the News on TV – such as it was! The BBC was much better. Then we had the thrill of a tremendous thunder and lightning storm. We went down to the basement and stood at the window and watched the rain pour down, and sheet lightning and all shapes of lightning, plus the thunder. All the trees were swaying madly. It was better than the Fireworks on the 4th!

Our thoughts of that day were that every organisation we had visited had been very well run and obviously well-funded. Everything the Americans did was done well. All the people we met were dedicated to their jobs, most of which were what I thought of as ‘helping others’ jobs. If they had no paid job they were volunteers. This applied to the university kids too who were on vacation. In Alabama we had been drawn into the fold, so to speak, and made lifelong friends of whom only Faye is left now. We were welcomed in Michigan and received wonderful hospitality, but we always felt we were a ‘nine-day wonder’ sort of thing to some of the people. They were very kind and we had some wonderful trips and there are many happy memories. I still keep in touch with two couples, Fran and John Parker and Rev. George and Fran Wheat. They were a retired couple – George will be about 90 now. They came to visit us few years before John died and it was a happy time. Fran and John took us on a wonderful trip which I’ll mention next time, probably at length!

Michigan – part 2

In Michigan, 1986

When we left the Church on the 3rd we were given a present from Mrs Angela Hopkins, 82, via her daughter: cloth-covered diaries with pens to write about our experiences. We were very touched and I have mine in front of me as I write. We visited her several times. 82 seemed very old to us! John had a driving lesson from Leon Zimmerman, he and Helen and Dick and Joanne Snell were at the Parkers’ lunch. The car was a very large Buick with power brakes and steering. Not quite what John had been used to!

Next day was the 4th July, a day of celebration. In the morning I managed to work out how to use the washing machine and did a load. Then we started the diaries. We were still tired, so after a snack lunch we slept for two hours which helped us to keep going! We were invited to a barbecue and to see the firework display from a nearby park, but well away from the 10,000 people who would be gathered at the event. Bill Merrill came and brought us to his home, and we met Janet, and Erica, 18, studying maths and German at University and working as a waitress. Jane, 17, was a lifeguard at a swimming pool. Bob and Tracy Vangermeersch and their younger girl, Gretchen, plus Carole Briggs and Sara, 18. Carole also had four sons and her husband was away at a church work-camp in Tennessee. Janet was a librarian, Tracy worked on a Social Project and Carole at the Vista Grande Retirement Hospital.

The barbecue was marvellous with all sorts of salads and fruit and steak, angel cake and ice cream. It was a lovely evening, and when the sun went down we strolled to the park with folding chairs and enjoyed the fireworks. It was warm and pleasant. They asked how we celebrated the 4th and I told them we didn’t – it was a day of mourning in Britain! I meant it as a (not very funny!) joke but they believed it at first till I said we didn’t have it on our calendar at all. While we were driving, we saw a City Police car chasing another car and booking the driver for speeding; also the County Sheriff and a couple of his Deputies on horseback. Just like in the movies! Private firework displays were not allowed so the Sheriff would be on the lookout. Children can have sparklers.

Bob took us home and we fell into bed after a drink and knew nothing till 7.30 on the 5th, which was Saturday, and we had the whole day to ourselves. After a leisurely start, we set off downtown for some groceries and stationery. We had already written to Anabel and Elspeth, but quite a few other family and friends would be expecting to hear from us. This was in the days before iPads and emails, of course. The car was very comfortable and quiet, though I hung on to the seat the first few times John braked! John did his sermon preparation and I did the chores. We sat out in the yard in the shade for a couple of hours, although acre would describe it better. It was very hot, we had to put the air conditioning on for a while, as surprisingly there were no ceiling fans. It was a relief not to have to go out, we seemed to have been on the go with no respite since Tuesday! We had an early start next morning so went off to bed quite early and slept well.

John getting ready to preach

We were getting used to getting up at 6.30 and were ‘led’ to the Church by Leo Zimmerman. The 8.30 service had fewer than 100 people and the 10am (not 11 as we had wrongly picked up) about 250. We thought that was very good for a big holiday weekend, as so many would be out of town. (We have always been amazed at the distances US folk travelled every year for their family reunions.) There were so many people taking part, 3 ministers, the ‘music man’, two small boys in white gowns and two very talented violinists, sisters in their late teens, and the organist of course. Everyone had a printed order of service so no announcements were needed. The sermon was well received. John had said he would like to meet the congregation as they left. Apparently as soon as the Benediction was said everyone got up and got out! However, there was a ‘reception line’ after both services and John and I were able to say hello and shake hands. Our official welcome followed and it was very enjoyable. Most of the congregation stayed, we had coffee and cookies (biscuits), and enjoyed it all. John was pleased with our first Sunday with them but found it a bit odd to preach the same sermon twice in a morning! We drove home and changed into casual clothes and had a light lunch. John went off to a funeral home with Dave Knapp to see a family who had been bereaved. They came back later and we had lemonade and chat. We were interested to hear that David and his wife Jane kept back some of their tax liability and gave it to UNICEF, the Peace Corps. They expected the Revenue to fall on them one day when their debt was large enough. We had a phone call from Betty in Alabama at that point so Dave went off. We did wonder after we went home what would happen. There would be publicity I suppose and an opportunity to say tax was too high but it seemed a bit risky!

Dick Snell came by later with his projector which was much more elaborate than ours. We managed to work out how to put our slides in ready for a slide programme we were doing the next Wednesday. Everyone wanted to know about life in Britain! We had eaten so much sweet stuff since we arrived that we didn’t feel hungry, so we ate sparingly. We sat out on the patio downstairs (the basement was on a lower level than the front of the house) till almost 10pm watching the fireflies. They are plentiful and incredible, the light is so bright in relation to the size of the fly, like a high voltage spark. They are about the length of a wasp but slender with the ‘light bulb’ at the tail. They were also lovely to watch in the morning as we breakfasted. There were quite a lot of chipmunks foraging in the morning too, eating the fallen rose petals. So far we hadn’t turned the TV on but there were so many interesting things to see we didn’t need to. That was our first Sunday over and we had enjoyed it all. There would be a lot more folk next Sunday, but by then we would be settled and ‘in with the bricks’!

Michigan Pastoral Exchange 1986

Four years after our exchange to Alabama, John’s committee suggested we could do another. I did wonder if it was because they thought John was feeling the strain, or because they wanted to see the back of us for a few weeks. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and put it down to somebody’s kind thought! We hadn’t thought of another ourselves, but it began to look like a great idea and John applied. In due course, we learned we were allocated First United Methodist Church in Jackson, Michigan. This Church had a large membership, but during the exchange many were away on holiday. When summer time arrives U.S. Churches quieten down which I think is good news for Exchange Partners!

There were two services on Sunday morning: the first, at 8.30am, was quite well attended but without a choir. The second, which was broadcast on radio, was at 10am and the Choir was good. John preached the sermon, and the other Ministers did the rest. My feeling was that our ministers at home were better at it! Correspondence went back and forward and John was surprised, but pleased, that the second service was expected to be the same as the first.

The Senior Minister was Dr Larry Taylor, and his wife was Blanche. There were twelve staff members employed in all: Minister of Parish and Minister of Program (both of whom would have moved before our arrival) Education Secretary, Bea Rose, Treasurer, Stella Smith and Admin. Secretary, Ruth Hendrickson. Directors of Music were Tim and Laurie Meunier, Maintenance Director was Jerry Kubish and Custodian was Dick Vogt. Lastly, but very necessary, the Food Service Director and her Assistant were Ruby Scott and Norma Trinidad. We were told that their Methodist heritage began in 1831 when a few worshippers met in a Tavern. In 1850 the Church was built and had thrived ever since.

Larry and Blanche arrived on 1st July and we spent the day with them, giving them as much information as we could about the car, house, churches etc. Next morning we set off from Newcastle airport very early, then travelled from Gatwick to Atlanta. We were dismayed to be told when we tried to check in that our plane had been cancelled. We thought it might have been because it was the 4th July holiday weekend, but it turned out there had been awful storms and many planes were in the wrong airports! Anyway, they got us on a plane after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and we left hoping our luggage was with us. It turned out to be quite an interesting journey. Instead of heading for Detroit we flew East right back to Raleigh/Durham, then north to Cincinnati, and from there to Detroit. The very charming young man who was seated beside me told me it was a commuter plane and he was going home to Texas. The journey had taken us over 20 hours, not counting the car ride from the airport to Jackson. Fortunately we had the phone number of the couple who were meeting us, Larry and Margaret Ruhlen, and had called them from Atlanta.

Larry and Margaret

I remember when we came out of the airport the rain was coming down in torrents, and on the way to Jackson we had to pull in along with many other drivers. Larry and Margaret drove us downtown so that we could see the Church. They left us at the Parsonage, and although we were exhausted we unpacked our cases and hung up clothes and so on. John’s birthday, 3rd July, had two beginnings that year! We had some coffee and cookies (biscuits), then fell into bed at what was 4.20am BST, sleeping quite well. We were up at 6.30 Michigan time looking forward to the day.

Larry came at 11am to tell us about things such as the air conditioning, then he took us to the Church for lunch. We were warmly welcomed by the staff plus partners and children – there must have been about 25 people, quite a party! The lunch was lovely. We were shown round the Church and the huge kitchen amazed me. Everything was dazzling white or stainless steel, and every facility you could think of was there. They were able to cater for hundreds! When I thought of church kitchens at home it I felt like a poor relation. The Church Parlour was beautiful, as was the Parsonage. We learned that all the furnishings were provided by the Church.

After lunch, Betty Buss showed us where the Post Office was and a supermarket called Polly. Larry dropped us off and we had a rest until Fran and John Parker came to take us to their house for dinner. They are one of two couples I still write to. The food was different, but enjoyable, and they had a birthday cake for John, which was a surprise. We were going to be living in ‘luxury’ en suite, and be part of a church which had facilities British churches could only dream of. We knew we would enjoy the temporary period from many angles but our main interest was the people we got to know. We had no desire to be permanent and would go home with many memories of the new friends. ‘East, west, hame’s best’, as my Granny used to say!

Sorrow and joy

Rices and Baptistes

In 2001, Tracy and Ian surprised everybody by breaking the news that they were adding to their family. Annabel and Jim were delighted, and we were too. As time went on the tension mounted! First it was a baby. After a week or so, another scan said it was two babies. Great, twins! Then further examination found there were three! Triplets were a first in both Ian’s and Tracy’s families and it was sensational. All were delighted, and so were the Mitchells.

I have a wee hard-back notebook a friend gave me years ago which I keep for jotting down sayings, and so on, that appeal to me. I don’t remember where I found this one with no name attached to it:

Nothing in this world is quite perfect or quite unbearable.

Every joy that comes has a grief to spoil it

But every grief has a joy to lighten it.

Tracy kept healthy and blooming. Towards the end of March, Jim caused Annabel and the rest of us some concern. For instance, there was a stretch of road on one of our frequent journeys that he was not keen to drive along, so we only went there when John was driving. Quite minor really. One day, Annabel rang to say Jim had had some kind of spasm during the night and had been taken to hospital. He was sent for scans, and what Annabel was afraid of was confirmed: he had a brain tumour. He was only 70, and it was a shattering blow. They were both so brave. They rearranged the house as he couldn’t manage the stairs. We went down more often and had wee jaunts, especially when the weather warmed up and we could sit out at Gourock with a pokey hat (ice-cream cone) or go for a coffee. Jim’s sight was affected by the surgery, so when the Greenock Telegraph came during our visits, if there was anything about Morton FC I’d read it to him. He was a big fan and had a season ticket, so I extolled Sunderland as being the best ever and we’d have a wee argument about it and a laugh!

Jim must have had his down times, but I never heard him anything but his usual good-natured self. Annabel cared for him so lovingly, though I think we all knew he would not get better. Their car had been sold to somebody that lived at Cardwell Bay, so we often passed it by on our way to sit by the shore and look at the hills and the river, or to the Garden Centre. Jim seemed fine, and we had happy times in spite of the knowledge that it wouldn’t go on for ever. There came a Friday when he had an appointment at the hospital. John drove us up and got a wheelchair to take Jim along the lengthy corridors. After he saw the consultant, we had a coffee in the café then went down to Gourock and sat on the seat by the shore in lovely warm sunshine. It was a beautiful summer day and Jim was just Jim. We returned to South Street and made our way home when Jim was tired and ready for bed.

The day of Jim’s funeral

Next morning, the 28th July 2001, our phone rang around 7.30. John answered and I knew from his face it was bad news. It was Annabel telling him that Jim had died during the night. He had wakened and wanted to sit in his ‘relaxing chair’. On the way along to the front room he said ‘I don’t think I can go on any longer, Annabel’, and fell down and died. Even although all his family knew he could not recover it was still a devastating loss. Annabel asked John to take Jim’s funeral, which was at Ardgowan Methodist Church where the four of us had our double wedding almost 45 years before. The church was packed to overflowing. John’s tribute was well done and showed the very loveable and kind and cheerful person Jim was.

Jim was part of the rock and roll age and had earned the name of ‘Jiver’ as a lad, being such a great dancer. He was well-known for that, but also for his friendly ways and willingness to help anybody with anything. His life was well lived and brought much happiness to many people as well as Annabel and the young folk. We still talk and reminisce about when there were four of us. After we retired to Scotland in 1994 we had a holiday together every summer in Britain or abroad and met every week. John said Jim was more than a brother-in-law, he was also a best friend. I thought of him as the brother my parents had never provided for me!

Annabel bore her sorrow well, however she may have felt inside, and gradually her new way of living evolved. As I now know for myself, it is not easy but is possible to become content and happy again, although never as before. When two love, one is destined for sorrow.

The Triplet-Two

Tracy meantime was sad that her Dad would not see the new babies, but he knew about them. She kept very well, although towards the end she found the weight she carried quite tiresome! But like Jim, she never let things get her down and coped amazingly. The birth took place in hospital in October and three lovely baby boys were delivered, who were to be named Max, Leo and Sam in that order. Sam was much smaller than his brothers and Tracy and Ian were told his life would be very short. They were able to hold him and love him until he died after half an hour. So Max and Leo became the triplet-two. They were lovely babies and whenever we saw them, happy and responsive. No doubt Tracy and Ian had their hands full many a time but on the whole I think they were good babies. Tracy will correct me if they were actually wee horrors! (She did.) They grew of course, as babies do, and in no time they were toddlers. I have a picture in my head of John sitting by the window at Tracy’s house with the two of them wrapped round him. They seemed to gravitate towards him and he loved playing with them. But it should have been Jim. Jack and Emma were great with them and they were never short of someone to play with. They grew and, although Jack is a tall lad, outgrew him and are both over 6ft at 16. Their mother says they are beanpoles! And I say all her boys are handsome young fellows and Emma is a bonnie lass.

Max and Leo completed the Stroud great-grandchildren: Percy only saw the first, David Houri, and Chris saw none of them, but they are worthy ancestors to be remembered.

The Stroud great-grandchildren

Annabel and Jim’s elder daughter Julie met Serge Houri from Paris when they were both studying in Sunderland in the early 80s. They married in 1986 on a Saturday in London – John and I went down from Newcastle by train but had to leave the reception early to travel home as he had a Sunday appointment which involved other folk and couldn’t be cancelled. Their first child, David, was born the next year amid great rejoicing. At last the Stroud family had a boy among them! He was a bonny baby. Annabel’s and my Dad saw his first great-grandchild. Dad died in 1987 when he was 85. In 1991 Julie and Serge had another son, Benjamin (Ben).

Jim and Annabel’s younger daughter, Tracy, and her partner Ian Rice had a little girl in 1992 and called her Emma. She was followed in 1995 by a boy, Jack, and Tracy said that was her family complete.

John and I retired in 1994 and moved from Newcastle to Paisley rather sadly, leaving 38 years of our life behind. There were compensations in that it brought us nearer both sides of our family. I remember when we arrived in Paisley, Anabel and John had washed away all the dust from the rooms and cupboards in the newly built house and put up all the curtain rails. We brought curtains with us I’d had made in Bainbridge’s in Newcastle for the sitting room, so it looked lived in right away. We had ordered a shed and, probably the next day, Anabel and John and Annabel and Jim came and, between us all, laid the flags for the shed and built it up. Annabel and Jim had Emma with them, and she had a great time getting rides in the barrow and playing around on the garden. Her clothes must have been filthy by the time they set off home but she was happy!

When we came home from Alabama in ’82, Elspeth went back to Leeds and she and Winston moved into a flat together. Life was different for young folk of their generation. My parents’ reaction if their young folk had made such an announcement would have been shock-horror probably! Times had changed and they were sensible grownups able to run their own lives. They both worked hard, found good jobs and settled down. When they moved to London, John and Anabel hired a van and took the furniture from Elspeth’s bedroom down to them, as we now only had three bedrooms instead of four. The smallest became the study, full of book-shelves, desk and computer etc.

By the time we retired in 1994 we had given up any thought of becoming grandparents, as Winston and Elspeth had been together for 14 years and we had no expectations from Anabel and John. Around the time of my 69th birthday in October ’95, Elspeth and Winston came for a few days to stay with us. On my birthday she gave me a parcel, and I have no memory of what it was because she followed it by saying they had a better present for me, she was pregnant! Well, John and I were speechless for a minute, and so delighted. It wasn’t the easy time for her that I had enjoyed. She had an emergency caesarean in May and Harriet May was born weighing 9lbs 1oz. John and I were up most of that night as Winston phoned several times to tell us what was happening and finally the good news! To add to our joy Elspeth had asked us to give them a few days to settle in again, then come down for an extended stay. So being retired had its advantages! John had a couple of preaching appointments, one in Berwick and I can’t remember the other, which we went home for. It was good in that Winston and Elspeth had the weekends to themselves. Harriet was a wide-awake, responsive baby and it was a very happy time for us looking after the housekeeping and giving Elspeth the time to rest and recover. We were really sorry to go home after so many weeks, but we made a good few visits and they came here too.

There was a good coffee shop we liked in Harrow and when Harriet was grown a bit we would order black coffee, jug of hot milk, an extra cup and two scones. Harriet’s coffee would be milk with a few spoonsful of our coffees and a piece of each scone. She sat like a little lady and watched everything. Of course, we were besotted! We seemed always to have quite good weather for going to the park where she could run away and be caught, or chase Grandaddy, or enjoy the swings. Elspeth went back to work and Winston’s Auntie looked after Harriet. When we went down, Auntie had a holiday and we had full charge of Harriet. Even although there were gaps between seeing her, she was always happy to see us which boosted our egos no end.

So life went on with this added interest. Two years later Cassandra Ruth arrived in the same way in October, weighing 9lbs 6ozs and as beautiful as her big sister. This time Elspeth and Winston employed Nannies, three over the years that followed. I thought Cassie would be the last Stroud great-grandchild but I was wrong! Fate had a twist in store ….

With our descendants

Family events

Percy Stroud, my father and Annabel’s, had his 80th Birthday in November 1981, for which Annabel and Jim organised a great party. They had always been noted for their parties and this one was well up to standard! Dad’s daughters and sons-in-law, grandchildren, and as many of our relations as were able were there and it was a jolly, festive occasion. Jim’s Dad, Tommy, was with us also. You will see from the pictures how happy we all were. When John and Jim were together there was fun. During this party they did a striptease act which had everyone in stitches – I wouldn’t have believed they had it in them! It was a shame we were all so enraptured with their performance that no one thought of taking photos.

August 1981 was both our Silver (25th) Wedding Anniversary and Annabel and Jim’s. They made all the arrangements, but this time at the Tontine Hotel where our Reception had been held in 1956. Again, the pictures show how much we enjoyed being together and remembering.

By then John’s Mum and Dad were in Castle Douglas in a nursing home. This came about because Mum M had had a stroke while at the hairdressers some years before and was in Greenock Infirmary when, and I think this is correct, junior doctors had some sort of work to rule or strike (and who could blame them) and as many patients as possible had to move. She was to be sent home unable to walk unaided and quite frail. Annie couldn’t go to Greenock, being a full-time Matron, and Elizabeth’s boys were still young. It had to be me, so off I went to Greenock. Mum M was a good patient but was unable to do much. Every morning I helped her out of bed and, leaning heavily on me, she managed a wee daunder round the room. John’s Dad wasn’t all that well either, a bit bewildered by the changed circumstances. He had his whippet, and when I went to the butcher’s I had to get a piece of steak which he fed by hand to Scott! I got to know my parents-in-law in a new way and was glad to be there. I suggested to Dad M he should ask his pals round and he did. They blethered away and I gave them tea and scones and it cheered him up. Mum enjoyed the company too. She was feeling better and able to sit up in bed comfortably.

My dad had been struck with bronchitis and taken to hospital, and when he was discharged that was another problem. Anabel was back full-time in the Bank and he wasn’t to be left alone. It was quickly solved by John’s Mum, who immediately said “bring him here”! So there was a shift around of sleeping arrangements, my Dad got my room and, for the period he was there, I slept on two armchairs with a kitchen chair between then in the room with John’s Mum. So I was handy when she woke in the night and I slept very comfortably. The ‘boys’ came a couple of times when my Dad was with us. The three had been policemen and Dad an engineer and they found plenty to talk about. I was there for about two weeks and learned a good bit about nursing elderly patients, and was content.

John and his Dad

John arranged for his Mum to come to Shotley Bridge Hospital in Consett, where we then lived, and his Dad could stay with us for the time being. When John phoned Annie, who was Matron at Castle Douglas Hospital, to say all was well she told him she was arranging for Mum Mitchell to come into her Hospital and Dad M to stay with her! To say John was taken aback was putting it mildly, having been under the impression he had been left to arrange something. Never mind, we made a new plan. Annie arranged a Greenock ambulance to fetch her Mum. John said, when I called him from a phone box, that he would drive up from Consett to Greenock the day before and see us off to Dumfries Hospital where she had to go first. I would come back to Greenock in the ambulance and we’d take Dad to Annie’s next day, then come home to Consett. It was a slow journey and I wasn’t even able to go into the hospital with her but had to sit and wait in the vehicle. I hoped they might bring me a cup of tea but no luck! It was dark when we got back to Greenock and I was dropped at the door and glad to see John. That evening John’s Dad gave me £25, which I was reluctant to take as I had been glad to help them, but he said it was for the train and petrol so I appreciated that. We took him to Castle Douglas and then headed for home. It was only next day I realized how very weary I was, but I felt it had been a very satisfactory episode in my life and was glad to have experienced it.

I think the girls were glad to have me back. I was regaled with the tale of how their Dad wouldn’t let them heat the deep fat enough, and the chips they made were all limp and pale, not crispy like mine. I never did manage to domesticate John, though I was glad they had missed me even if it was only for crispy chips!

District again

Kathleen Richardson

During the 14 years John was Chairman I sometimes felt my mission in life was kitchen duty! There were few weeks when we had no meetings or luncheon or dinner guests to cater for. The house was often full of people. Looking back as a 91 year-old with a sad lack of energy, and not much desire to cook for more than half a dozen unless they are all family, I realise how much I enjoyed it all and how satisfying it was to have so many happy gatherings in our home. John was very helpful with all the clearing up afterwards and he suggested if we had a crowd rather than a few we should use throwaway dishes. So sometimes we did. Coincidentally the first President we had to stay was Secretary of the Conference, Kenneth Greet and the last was Brian Beck (see gallery below), also Secretary of the Conference. We were nervous with the first but soon relaxed. In 1992 history was made when for the first time Methodism had a woman President, Rev. Kathleen Richardson. We enjoyed having her staying with us and John had the usual full programme arranged. Kathleen has had a wonderful career. She was appointed a Life Peer in 1998 with the title Baroness Richardson of Calow and sits in the House of Lords as a cross bencher.


John met many interesting people during his Ministry and I did also. Every year, we attended the Durham Big Meeting which took place in the Cathedral. It was a great day with a Parade when all the miners marched with their large colourful banners and people came from near and far. It was always very well attended. One year, although I was near the front, I would have seen nothing much of what was happening had I not been in an aisle seat and could take a peek out now and then! That was because in the seat in front of me was a very large man whom I eventually realised was Terry Waite. He had been kept in solitary confinement for about 4 years in the Lebanon by a Jihad organisation. I don’t remember much detail but it was in all the news when he was eventually released. This was after he had recovered and got his strength back. I got a smile from him after the benediction.

I was privileged to have a brief meeting with Archbishop Michael Ramsay, John having been fortunate enough to get him to come and speak to a Men’s Meeting. He was the 100th. Archbishop of Canterbury but by then was retired, as far as I can remember and lived in Durham for a while. For some reason I was on the premises before the meeting began. John called me over and I can’t remember a word of what was said. I know Michael Ramsay spoke to me and I replied. What I remember is the aura of kindly benevolence and goodness that surrounded him. The only way I could describe it later to John was that he was what I thought of as saint-like. I’ve never forgotten these few minutes.

Ephraim Alphonse

Ephraim Alphonse was born in Panama in the late 1890s and became a mechanical engineer. He worked on a launch which carried the Minister who worked among the Valiente people who lived in the many small islands in the area. He learned a great deal from this travelling and as time passed he wanted to help the Valiente people in some way. There was no literature of any kind in the Indian language and Ephraim translated the four Gospels into the language and also many hymns. He was called to the Ministry and studied and learned, became a Reverend and gained a Doctorate. He wrote many books and became well-known throughout Methodism. By then he was Bishop Alphonse. In 1988 the Newcastle District Synod was at Chester-le-Street and Ephraim Alphonse was the special guest. He was in his 90s and was accompanied by his daughter Sylvia. It was wonderful to meet them and another of the never-to-be-forgotten occasions. He had the stamina to travel around making other visits and he survived it all. He died at home in 1995 not far short of his centenary. I had known his story almost from first becoming a Methodist but never would have thought of actually seeing him. Both he and Sylvia have stayed in my memory ever since.

Glasgow Garden Festival

I can’t remember when the Garden Festivals started but there was a series of them over the 80/90s. One was in Glasgow beside the River Clyde in 1988, where Anabel and John lived, so we had several visits to them during that Festival and we were enthralled! The flowers and shrubs were all so colourful and the whole affair was breath-taking. There were many pavilions representing various industries, e.g. Electricity which was exciting and mysterious. The Festival wasn’t only a thing of beauty but was also educational in many ways. We had loads of slides but unfortunately, after we had been retired for some years, we thought they took up too much space and we disposed of a lot. If we had known we’d be blog writing in our 80s and 90s we might have been more sensible!

A few years later came the first of two short periods in John’s ministry when he had a day off every week. The next Festival came to Gateshead beside the River Tyne, which was easy for us to visit and we each had season tickets. There was a Religious Pavilion and John was involved in both opening it (below) and in the closing ceremony at the end. We had great times at that Festival; being able to be there often as we would go for an hour or two when John had no evening engagement. We had a week of his holiday time as well. We never tired of it! There are many pictures in my head of the flower beds and the fascinating happenings in the Pavilions, but I have a less spectacular but much enjoyed memory. On the walk into the Festival there were various stalls but I always made a bee-line for the one that made real doughnuts just like my Mum made them, cooked in deep fat, all crisp and brown. You could watch them make the mixture and drop it in the pan of fat then buy it straight away. I always bought four, two for us to eat on the walk and two to go with the coffee we would have at the first coffee stall we came to. That did us till mid-afternoon ‘lunch’. I never would think of buying doughnuts now which are nothing like the ones we enjoyed. They are oven cooked apparently and not a sign of crispiness on them!


As soon as we got the booklet about the next Festival which was to be in Wales, we got in touch with the first name on the list and booked a week. We couldn’t have found a better lodging. Welsh folk had been asked to volunteer to rent a room for the Festival as there were not enough guest houses to accommodate the large number of visitors expected. The food was good, the bed was comfortable and the lady was as friendly and as helpful as we could wish for. We enjoyed the week very much. At closing time a bus went around picking folk up to take them back to the ‘park and ride’. We were on the bus early in our week and at the next stop who should step on but Annabel and Jim. Neither of us knew the others were there! They were staying further along the coast at Aberystwyth whilst we were nearer in a wee village. We had a blether then went off on our separate ways. This Festival was in a lovely valley among hills and farms but we rather missed the riverside. The next two were down south so Wales was our final Festival. They were all marvellous but I always thought Gateshead was the best!

I’ll be taking a break now until 2018. A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

The Stroud grandchildren

Anabel’s christening with Stroud Grandparents

John and I got married in 1956 and two months later I had my 30th birthday. In those days, women over 30 having babies were classed as ‘older mothers’ and so we let nature take its course. When we had our first visit back to Greenock over New Year we were able to tell our families we were ‘expecting’ in mid-July. For my Mum and Dad it would be their first grandchild. Annabel and Jim would be Auntie and Uncle and we’d be Mummy and Daddy! The advent of Anabel Christine has been well covered in an earlier post. All I will say is that the wonder and joy of being parents never wore off. We were a happy wee family.

Elspeth’s christening with big sister

In 1959, right on schedule, we were again happily expectant and the nausea and sickness only lasted for a short time. It was another trouble-free time for me. Anabel had taken all day to make her debut, during most of which I had dozed comfortably apart from the occasional examination to see how things were going. Elspeth Anne arrived in April 1960 with a rush and surprised the nurses and doctor. I had said to John I’d probably be home for tea because the symptoms had gone! I was given hot sweet tea to counteract the shock of the speed of the arrival. I detest sweet tea but I drank it anyway. With Anabel I had 2 weeks in the hospital, but by 1960 it was reduced to 10 days. John’s sister, Elspeth, came and stayed with John and Anabel for Elspeth’s birth and was a marvellous help. In both pregnancies I was sure the baby was a girl and both were.

Tracy’s christening with big sister

It had been wonderful to know that Annabel and Jim were having a big event in March which would be the second grandchild for our Mum and Dad and first for Jim’s folk. Annabel was bothered with the sickness for quite a while. They had their first baby in March 1960, Julie Anabel. Our two had been big babies, Julie was a dainty wee baby. We went up to Greenock in June and both babies were considered well-nigh perfect! Anabel was pleased to have two babies to look at and watch being bathed and so on!

In August 1964 Annabel and Jim’s second baby girl, Tracy Jane, arrived. We were in Greenock on holiday and saw this new baby on her birthday. Our parents now had two daughters and four grand-daughters! I still had my hopes till I reached 40. Before we left Roker in 1968 I got in touch with the Social Service people to see if they would have the cot, pram, push-chair and all the bits and bobs including all the baby clothes. It was a sad day but I was assured they would fill a real need for someone. If a miracle happened we’d just have to start all over again! Providence decided otherwise!

Granny Stroud died in 1973 when she was 73 and Tracy, the youngest, was just nine years old and Anabel 15. Grandaddy Stroud was with us until 1987 and saw all his four granddaughters grown into lovely young women. It is hard to believe so many years have passed since then, long enough for some to have their bus passes! Not to mention a further generation to be written about another time.