Retirement looming

John and the girls

When we came home from Nebraska in 1993 things were quiet. As usual there were ministers leaving and some arriving. There was always a District hello for the new, and a cheerio for the ministers leaving the District. The new ones would be welcomed by their Circuits later in September. There was one minor incident which was surprising. John forgot one of the new names and had to pause and search for it! With his reputation of never forgetting a name it was noticed, and he was quite upset about it.

On the following Sunday he got up and when he came back from the bathroom lay down and said. ‘Chris I think I’m having a stroke’. He had a dizzy feeling and his right arm and leg were numb. I said, I’m going to ring a doctor, make you a cup of tea then call David MacDonald (the Deputy Chairman) so that he can get someone to take your service. The doctor was a very nice young woman who said it was a TIA he had had, a mini-stroke, (transient ischemic attack), and she was very reassuring. She would arrange an appointment at the hospital for him. I asked if it could be a private appointment, for which the waiting time might be less. John didn’t really approve of that but I said we needed to know as soon as possible how long he would be off work, if we had to notify the car licence people and stuff like that. It was a very helpful appointment with a consultant whose name I have forgotten. John stayed off work for a few weeks, for the first week in bed till lunch time, not allowed near the phone, few visitors, complete rest, totally under my thumb!

Chris and the girls

The Aldridge’s son had left school and was applying for jobs and could drive. Maybe he would like to be a chauffeur for a few weeks, we thought? His Dad thought he might, and John was able to start work after a spell of walks and getting his strength back. He had short days and found his chauffeur good company. He didn’t start preaching right away, but before long he was back to the old routine, though no evening work, and the lad ferried him around and was pleased to have a wage. We were very grateful to him.

Anabel and John, Elspeth and Winston came for the weekend following the TIA and we were glad of their support (all pictures in this post were taken on that weekend). Although originally we had thought of staying in the District, John had already said perhaps we should go back to Scotland to have family members near us. We would never have been able to get a house in Elspeth’s area at our price. With encouragement from them all we thought that would be best, so Scotland it was. It was a hard choice to make, although we knew folk there and wouldn’t arrive as strangers. Apart from the pain of leaving the area which had been our home for 38 years it took us further away from Elspeth. We stayed with them many times going down by car for a good number of years, then by train and later by plane. We were there two days after Harriet was born and when Cassie arrived we were there, looking after Harriet. We were so pleased that Elspeth involved us with the girls’ arrivals, and have great joy in these two lovely granddaughters.

John, Anabel, Elspeth and Winston

We didn’t want to live in a city, so Glasgow was out. Greenock would be a long drive for Anabel and John, so we thought about Paisley. We knew our way around there and there were houses being built. Son-in-law John knew a young couple who were members at Paisley Methodist Church so he attended there one Sunday and thought we’d could fit in! They both spent time looking at new housing estates and found a suitable site in Paisley though, because we chose a model of house that hadn’t been completed there yet, Anabel had to take us to Baillieston to see one. This was all happening while we were still in Newcastle and we came up for short periods to see the houses then later, once the Paisley estate started, we came up to choose our plot. We looked forward to having a home no one else had lived in!

There was a helpful young lady present at the Show House, and we were to have the corner house. However next time we came, when they were partly built, we had been allocated the other half of the house. The young lady pointed out that the end house would be responsible for a piece of land outside their wall. Small was our aim as far as gardens went, and the new plot gave us a view of Gleniffer Braes so we were happy to change! The Housing Society approved the house, though it was priced at several thousand pounds more than their limit, a sum which John and I didn’t have then. John Marsh covered the deficit and my hope is that house prices will have risen by the time I leave the house and John gets a good benefit for his generosity. He has also saved the Society a mint by doing lots of jobs around the house, as he can do just about everything.

John and the family

Time moved on and before we knew it summer 1994 was upon us and we were packing all our belongings. Our suite was too big so we gave it away, but my only real regret was having to leave my tumbler drier for our successors, who were delighted. There was nowhere to put it in the new kitchen. I missed my utility room which had the boiler and all the large household items leaving the kitchen to be our breakfast room. I mourned the dryer for a bit but soon got used to a new routine!


Last days in the District

District celebration: Donald second left, Rosemary between me and John

Last time, I said that the next post would be about retirement looming, but I have a few more District snippets to share first. In 1991 we had the President, Rev. Dr Donald English and Vice-President Mrs Rosemary Wass visiting at the same time. Donald English was the first President in our knowledge to have the honour twice. He had been brought up in a village next to Consett so he was thought of as ‘our’ Donald.

Donald’s parents, Bob and Ena

We had had a full house Celebration in the City Hall in 1988 for the 250th Anniversary of John Wesley’s conversion and folk had always hoped for a similar gathering. Donald and Rosemary being here together seemed to be an opportunity and John got his organisation mode going! The City Hall in 1991 was packed: John gave the welcome and prayers, Donald and Rosemary gave the addresses and the District Arts Group did a three-part drama from John Wesley to the present day. In the middle was a fifteen-minute interval to enable people to move around and greet each other which I thought was a great idea.

Lord Mayor and John before Conference

In 1992 the Conference Service took place in the City Hall on 28th June and was televised by Tyne Tees Television. Rev Brian Beck, Secretary of the Conference, conducted the worship, Bishop Alec Graham and Dr Edmund Marshall, Vice-President of Conference, were the readers and Rev Kathleen Richardson, the President, was the preacher. The City Hall was as crowded as ever.

Just five days later, on 3rd July (John’s birthday) we were back in the City Hall which was full to the brim for the Conference Celebration. What an evening that was! Every Circuit had a part in it of their own choosing, and with the youngest to the oldest taking part. It was like the Chapel Concerts used to be in the days when there was no T.V. or Cinemas when everyone got together and did their ‘party pieces’, making their own entertainment. I remember it as one of the best ever Methodist events, a riot of fun! Keep your feet still, Geordie hinnie, Blaydon Races and The Lambton Worm were sung as never before. No doubt about it, Methodism was born in song!


After Conference was over, the Committee had a get-together, all cheerful and happy that it had gone well and as planned, but glad it was over! They presented John with a birthday cake and a ‘Bishop’s’ shirt! Called that because it was a colour favoured by Bishops apparently. The picture shows him wearing it at the welcome of new Ministers. He wore it now and again and appreciated that it was given as a way of expressing their affection and respect. (One picture in the final gallery shows the Bishop of Durham wearing the same colour.) The thank you letter was the icing on the cake!


In 1993 Brian Beck became President of the Conference, and as he was the last we’d be entertaining we made the most of it when he came to Newcastle District. He had a number of preaching engagements, but in the evenings we had buffet suppers to enable him to meet John’s committee and other Church leaders. It was a happy time and they all look cheerful in the photos so I guess they were enjoying the company! Brian’s Presidential visit was one of the best. He was not the kind of person I had expected from the few times I had seen him, mostly serious and business-like. In fact there was another quite different side in which he was ‘life and soul of the party’, totally charming, friendly and full of fun. The thought of it still lingers in my memory and makes me smile.


Next time, retirement really does loom!

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!