On the Road in England, 1989
A while back I briefly described a trip my wife and I made to England in 1989 that introduced us to Stan and Jackie. They deserve a bit more attention here.
Stan was a retired electrical engineer with a wonderfully dry sense of humor. Jackie is a retired geography teacher with a more serious demeanor. They were formal, but not stuffy. They had raised a family and spent most of their adult lives in a thatched roof cottage in a village north of London. In retirement, they’d moved to a modern home in Somerset. When we expressed our naïve tourist’s nostalgia for thatched roofs, Jackie set us straight: “If you’d spent 50 years in a thatched roof cottage, you’d place a high value on a modern home with central heat, too.”
When we arrived at their home, Stan and Jackie had assembled a welcoming party that included their adult son and his kids and a few curious neighbors. After lunch at their favorite pub, where we were introduced around as if we were the first Americans ever to come that way, Jackie insisted that they give us a tour of the area.
We piled into their little Rover sedan and headed out. Jackie insisted that I sit up front with Stan. We saw stately homes, historic ruins and ancient churches. We stood on a hilltop and admired the Mendip Hills (the price paid for being in the presence of a retired geography teacher).
But the best part was just to be in the car with Stan and Jackie. You see, Stan had one of those old pendant hearing aids that was little more than an amplifier hung on a string around his neck. The device settled somewhere behind his shirt just below his ribs. Sometimes it echoed. Sometimes, if you got to close to Stan, you got a lot of reverb. Your eyes might have been looking at his face. But when you talked to Stan he heard you best if you talked to his belly button.
You also need to know that Jackie, sweet lady that she is, was a terrible backseat driver. She did it in a voice that made her sound just like Julia Child reminding her viewers to, “Keep the liver!” So as we careened around the narrow lanes of Somerset, Jackie was forever reaching up from the back seat and admonishing Stan, whose depth perception I have to admit was probably not what it used to be, to “MIND THE CATS’ EYES, STANLEY!”
(It didn’t take long for us to figure out that “cat’s eyes” are the little reflectors that mark the edges of roads.)
After Jackie had yelled at Stan about a dozen times, Stan looked over at me, winked knowingly and loosened one of the buttons on his shirt so that he could reach in and turn the hearing aid off.