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Friday, June 09, 2017

Where is Home?

"Home is where the heart is." Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – August 25, AD 79), better known as Pliny the Elder (/ˈplɪni/); Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, as well as naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire.
My daughter Jesse collects me at last!

 On March 7th, after seventeen hours of travel I finally fell into my daughter Jesse's arms in Spokane, Washington, USA. A blizzard dumped five inches of snow on Eastern Washington, delaying and canceling flights. Welcome back Jaq!
     I spent six weeks moving between Jesse and Ben's home, the homes of friends in Pullman and Spokane, Sandpoint, Idaho and a hotel in the city. I had a lot of people to see and hundreds of miles of ground to cover. Instead of making this trip in May with Les I was making an abbreviated version of it with his ashes and my sorrow. I lieu of showing my Best beloved new sites, introducing him to other friends on the West side of the State he had yet to meet, attending our grandson's high school graduation, camping in the Olympic National forest, taking a hot air balloon ride over the Pacific, having lunch while sailing among the islands of Puget Sound in a three masted schooner, watching the sun set over the Pacific ocean, meeting our daughters, their spouses and our grandchildren for days of frolicking on the beach, sleeping in a yurt and touring a lighthouse, I was scattering Les' ashes on Kamiak Butte on the spot where we were married, connecting with Eastern Washington friends and family, and continuing to process Les' death and figure out life without him.
The Kamiak Butte trail was still in snow and ice! While we had cold, wet, miserable weather the entire time I was in E. Washington, Britain had a heat wave with 70F temperatures. Apparently I took the British weather to America with me; alas it returned with me too!
Our family up on Kamiak Butte where Les and I were married in 2011: Back row--daughter Jesseca, son-in-law Ben, oldest grandson Micheal. Front Row--grandson's Connor (6), Matthew (12) and Mike's girlfriend Learyc.
Our family continued: daughter Shiery AKA Sparky and her wife Kelli.

      This was a bittersweet trip on many different levels. It was wonderful to see Sparky and her wife Kelli, Jesse and her husband Ben, grandsons Michael, Matthew, and Connor but the circumstances were so sad. We missed Les' love, sense of humor and insights on American life. We did try to interject fun and humor where we could. We had a family meal at Nueva Vallerta Mexican restaurant in Pullman, and watched a pile of DVD's by British comedians such as Greg Davies Sarah Millican, and Michael MacIntyre. I spent time with the boys, taking them shopping at some very cool shops such as Boo Radleys, Wonders of the World, Aunties Bookstore and Uncles Games, having lunch with them and getting to know them again.
Grandsons Mike and Matt on our day out together, eating gelato from Apothecary Chocolates in the Flour Mill.

Connor on our day out, at High Bridge Park in Spokane.

Maryanne's Milk Bottle Diner in Spokane, Washington. Most menu items are under $10 and prepared fresh.
Real American milkshakes which fill a frosted glass with another half glass in the silver container! These are the real deal; I hate what passes for a "milkshake" these days. It is simply soft serve ice cream with a bunch of candy thrown in; too thick to suck up a straw and no taste whatever.
Old fashioned hand formed beef burgers on fresh homemade buns with hand cut fries still wearing their skins! I told Connor that when I was his age there were no MacDonald's or Burger King fast food places. Just diners like the Milk Bottle and good food like we were eating. His eyes were large and round with the wonder of it all and he ate most of his meal--an unusual occurrence for a young lad who usually picks and plays with his food most of the time.
The roiling waters of the Spokane River heading for the falls. Connor is a nature lover like his Mim. He asked for a day outside instead of in the shops so we headed for Riverfront Park.
The river was running high due to a winter of heavy snow and a spring with more of the same.
River spray flying upward to mist the people on the bridge.
Hard to believe looking at this picture that High Bridge Park is tucked right into a busy South Hill Spokane neighborhood.
Connor peeks over the edge, looking in the direction of Riverfront Park--where the Spokane river pictures were taken. There are two main events that grace the park each year: the Independence Day fireworks on the 4th of July and the Royal Fireworks Concert every August. The inspiration for this event came from the pageants and displays of music and fireworks begun at Versailles under the reign of Louis XIV. Spokane's Royal Fireworks Concert had a modest beginning in 1978 with an audience of 3000. Today this special event out doors overlooking the floating concert stage on the Spokane River, with Allegro's 60 piece Royal Band with the world's  only live choreographed fireworks display to the music of George Frederick Handel's Musick for the Royal Fireworks, 1749 is attended by nearly 40,000. Back in the '90's my friends and I came to High Bridge Park to view the fireworks for both events. Back then the trees were not tall enough to block the view!
Back in the early '90's when I first visited High Bridge Park few folks actually hung out there. We Witches liked to build a fire and hold esbats (full moon circles) to work magick. It was such a a wondrous place to hold rituals; quiet, protected, floating high above the city.
Part of the reason we could hold rituals there with little bother was because back then there was only a steep, rutted dirt path climbing up to the top. It has been gentrified now.
     I indulged in my favorite American foods I cannot get in Britain: Root Beer floats, real Mexican food, REAL hash brown potatoes as part of a full American Breakfast where I delighted in watching the waitress's eyes widen like saucers when I said, "I flew 7000 miles for these hash browns!" I enjoyed our crisp, crunchy, flavorful bacon with breakfast and in BLT sandwiches that included mustard, cheese, bacon, tomato, lettuce and mayo; enjoyed plates of delicious Italian food and tossed green salads in large free refillable bowls with fresh ingredients and a dozen choices of fresh dressing. My daughter Jesse took me to her favorite yarn shop in north Idaho where I bought some Alpaca yarn and she knitted me a wonderful winter hat to keep me warm while cruising. This is love.
When Americans hear the word "pudding", this is what we think of; Jello Brand is an easy to make custard like dessert which comes in about thirty flavors.
Proper Mexican cheese without one million scoville rated hot peppers as found over here in Britain. It is a blend of sharp Cheddar, Colby, and Monterey Jack and Americans are left to put in or leave out the chiles of their choice.
Tater Tots! Nothing like them exists in Britain and no--potato croquettes don't even come close.
Proper hashbrowns. Notice they do not come in pre-arranged geometrical shapes! As far as I know there is not a restaurant on this island that offers a truly real Full American breakfast because hashbrowns over here are always those Mickey D inspired, deep fat fried, greasy triangles.
Daughter Jesse's local coffee drive through with a window on two sides for faster service. The baristas often came out and took the orders of four cars at once--all in their head, no writing them down--and managed to get everything perfect every time! I love the American customer service and the British red phone box motif.
This is another coffee drive-through in Pullman, Washington. These drive-throughs are EVERYWHERE in the States, for coffee, fast food, and banking to name a few. I've only seen one drive-through in Britain and that is the Costa Coffee in Leamington Spa.
Spicy Garlic, Sweet and Spicy, Dill, Bread and Butter...
...and Sweet pickles!  Mmmm!!!
Salad dressing mix packets! I sure do miss these.
Need I say more? A freshly made salad dressing from a packet beats ready made jarred salad dressing any day.
I've looked everywhere for canned or tinned clams over here in Britain. I found them at Waitrose in Berkhamsted and nowhere else!
This is Jello brand er...jello or jelly at they say over here.
     Our dear friends Sally and Joe Horton, knowing I could not cope with juggling the schedules of all of our friends in Pullman, stepped in and hosted a pot luck reception at their house the day after their 40th wedding anniversary and two days before they left for eight weeks in Europe! This is love. It was wonderful to see so many of the folks we hold dear but unbearably sad to see them all again without Les, who commented to me when he stayed with me on his very first visit, "You have really fine friends Jaq. They are all really wonderful people and they obviously care about you a great deal."  Later, after we were married Les was absolutely tickled by the idea that my friends became our friends for of course they all loved Les too. Sally and Joe spoiled me with home cooked meals, Grand Seville cocktails, lunch at Rico's pub, and an opportunity to meet their daughter Fiona and her lovely baby girl Mackenzie.It is impossible to be sad for very long in the presence of such bright, sweet, and wonderful new life as a toddler parsing the world around them.
Proud mom Fiona, pround Granny Sally with adorable baby Mackenzie who was just on the cusp of learning to walk when I was there.
Rico's Pub in downtown Pullman, Washington. Rico's is  a landmark and a right of passage for many, many, many thousands of university students at WSU. Friends Leanne and Roger owned it and now help their daughter manage it. The proper fish and chips, burgers, real ale, stouts and porters are uniquely British and fabulously delicious.

     I also drove by Cloudhouse--our home just outside Pullman city limits, where Les and spent so many happy hours getting to know each other, falling in love, and living for months as newlyweds. It has apparently been sold to some trailer trash who have completely ruined it! I was in total shock, sobs wracking me as I realized our lovely home where I saw Les that first morning back in October of 2010 in nothing but his denim jeans as he leaned out on my back deck railing is gone now; it exists only in my memory. It was a visceral reminder that one really cannot ever go home again. 
The front garden with the mature Bradford pear tree is gone... is the seventeen foot back deck, bijou garden and for some reason, half the siding.
The back deck of Cloudhouse in better days.
The front garden under the shade of the flowering Pear Tree.
     Time spent with our friends Karen and Jim Barron included long talks about grief. Both lost spouses before finding each other. Karen and her first husband lived on a sailboat for eight years so she has a competent grasp of what life is like living aboard a boat. Les and I always enjoyed their amazing home which is filled with masks, sculptures and wonderful art. It is like a museum of cultural anthropology.
     For years now the Barrons have opened their home to foreign exchange students from other parts of the world seeking a degree from WSU. The students live with Karen and Jim for several years as they complete their degrees. Bonds of friendship are formed which build a lasting bridge of love that stretches between countries and families. I enjoyed  meeting Ashitotosh, the latest graduate student from India. He is working on a PhD in Economics. Ash may visit Britain some day and he knows he has a cruise on a narrow boat waiting for him. Karen and Jim also spoiled me with delicious meals, a pedicure with hot wax on my hands and feet, and Karen went with me to eat ice cream at Ferdinand's Creamery and visit the bears at the WSU Research Center--two of Les' favorite Pullman offerings. This is love. 
Karen and I with the Cougar sculpture in her front garden.

     I lunched with our friend, author and scholar Charmaine Wellington and we laughed and cried at memories of Les. I remember when we dined at her house in 2012 and Les was in proper awe of how she remodeled her home with her own two hands. Les loved such projects and he thought it fascinating and very cool that Charmaine plunged in, picked up hammer, nails and whatever else was required and created an amazing tiny home. This time we celebrated the next phase of her life, retired from WSU and traveling in her new RPod travel trailer. Time spent in her company was a gift of love.
Charmaine and her RPod travel trailer outside her home in Pullman.
     I stayed an extra day in Pullman to revisit the bears once more on my own, have one more ice cream cone for Les at Ferdinand's, and visit Sunnyside Park where I took my grandsons to feed the ducks when they were little; I sat on "our" bench--mine and Les'--and thought about all the times we enjoyed the view of Kamiak Butte, or watched as the sun set, the evening sky faded to dark, the stars twinkled above us and bats came out by the hundreds to swoop and swirl around us.

I took a walk on the nine mile Chipman Trail between Pullman, Washington and Moscow, Idaho. Les and I walked here many, many times as we talked about our plans for the future.
Beautiful downtown Pullman! Look at those WIDE lanes, and traffic signals above them with easy to read street signs.
Cruising past Rico's Pub.
The children's playground at Sunnyside Park where grandsons Michael, Matthew and Mim (that's me) spent hours playing together.
I took this picture for Les. He was always amazed by the covered picnic areas with built in BBQ's available at most parks.
Our bench at Sunnyside Park where we sat holding hands and enjoying the views of Kamiak Butte as the golden glow of evening dimmed.
The view of Kamiak in the far distance from our bench, overlooking the children's playground.
The pond at Sunnyside where the ducks waited for me, Mikey Boy and Matthew to appear with a loaf of bread.
The young Grizzly bears at Washington State University's Bear Research Center.
Time out for a Grizzly juvenile.
Les loved the bears and visited them several times a week...
along with several weekly visits to Ferdinand's Ice Cream!! This is a half licked sugar cone so you can imagine the actual size of the scoop before it started melting.
Marijuana is now legalized in Washington State and I knew Les would have stopped to take a picture; well actually Les would have gone in to see what it was all about!
I saw this on my way to Sunnyside Park and I had to stop and take a picture as I knew Les would have done so. His curiosity knew no bounds.
This little pantry is standing in the parking lot of a fire station! Why, Les would ask, it is located here? Because in Washington State if  someone wants or needs to abandon their baby, they can leave the child at the local fire station and no questions are asked. Safe haven laws are statutes in the United States that decriminalize the leaving of unharmed infants with police Stations, fires stations, rescue squads and hospitals. If a parent changes their mind they have thirty days to reclaim their child from the State. This little panty offers free diapers, formula and a few other comestibles that might make a difference for a poverty stricken young mother who is thinking of abandoning their child.
American Flags were flying high everywhere I looked and they were far larger than I've ever seen before--a side effect of The Donald being voted into the highest office in the land.
  I hiked Kamiak Butte on my own one final time. As my feet walked the damp trail, my mind saw another time and place; our wedding day as my sandaled feet made the trip up the path, the skirt of my long wedding dress billowing outward with each footfall, joy in my heart and anticipation at reaching the first summit and seeing my Best Beloved in his white shirt, black leather vest and black jeans, waiting for me with family and friends. This time only two chipmunks waited, playing on the sun warmed rocks just beyond the spot where we said our wedding vows and where I scattered some of Les' ashes a few weeks previously. The wind sighed in the tops of the pine trees and the air was heavy with their sun warmed scent. 

The view from where we were married and where I scattered some of  Les' ashes.
A chipmunk sits unconcerned by my presence in the warm afternoon sun.
       I had also stayed an extra day so our dear friends Larry and Lael Turnbow had time to return to their ranch in Potlatch, Idaho. They had a funeral to attend on the West side of the State and I wanted to see them while I was in the area. My visit with Larry and Lael was too brief but it was a sight for sore eyes to see them both. They have a love like mine and Les' and their life on the ranch is filled with projects, animals, and local wildlife. We so enjoyed staying at the ranch in 2012. Les experienced his first American Thanksgiving there, seated around the long table among loving friends. On our final morning Larry came and knocked at the guest house door about six a.m. "Elk! The herd is coming down the mountainside," he said as he handed a pair of binoculars to Les who watched in awe as the dark mass of the moving herd  flowed down through the trees and spread out in the open valley. As I said goodbye this time, a herd of Elk came down the mountainside across from the ranch and settled to grazing in the meadow. I felt as though it was a gift for Les. This is love. 
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Elk herd grazing in the meadow.

     I spent two days in a hotel with a dear friend from my University days at Eastern Washington University. Orinda Beiers is shorter than me with a cascade of hair that often reaches her waist. She earned a chemistry degree and puts it to good use at Hanford Nuclear Reservation keeping radioactive waste from escaping. I introduced Orinda to British tea years ago. This time she brought her teapot and we sat and sipped PG Tips and walked down memory lane together.
     She too has walked the grief trail with her childhood friend Val who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer at age 38--a single mother with children aged ten and sixteen. Orinda took Val home to her house, called in Hospice and took care of Val until she died. Then she  and her husband Rob took care of Val's children.
     We talked, laughed, cried, commiserated and had a fabulous brunch at Old European Restaurant. Orinda introduced me to it years ago. Les and I frequented the one in Pullman where a "Full American" is standard fare: real hash browns--crispy and browned on the outside and cooked through to tenderness inside--mounded on one's plate (and not currently available in Britain), with real American bacon cooked to a mouth satisfying crunch and rich with taste, two eggs any of the six different ways one may order them (I like mine over easy--a concept I struggle to communicate to restaurant and pub staff in the UK), delicious fried American sausage patties--all meat and no rusk, bread, or cereal fillers, thank you very much; toast, biscuits or english muffin with butter and a choice of five different jams. Oh and freshly squeezed orange juice! Heaven!!  Orinda left home, husband, dogs, and daughter behind in the Tri-Cities to spend two girly days with me knowing intimately how broken with grief I was. This is love.
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Orinda and Rob.
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THIS is a full American! Eggs over easy, delicious Crispy bacon, and no potato triangles are seen in this picture.
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The round balls on the left are Ebileskivers--Swedish blueberry pancakes! The top plate is sporting proper hashbrowns and eggs benedict with real Hollandiase sauce.

     Our dear friends Sara and Bill Marlowe allowed me to escape into an evening of theater with a seat at the play Noises Off! which he directed for Spokane Civic Theater. Afterward I attended the opening night cast party with them and met the amazingly talented group of young actors whose performance was spot on. I stayed the night with Sara and Bill and we drank wine and remembered Les and all of the years Sara and I worked at Spokane Public Radio together. She still fills in for them and I met her one morning at the new station digs for a tour, saying hello to several of my old colleagues. Sara and Bill spoiled me with Breakfast at the fabulous Satellite Bar and Diner in downtown Spokane where I was gifted with one of their coffee mugs. The next afternoon we enjoyed a fabulous Mexican lunch and a movie matinee of Logan which was riveting. All three of us are sci-fi fantasy buffs,  the rare thing Les and I did not share, so it was fun. This is love.
Bill and Sarah sporting the windswept look at our wedding on Kamiak Butte in 2011.

       I spent a day and a night with my friend Jane Fritz who lives in a yurt in North Idaho. Jane and I also met through Spokane Public Radio. She produces radio programs about environmental issues for public broadcasting and is a published author of a definitive book about Lake Pend Oreille in Sandpoint where she resides. The lake is thirty two miles long and over 1500 feet deep. Jane has also spent over thirty years working with local Native American tribes supporting their culture and telling their stories.
     When we visited in 2012 Les was in awe of the majestic beauty of the lake and the wilderness around it. Jane and I drank herb tea and stayed up to the wee hours catching up, sharing memories. The next morning we were woken by the cackling calls of The Turkey Brothers--three wild turkeys who visit her acreage to forage, calling and displaying their fanned tail feathers. Ten wild deer also visited to graze while Jane tossed them some grain to supplement the meager supply of grass as it had been a hard winter and there was still some snow on the ground.
     We drove into Sandpoint and had a delicious breakfast with more hash browns, bacon, and eggs over easy in the company of our friend Victoria--another short-arse woman like me. In fact she and I could pass for sisters. After we ate we took a walk part way around the lake and on the way back a bald eagle settled into a nude Cottonwood tree to watch for fish. Another gift for Les...and yes all of this is love.
Jane in front of her yurt.
Life in the round!
Jane feeding the wild deer.
The Turkey Bros. fan their tails in a display.
My lovely friend Victoria and me.
Jane and Victoria with the magnificent North Idaho wilderness across Lake Pend Oreille, from our breakfast table.

     On my final day in the States another dear, dear friend from University days drove up from Moses Lake to spend the afternoon with me. Adelina Gonzales brought her new husband Santiago to meet me. He is a baker and brought a platter of delicious Mexican delights: Empanadas, pink cake, cookies, and more. 
Adelina and Santiago
     Back in 2012 Les and I stayed at Adelina's house in North Seattle. She was walking her own grief trail over the untimely death of her oldest daughter Raquel from what turned out to be an undiagnosed genetic disease. Adelina took part in our wedding on Kamiak Butte and Les adored her as do I. A single parent like me, Adelina had also spent years living alone, working hard at a career as a labor organizer, raising her children and delighting in her grandchildren.
     Our children knew each other from when they were little and we lived on campus at EWU. When her daughter Sandra heard I was actually marrying--a man?!! AND giving up my home with its extensive library to live in Britain on a tiny, narrow boat she exclaimed in stunned surprise, 
     "Wow! He must really be something if Jaq is marrying him and giving up her library of books to live in England on a boat!"
     Yes Sandra, Les really was something special: amazing, romantic, kind, funny, smart and he loved me without end or reserve. As the inscription in his wedding ring says, "You are my joy," and nothing is truer.

    As I opened the door to Adelina and Santiago I was thrilled to see the years of care and sorrow had disappeared from her face. She looked happy, relaxed, and fifteen years younger.  Clearly she is in good hands with her new husband. We had a long lunch at Luigi's Italian Restaurant and caught up with each other, our children and grandchildren and remembered Les fondly and well. Les and Santiago would have got on fabulously. The enduring nature of our friendship--this is love.
   Finally but not least there were dinners with the famous Wednesday Women. We met at a thirteen week course called Rise Up and Call Her Name, a investigation into the Goddess in Her guise throughout many cultures and across time. At the end of the course there were eight of us who bonded and sought a means of staying in touch with one another. Rosemarie Duffy, a retired Air Force Colonel and nurse anesthetist had just finished reading a book on women's intentional communities. She shared the idea of women's collective dinners and from her this group was born. We met every Wednesday night from 6-8 P.M. at one our homes each week. We didn't miss a dinner for five years. Over the decades the group lost two members who moved out of the area and I moved to Pullman, yet the love and bonding between us still remained and the Wednesday Women continued sometimes with me and sometimes without. We remain linked in love and spirit and it has been so for twenty three years now.
    When I announced to WW that I was getting married to an Englishman and moving to Britain to live on a narrow boat, they said, "Oh no you aren't--not until we check him out!" Les had the distinction of being the very first man to attend a WW dinner, where he won them over with his usual sweet, unassuming, kind and funny personality. Rosemarie though was the toughest nut to crack. At the end of dinner, over dessert and coffee she sat back and stared at Les intently.
     "So Les I want to know what you bring to the table because Jaq can already afford to eat at McDonald's on her own." 
Yep that was Rosemarie--the Colonel ascended and she was brisk, straightforward and right to the point! 
     After Les and I married the WW held a wedding dinner in our honor and their respective spouses and partners were also invited. The men nearly carried Les over the threshold of Kialynn's house in their shoulders. One man confided, " I have always wondered what our women discuss at these dinners!" 
The Wednesday Women in 2013:back row left to right: Kialynn, Lisa, Rosemarie, Rhea; Front row left to right: Marion and Gina.

     Being intelligent, creative and educated feminists as well as artists, teachers, writers, educators, poets, psychologists, feminist community leaders, witches, healers, chefs, several world travelers, with a nurse anesthetist and Air force Colonel in the mix, our conversations covered myriad topics and ascended to amazing intellectual heights and insights. After one evening with these women my mind was more stimulated than it was working five years for a major university among academics.
     So you can imagine my shock to hear that Rosemarie now suffered from short term memory loss caused by dementia requiring her to move to a residential care facility. I was also warned that she would probably not remember me and she didn't. Rosemarie--who had always stood straight and strong owing to her life as a soldier--now walks stooped over and shuffles like a much older person. Her lively blue eyes are dim and vague. She certainly did not remember Les or that the WW had taken her for dinner a couple of weeks previously. During the evening Rosemarie said to me, 
     "I am ready to die now." I asked her why. She replied,
    "I have nothing to live for anymore. I know I cannot remember anything. I don't have a car or my own home anymore and I am ready to go now." 
I asked Rosemarie what she did all day and her reply broke my heart:
    "I eat breakfast with the other residents and then I return to my room and watch TV until I get bored and go to bed." The WW women are her mainstay now, visiting her and taking her out for dinners. 
Around the table from left to right: Kialynn, Rosemarie, Rhea, Lisa; Marion--nearly 99 years old--sits next  to me. Gina arrived later.
Gina and Kialynn lovingly care for our sister friend Rosemarie. This is love.
     Life is so cruel. We work hard all of our lives to hopefully one day afford retirement and enjoy the fruits of our labors. We reach an age in our lives when we may have the wisdom and patience to finally appreciate what life still offers and then our bodies betray us. Rosemarie was a part of the Harvard Nurses Study which has run for over forty years. She watched her weight, exercised, and ate low fat meals in moderation and still her body betrayed her. I went home broken hearted and informed both of my daughters that if I should notice a marked issue with respect to memory loss (not the occasional lapse that generally comes with older age), I plan to get shit-faced drunk, fall off the stern of the boat and drown. I do not want to be warehoused and I certainly don't want my children burdened with the unbearable agony of "what to do with mom." It is a lose-lose situation for everyone involved.
     Finally this trip back to the States was necessary for me to definitely answer the question, "Where is home?"
     It is the most surreal and bizarre feeling to be a citizen born and raised in a country and return to find that is is no longer in fact home. I am surprised the TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) officials at the airport weren't wearing jack boots. The mood was tense for everyone with citizenship or visas to the States while we waited in line at Customs.
     Once past the gatekeepers and settled into my daughter's home in Spokane Valley, Washington, I experienced culture shock once more. I remember when Les and I returned in 2012 and I realized then just how BIG everything is over in America. Well this still holds true only now things are even BIGGER--cars, bottles of laundry detergent, shampoo, packages of meat, meal portions, automobiles. All seem to have been super duper sized since we were there last. Even my first born grandson is supersized at over six feet tall and size thirteen shoes! When Mikey Boy bends over to hug me now he can easily wrap his arms around me and pick me up. By comparison I feel like Britain is Lilliput!  And I found I missed the smallness of things in my adopted homeland and the ability to walk nearly everywhere.
     A vehicle of some kind is essential to do anything in the States. I knew I would need an automobile and when I began planning this trip in February I was so numbed by grief over Les' death that my mind was barely functioning. It is still functioning intermittently as I am easily taken by past events and lose track of the present. Driving a car or the boat is the only exception to this.
     Anyway, when I first checked on the cost of a rental car for six weeks the quoted price was $1700.00. For various reasons I was unable to make arrangements to rent a car before I left. Money was part of it. Les' State pension died with him because I am only 59--six and a half years from retirement age. I had applied for Bereavement Benefits but things move very slowly over here, especially when one is not a citizen but has indefinite leave to remain. Until the Department for Work and Pensions determined that I was eligible for benefits of £450.00 a month for one year, I simply had to make do with what we had in our bank account.
     After three weeks without a vehicle I went to Enterprise to rent a car and with insurance it cost me $1485.00 for three weeks! I emptied out my bank account and hit the road. After nine days some dear friends called to say their extra rig had come out of the repair shop and would I like to use it? Yes!! I returned the rental car and managed to get some of my money back. I would like to thank Joel and Keri for the use of their Honda CRV; for putting Sparky and Kelli up at their house and for dinner and evenings spent with two lovely people. This is love.
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Keri and Joel who graciously lent me their extra rig to drive. Young, hard grafting to make ends meet, they are a part of my extended family from the days of Sparky's childhood when Joel first came into our lives. He will always be one of mine and now his wife Keri is too. Their kindness and generosity touched me deeply.

     I would also like to thank our many friends who offered love and support--both emotional and financial to help me through this difficult period. I could not have made this foray back to the States to place some of Les' ashes on Kamiak Butte, touch bases with dear friends or spend time with our wonderful children and grandchildren were it not for the kindness and generosity of our dear friend Cousin Kindheart in Canada whom Les and I have never met. 
     CK found Les' blog first and then mine. Over the past six years we have become email and phone friends. He called me the day after Les died and among the things we discussed he said, 
     "I want to know what you need now young lady; whatever it is you tell me and it is yours." 
I thought about it for a week and called him to say I needed to go back to the States to be with our family over there but I simply couldn't afford it. He replied, 
     "Don't sweat it. The ticket is yours." This is love.
     That old saying about knowing who your real friends are when the chips are down holds true. Friends on both side of the world--on land and on the canals, in America and in Britain have offered me financial assistance, manual and practical assistance knowing my finances were precarious and that grief clouds the mind and breaks the heart, making it difficult to make decisions or even make sense of the world in any meaningful way. This is love. 
     To each and every one of you who said to me, 
     "Tell us what you need Jaq; anything we can do we will do. We are here for you," 
and who followed through and continue to do so in ways large and small: for your patience, your kindness, your assistance, your wisdom shared, for reaching out to me on the phone, via email and FaceBook, and in person, it is because of your unstinting support and love that I am finding my way again in this world without Les. It isn't easy. It is painful and tough but I will make it because while Les is gone I am not alone. I have a heart full of his love for me, and so many cherished memories; and I have all of you for which my thankfulness knows no bounds. 
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Patti Gora McRavin, or "The Rev," as Les affectionately referred to her; our dear friend who married us on Kamiak Butte and who has plumbed the awful depths of grief in her own widow's walk towards a new life and love. Patti emailed me frequently over the weeks and  months after Les died, providing me with insights into my current wretched state and hope and light for the journey ahead. This is love.

     And the answer to the question, "Where is home?" 
     Home is where the heart is, and mine is with Les, somewhere on the other side of the veil, but for my physical lifetime it is here in Britain where there are 2000 miles of canals and navigable rivers, sixty percent of which I have not yet cruised. Home is a narrow boat named Valerie and wherever I roam on her, that is home. I am able to live my dream because my husband ensured I could. That is love.
My sweet baby and his favorite place on this earth: the stern of NB Valerie with me by his side.


Dragontatoo said...

We love you 1000 Swedish Fish (and Cinnamon Bears) -- Love the last pic of Les, it is quintessentially him!

Marilyn, nb Waka Huia said...

Biggs hugs, Jaq, biggs hugs, M&D xxooxx

nb Billy Whizz said...

A lot of love and thought provoking stuff .xx always in my thoughts xxx

Jerry Kraft said...

When I finished reading this it left me in tears. I so, so wish I could spend some time with you, Jaqueline. You are one of the most important people in my life, and always will be.

Arthur said...

Lovely memories for you now you are back. Lovely to put faces to the WW ladies we spoke about! Take care - we are leaving on Wednesday!

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Jesse,

I love you to the end of the universe--and back again with all the Swedish fish and Cinnamon Bears that will fit on the journey! It is a great picture of Les. We both so wanted to spend more time with all of you. He loved you, ben and the boys and was so proud to be a part of our family. He and both will be with you all tomorrow when Mike walks in his high school graduation.

Love Mamma xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Thanks Marilyn. I'll have them all! xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Tracey,

Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts. xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Jerry,

I feel the same way about you. You are a part of my family too and I was so excited planning our trip back, knowing that Les would finally meet you and Bridget. I am brokenhearted over so much and part of that is the sadness that comes from knowing that instead of Les and I being over there right at this moment, he is dead, having missed out on so many good times with friends he never met and places he never saw but he would have totally love it all. You and Les would have got on brilliantly.

You and Bridget continue to take good care of each other and know you are never very far from my thoughts and always in my heart.

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Arthur,

Where are you off to now?

Jaq xxx

Carol said...

Oh Jaq, that was so beautiful, so poignant, heartbreaking yet happy, so touching, I've had tears whilst reading it. You had to make this journey to recognise where 'home' is and I remember being worried that you would decide it was not here, but you did return and all your friends and relatives know this is the right place for you. You are doing wonderfully well and we're proud to be one of your many friends.
Carol and George.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jaq,
What a pleasure, bittersweet as it is, to read this: to see the faces of the folk you have talked about, to marvel at the stunning scenery and wildlife, to gaze at the American grocery products... I giggled with recognition at the milkshakes as I can clearly recall our Californian grandchildren tackling these (to us) enormous drinks with the top ups on the side...!
I hope the trip back "home" has given you some strong and positive memories to fortify you as you continue life back here.
Love and hugs,
Sue /Boatwif / nb Cleddau

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Oh Carol,

Thank you my dear sweet friend and that applies to George too. The loving kindness and support you both offer me makes life without Les easier to bear. The two of you are a true bright spot in my life and Les loved you both dearly too as you well know.

I'm so pleased you followed this part of my journey and enjoyed reading this post, poignant though it is. And I happy to be home on the cut on my island home.

Love Jaq xxx

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hi Sue,

Les and I used to eat at Ed's Diner over here as we could order one milk shake and share it! I so love that you, Ken, Les and I had and the three of us continue to have that bi-cultural connection with family in Britain and the USA.

It seems crazy to some I guess for someone to travel 7000 miles to answer a simple question, but the question was not straightforward and I had to be sure. I know you understand. Les and I counted ourselves fortunate to have the pleasure of friendship with you and ken, whose presence in our lives made it fun, interesting, and filled with love and laughter; and it continues to be so.

Love Jaq xxx

Anonymous said...

Beautiful writing, Jaq! And that wonderful picture of Les at the very end with that incredible smile, well, marvelous. Thanks for sharing.

Sending love, Lisa

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...


Thank you! As a WW, I've been fortunate to be inspired by your example in many areas of life, and to have your unstinting love and support for which I am eternally grateful. I can hear your lovely laughter now in my head and your thoughtful voice offering analyses with kindness, love. compassion and that dry mirth you are famous for sharing with others.

Love Jaq xxx

Arthur said...

Hi Jaq, we are going to Birmingham,Black Country and T & M - 6 to 8 weeks until next hospital visit for Jen to check on her skin cancer recovery. We're teaming up with Helen and Philip and assorted animals on Adagio for the summer. Not sorted out exactly which route yet - not rushing anywhere!

Jennie said...

Mostly due to dodgy Internet it has taken me until today to read this. It was worth the wait. So beautifully written. I was with you every step of the way. I was very touched by the little pantry of baby necessities. So many bittersweet memories, so many great friends and a loving family. I hope they helped with the pain you must have suffered without Les at your side. Hapay cruising. Take care. Love Jennie & Chris xx

Back Porch Writer said...

What a wonderful heartfelt touching trip! Thanks for sharing with us. Wonderful friends and family!

Unknown said...

I feel like an intruder in your life,in your happiness,and your grief,also in the love you have for so many others,and them for you.
Good luck with whatever the future holds for you,and bless you too,thank you for sharing your heart and soul with the world,Rod.

Mrs. Jaqueline Biggs said...

Hello Rod,

Thank you for visiting our blog and for leaving a comment. I am a writer and Teaching out to others through the written word is like breathing to me. I hope you will continue to follow along on the blog.



NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs