January 24, 2011

I Remember...

The other day, I was on Facebook "talking football" - ok, I use that term loosely - with a small group of women with whom I went to high school.  I mentioned that I was pulling for the Packers, and Emily warned me not to tell Liz that I wasn't in favor of her Chicago Bears. In the meantime, I was trying to make sure I was rooting for the Jets, Kim's team, but worried that if I didn't put some faith in Pittsburgh, I might hurt someone else's feelings. In the end, I giggled and thought it was pretty cool that all four of us, Emily, Kim, Liz and I - were wearing four different jerseys last Sunday, yet we all grew up in the same town.

How's that? you ask. And, how is it that we will all be attending our high school reunion in Chicago this fall, when none of us is from Chicago? (Ok, Liz, maybe you are.)

When I explain it, I'm always afraid of sounding arrogant or pretentious.  Sometimes I try to downplay my upbringing, or act like it was no big deal, but the older I get, the more I realize it was a big deal, and it's something of which I am very proud. My parents weren't rich - far from it - but I was privileged in a way that I will never be able to bestow upon my own kids, no matter how much money I make.

When I was twelve years old, about halfway through the worst year of my entire life in Portland, Oregon, my Dad announced that he had been transferred and we were moving.  (I was being horribly bullied at school and was miserable every waking moment of the day, so he couldn't possibly have delivered more welcome news.)  Thing was, we weren't moving to California, or even Washington - places with which I was somewhat familiar and that I could picture in my head.  In fact, we weren't even moving to some remote, cool place, like New York, which I could have romanticized, having never been there.

My Dad had taken a job in England.

Great Britain.

Hmmmm.  Where was that again? My seventh grade geography skills were a little rough.

Soon after my thirteenth birthday/going away party that summer,  my family packed up and hopped a plane to London.  By that time, I knew exactly where it was, and I was pretty clear on the fact that it was a gazillion miles away from everything and everyone I knew and loved.  And, it was a gazillion miles away from Steve Greer and John Coleman, 7th Grade Terrorists.  I was ready.

My parents bought a house in north London, away from the military bases and the centralized "American districts" in the city. My brother, John, and I tested to get into a public school (that's private, for us Americans) but neither of us passed the entrance exams. (Come to think of it, John might have. I know I didn't.) They wanted us to assimilate.  We, conversely, missed Doritos and Oreos. Finally, they put us in a comprehensive (read: public) British school and wished us well each morning as we headed into what later became a loving family legacy joke. Ravenscroft was the name of the school, but I think even my Dad called it Ravenscrap in the end.

We spent Christmas of my eighth grade year in a gorgeous Zermatt, Switzerland, hotel room, overlooking the peaks of the Matterhorn.  The real one. During that holiday, which was no more or less spectacular than any of the countless others we took as a family over the course of the next five years, my parents discussed the option of pulling us out of the British school system and enrolling us in The American School in London.  I remember walking to school that following week, in our hideous school uniforms, making a pact with my brother that if our parents would let us move, we wouldn't even ask for new clothes to wear in the fancy, new, non-uniformed school.  American kids??? American teachers?? Just like "home" ???  We would happily continue to tie our orange and navy and gold striped ties every morning if that's what it took.

We entered ASL that January, and I was fortunate to spend the following four and half years there, graduating in the 101-member Class of 1982, with some of the greatest, truest friends I will ever have in my life.  Friends who came from all over the world - not just the United States - friends who had been uprooted from ordinary suburban American lives like I had, and friends who were merely stopping briefly in London between adventures in Saudi and Teheran and Melbourne.

Twenty nine years later, I am still in touch with many of my fellow ex-pats and we have shared many memory-filled weekend reunions in cities all over the U.S. Most of us can't get to London so easily these days, so the school holds our reunions over here, choosing a different city every five years.  We have become teachers and nurses and investors and stay home parents; we have built families - some of us have married our old high school sweethearts, and others, like me, have raised children with steadfast Americans who can't begin to understand what it meant to grow up in a foreign city.

Except it wasn't foreign to us.  The day I caught a plane "home" after graduation, I couldn't stop the tears.  I had no idea what I was going back to, nor did I have any desire to go there.  Everything I had come to know and love was intrinsically woven into the fabric of that city - and that school - and I was unsure of how to return to a place I no longer belonged to.

I made it ok. I went to college here and I live quite contentedly in the Pacific Northwest now.  But there isn't a day goes by that I don't miss

... the London rain. The smell of the platform of the Totteridge tube station at 7:41 on a Monday morning, the taste of a sweet, room-temperature cider when an Op Period backs up to lunch time...I miss the cobblestone streets and the leaded glass windows of my bedroom looking over my mother's rose garden. 

The first car I ever drove was an Austin Mini - half the size of the ones you can buy today and twice the fun...but I miss taking the tube everywhere we went instead, and keeping an eye on my brother, who always fell asleep to the rhythm of the clickety-clack of the tracks, and who counted on me to wake him in time to get home. (I often failed...hence the late night calls to Dad...)

I miss standing out on the library steps after school catching up on the gossip, meeting up at The Chiltern in Baker Street station on a Friday night for a pint...I miss the theater and the cheesy tourist stuff too, like Madame Tussauds and the Changing of the Guards. I miss Mr. Jesse and his crazy self teaching us how to love Shakespeare, and Mr. Noble being the best PE teacher a non-athletic girl could ever love. I miss the hours-long ride out to Molly's in the country, and the excitement of a sleepover smack downtown at Suzan's dad's pub. 

I spent the night before Princess Diana's wedding with these friends, curled up in a sleeping bag on the concrete of Trafalgar Square, just to catch a glimpse of her satin gown the next morning - and it was one of the best nights of my life. 

I took a trip down memory lane tonight, unintentionally; Matthew asked me to sit down and watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail with him and Jack.

I agreed, a little reluctantly - I mean, it's been 25 some-odd years since I last saw it and I'm pretty sure I was under the influence of something much stronger than red wine at that time.  I knew Jack wouldn't understand most of it, although with as much Spongebob as he watches, he should have clicked into the random humor.  But I love that Matt loves British humor,  and I remembered it was really effin' funny at the time, so I gave it a shot.

And suddenly, I was travelling a long way back to a time I keep thinking is going to fade from my memory, but it never does.

I'm so glad I found you again, Kim and Emily, Liz and John P, Molly, Beth, Andi, Julie, Suzanne, Neil, LeeAnn...and for those of you I never lost...Jochann, Amir...you can only imagine how hard I laughed tonight and how many good times came flooding back to me as I sat there, in my suburban American life, sharing my past with my kids.

Thanks for the memories :)

 Trafalgar Square, July 29, 1981 (that's me in the middle)


  1. The picture tells the story as well as you do.

  2. Wow!! I LOVED learning something so new about you!! I love this post, and the picture, and all the memories.

    I spent the first five years of my life in Europe and I was always disgruntled that I was so young I couldn't remember much of it. Still, it totally shaped me as a person. I've moved a lot, and what I've learned is that no matter where you live, you are always homesick for somewhere else, even if you love where you are.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  3. What a great post! And by coincidence, my post is a poem about class reunions!

  4. Tam,

    You brought tears to my eyes and I'm at work dammit!! Thank you for sharing these memories. I didn't know some of these things about you and John like that you went to British school! I always was bummed that I didn't arrive in London until after the wedding! I actually arrived the week they announced Princess Diana was pregnant with Wills so it brings back so many memories hearing about his wedding. I can't wait to see you in Chicago in October.

    Love Liz

  5. Emily Carter KelterJanuary 25, 2011 at 8:50 AM


    Liz alerted me to your blog! I, too, am crying. You stated, so well, what I have been unable to explain to those who did not experience what we did. I am sad that I cannot offer that experience to my girls. I remember sitting in the back seat of your mini, while Patty rode shotgun and you drove us all over town. I am so thankful for Facebook allowing us all to reconnect and stay that way! Looking forward to Chicago in a few months.

    Lots of love,


  6. Thanks for your memories...what a fantastic experience...did your parents come back to the States as well? One of my BFs was an ex-pat in Asia and met her husband when they were in high school -- her dad was on a base and his parents were missionaries then...the reunions they hosted were fascinating and everyone was so close b/c the experience really pulled them together...

  7. I clicked over here from the FB alumnus page. I had a very similar experience. My dad was transferred while I was beginning middle school as one of the most wildly unpopular girls in my school in the States. I was bullied and the move was the best thing that ever happened to me. Not just because geographically I changed but because I changed. Attending middle and high school at ASL was one of the most amazing times of my life. I miss London more than I can say, and wish I could give my children the opportunity to attend such a unique and amazing school (if it's the same ASL we attended- we moved there in 81). I was lucky in that my parents were there long after my graduation so I returned to the London to work until 95.