Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Sentimental Journey

(I wrote a beautiful entry this morning, Bush, but my computer decided to go into hibernation with no warning, and the text was lost. What follows is my pale attempt to reconstruct the poetry of early morning!)

Aspley Guise

I woke up this morning thinking about Aspley Guise. You won't have heard of it, Bush. It's a very small village in the English countryside, in the county of Bedfordshire, just north of London. Our family moved there just before World War II, when I was one and a half years old--a time when my father had to move south from Newcastle-on-Tyne, where I was born, and where he had been vicar of a "slum" parish in that then dreary, poverty-stricken coal-mining city. He had been advised to move for health reasons: stomach problems, according to family lore, which I suspect had a lot to do with the surplus of compassion he felt for his parishoners, the poorest of the poor.

These memories occur because my daughter, Sarah, arrived last night to celebrate the weekend of my birthday (next Tuesday, Bush, just in case you didn't know. A big one, with a nasty zero at the end), and brought with her the most wonderful gift I could imagine. She had put together a collage of the village, based on a pilgrimage she made there a couple of years ago with her two half-brothers, my daughter-in-law, and my three grandchildren--a rare gathering of my now sadly dispersed family. They had the touching notion to visit the village where their dad had spent his formative childhood years.

The collage brought back all kinds of names and images: The Spinney, St. Botolph's church, the Rectory, the village square with the horse trough, Aspley House with its brick wall from which I fell--or was pushed by one Robert John, a schoolmate--and suffered a concussion; The Anchor--the local pub; the house up by the woods where Granny Murcott lived and where our border collie, Hank, would run from the Rectory to bring back the bags of sweets she tied to his collar for us children; the sand pit and the golf course; the lane that led down past the bluebell woods to the RAF airfield at Cranfield, where I remember once watching Spitfires land in flames from the Battle of Britain... Sarah had beautifully summoned the history and geography of the place with maps and texts (including some from my own long poem, Aspley Guise, which was the first book I ever published), and included pictures taken on that family visit. The whole thing, I have to tell you, Bush, brought tears to my eyes.

The war was raging only a short way to the south, in London, during our years there, and among my vivid memories are the bombs that fell just a quarter mile from the Rectory and the Messerschmidt fighter plane that crash-landed in a local farmer's field. More than anything, though, I remember the busloads of terrified refugees escaping the London Blitz. Aspley Guise was a convenient stop over on their way north to safety, and because we had a big old Victorian house with plenty of room in the coal cellars below, my parents welcomed them for overnight stays.

And recalling that terror, Bush--it was tangible to me, even as a child--I could not help but think of those terrorized children in Lebanon and Israel both, today, where the bombs are dropping and the missiles falling. I was fortunate to have a place of relative safety in the little village of Aspley Guise, but I sometimes think that those who enter rashly into wars these days might have second, more sober thoughts if they had only experienced the terror of war first-hand. It pains me to know that we have learned so little, and that the bombs continue to drop.


denn said...

I had an uncle with a German bullet in his neck he took while a Ranger popping his head up at Pont Du Hoc. My Dad was dodging Kamakazes in the Pacific.

Therefore, I learned war hstory at an early age. The Navy sure made a lot of mistakes.

Winning that war was a bad thing for the US in a way. Because it taught Americans how to make money off war and arsenals.

GringoWithoutBorders said...

Yes, Peter, nothing compares to the terror of war first hand. What an introduction to the world you had.

If one reads about war or hears stories from participants, then many people only glimpse the heroics or the moral certitude of one party against another.

Just about every soldier/Marine in an armed conflict, on ALL sides, have a picture of their family in their pockets/wallets and simply wants to raise a family, attend a wedding, eat a good dinner, laugh and live a full life.

Too bad we have artificial land boundaries, race identification, religious identification or any group identification at all which desires to seperate one human from another.

PK said...

Your Daughter, in her happiness to please, found only the good in your young life... you on the other hand saw the war along with it. This generation doesn't really understand unless they have been there. I was living in Caracas when the riots started, communists you know, we had to get out. When we came down Simon Bolivar Blvd. you could see the downtown in flames, we were some of the last to get out of there before all hell broke loose. Our taxi driver was thankful to be at the airport and not in the city. But that was a short lived thankfulness, there were cars coming down the narrow road to the airport to get the Americans. He was pretty safe, not being one, but we weren't even in our seats when they closed the door to the plane and we took off. Some chased us as we did. While this was not war with bombs dropping, I can feal the fear these children have. And Bush is helping it right along... Oh, and Gringo, this is one time I agree with what you wrote... it is sad.

Dave said...

Since almost every species I can think of is territorial and given to coherences of prides, packs, flocks, I have no hope for the undifferentiated human species. Further I don't much favor it as an ideal because humanity (the six billion) is too much of an abstraction for emotional ties. It seems to me a theoretical fellowship and I need smaller communities: family, clan, neighborhood, even my college football team. I need the traditions and specific styles to help make life concretely there.

Of course I agree that such groups should not be egocentric, xenophobic, arrogantly vain, unaccepting, rigid, intolerant. They need to be fluid and concentric, circles within circles. But the purely rational, esperanto, uniform universalism of, say, H. G. Wells seems to me cold. And the universal love of Christ seems to me unimaginable.

I want to keep moving in various cultures, but with different degrees of attachment, to respect all humans but to have different kinds and degress of affection. That is the kind of complex and versatile love that I value. Six billion to me is just a number like the two hundred billion solar systems in our galaxy. I prefer the stars I can see.