Friday, August 22, 2014
Funny what little it sometimes takes to spark a fulsome memory. We’ve had a few instances recently of early morning fog out in the wilds of Oakbrook. When this happened I thought of our time in England – where some claim fog was born.
It was certainly immortalized in the classic song. “A Foggy Day in London Town,” with words by Ira Gershwin and music by his brother George.
There is no comparison however between the translucent curtain that occasionally veils such local pathways as Trolley Road and the aptly named “pea soupers” which hindered our way in Great Britain. Summerville fog usually just has misty visibility. British fog often has near zero visibility. I can remember driving home – whether day or night – with the car lights on, creeping along two-lane rural roads, unable to see but six feet in front of the vehicle.
During our delightful four-year USAF English tour in the 1970s we lived in Suffolk in the small market town of Saxmundham, about 12 miles from Bentwaters Air Force Base. Some four decades ago “Sax,” as it was known locally, could have been described as “a wide place in the road.” Over the years it has blossomed to a population of around 3,500. Natives used to love to tell us their town was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086.
Sax was a charming, friendly community where I sometimes joined local women walking into town carrying the traditional string bag to “do the shops” and attend the weekly market of game, produce clothing and crafts. The Brits oft times have to deal with what they call “filthy weather,” but it doesn’t deter them a bit. Rain and fog only mean adding waterproofing to their outerwear and covering babies’ prams more carefully. The butchers and green grocers were daily meeting places where news was exchanged, newborns were presented and their progress closely followed. And all this took place no matter the weather.
Two of our local friends remain crystal clear in our memory with their warmth and willingness to help. Mary came to baby sit with our quartet in the American-style base housing complex located in Sax. She never commented on our appliances, but one day excitedly invited us to a “Welcome the Fridge” party in their council housing. This, she explained, was their first venture into electric food storage and they were elated to share it with friends and neighbors. We attended, bringing a bottle of white wine to nestle in the newcomer. It was a small under-the-counter affair adorned with a big red bow and containing a tiny freezer compartment which held one miniscule ice tray (an additional expense item they explained, in honor of Americans who unaccountably liked drinks with ice). Only one cube was allotted to each Yank’s glass.
Mary’s husband Dennis came to help tidy up our yard when Jim was away. He always arrived wearing wool pants, and long wool shirt, vest and jacket. The only concession he made to this ensemble was to remove the jacket and roll up his shirt sleeves to accommodate British summer heat waves which sometimes reached the upper 70s. The couple was undaunted by pea soupers and could find their way to and from our house and all around town with no problem.
How meaningful that so much of this could be recalled by a single foggy day.
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