We talked about a trip to London for years—my mom, my sister and me. As avid readers of the British literary masters, it was a shame we hadn’t journeyed over the pond to pay homage to the authors we loved so much.
We promised ourselves a decade ago that we’d make a ladies’ trip of it, but as you might imagine, life delivered several detours. Babies. More Babies. Careers. Caring for my grandmother in the last years of her life. All of these life events (though wonderful) kept us firmly planted on home turf.
But then life threw us a curveball that knocked us off our feet: a cancer diagnosis. As many of you know, my mom is living with breast cancer and has been working with great determination over the last year to preserve her health. The very day we received her official diagnosis—in the midst of many tears and hugs—my mom, my sister and I vowed to make good on all that talk of London. No more delays. No more excuses. THIS was our time.
Over the next several months, we pulled our plans together. One of our best decisions was to invite Mom’s dearest friend Carol and her daughter Ruth to join us. We sat together with Mom through long chemo treatments, and our impending journey gave us something wonderful to talk about while the drip, drip, drip of her IV faded into the background.
There were moments when we weren’t sure we’d be able to go, when health challenges threatened to derail us. But prayer, desire and motivation are powerful. As winter gave way to spring, the storms cleared and we boarded a plane for the journey of a lifetime.
To say that our trip was perfect is rather an understatement. It was strangely perfect. Our flight was smooth. Our bed and breakfast, Aster House, was charming, quiet and run by the most delightful people on earth. We ate incredible food: British, French, Italian, Argentinian, Spanish, Turkish and North African. We sipped tea and nibbled treacle tart. We mastered the London Underground. We saw everything we wanted to see: Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the British Museum, Shakespeare’s Globe, Jane Austen’s home and burial site, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, St. Paul’s Cathedral and even an Agatha Christie play. We got lost only a few times (thanks to Ruth, our dear Sherpa).
I won’t drain you on every detail, but I do want to share three particularly special memories:
Choral Matins at Westminster: One of our first orders of business in London was to attend church at Westminster Abbey, one of the most beautiful places of worship on the planet (and also burial site to kings, queens, scholars and poets). We were seated at Westminster in the choir stalls (shown here), and when the world-class Abbey Choir processed in, they filed into seats right next to us! We could have reached out and touched the boys’ little red robes with white lace collars. But we kept our hands to ourselves, sat back and soaked in the most beautiful, angelic music you could imagine. The whole experience brought tears to our eyes. It was fabulous. If you ever venture to London (and I hope you will), put Choral Matins at Westminster on your must-do list.
Chivalry on the Tube: Our major mode of transportation in London was the Underground. We rode the tube (as they call it) every single day, many times a day, and became quite skilled at switching lines, “minding the gap,” and navigating amongst the hustle-bustle of daily London life. We found everyone on the trains to be courteous and dignified, as you might expect of the Brits. But on several occasions, we found more than simple courtesy. Upon boarding a train, it was not uncommon for a young man, seated and immersed in his smartphone, to immediately stand and quietly offer his place to my mom. I was so touched every time this happened, and I thought, “would young men in the US do the same?” Perhaps they would, but all I can say is that chivalry and kindness are alive and well in the UK.
Sugar-Pack Poker: We felt remarkably safe in London, considering that it is a huge city and certainly has its fair share of crime. But the streets of London were, to us, quite safe if we stuck together and paid careful attention to what was going on around us. Nevertheless, we thought it wise to stick pretty close to home after dark. Our B&B was surrounded by restaurants and bars within easy walking distance, and after dinner, if we had any remaining energy, we gathered in the Aster House dining room for a little friendly wagering. Our friend Ruth taught us the ins and outs of Blackjack and Poker, and it wasn’t long before we were placing bets, raking in winnings and losing it all with wild abandon. Our currency? Not British Sterling. Not even good ol’ US dollars. We bet in sugar. In the absence of chips or spare change, we snatched up every sugar pack we could find, doled them out to each player, shuffled the cards and let the games begin. It was such fun—even for Mom and me, who were both so unskilled at betting that we needed several “mercy loans” to stay in the game.
Everything about our London adventure was perfectly perfect, from the historical sites to the fabulous meals to the tasty beers and even the sugar-pack poker. This was much more than a vacation. It was truly a dream fulfilled.
Before we left for London, Carol’s sister dubbed our journey “Friendship in Motion.” And she was exactly right. Our friendship moved and stretched and grew halfway around the globe, across land, sea and sky. I think it would reach to the moon and back if we tried.
A Note of Thanks: Our London adventure was ladies-only, but it would not have been possible without the menfolk in our lives, who carried on in our absence and never uttered a word of complaint. Thank you for the house cleaning, meal making, kid taxiing, squabble mediating and everything else you did so we could be perfectly carefree. You guys are treasures, and we’ll make it up to you somehow.
Thanks also to Mom’s wonderful oncologist, Dr. Stephanie Graff, for encouraging us to take this trip and making it medically possible to do so. Dr. Graff is a tremendous blessing in our lives.