It’s been a while…again. If there are any readers left out there, hello and thank you..!
Mrs P is no longer across the Pond and hasn’t been for 8 months. This blog may no longer be relevant, but I never gave a round-up of our last days in Rye, so, very belatedly, here it is.
After the accident, we had just five days to pack up our life in America. And before we did, we were lucky enough to be waved on our way with some awesome hospitality from some exceptional people.
When we first moved to The States, we were warned that Americans don’t often entertain at home.
Pledges were certainly made – ‘Hey, fancy coming over for a grill?‘ or ‘We’ll arrange a grown up pizza night‘ but these didn’t often come to fruition. We might go out for dinner to a restaurant, but dinner parties at the homes of Americans were few and far between. Our American cousins are not renowned as the keenest of cooks.
However, one lovely American couple – Emily and Mackenzie – bucked the trend by rolling out a spectacular send off for us at their house. It was early July; a sumptuous balmy summer’s evening. Night was falling and armies of fireflies danced playfully around our party of ten as we lounged in luxuriant splendor on the Hurds’ terrace, drinks in hand, a vast array of apps – (nothing to do with software, but appetizers or what in our language are called canapés) – laid out before us. It was all quite dreamlike. Henry and I felt both humbled and honoured that our fairly new friends should go to such lengths. Dinner took place around the most beautifully accessorised dining room table and was nothing less than exquisite – Maine lobster for ten, dontcha know?
Dessert was the most extraordinary creation, something I had never heard of – a root beer float. I marvelled at how, nearly three years after arriving in America, I was still continuing to make these new discoveries. For the uninitiated, this pudding, if indeed it can be called that, consists of a bizarre cocktail of root beer (a fizzy drink made from an extract of plant roots and bark), ice cream and liberal lashings of squirty cream delivered from an aerosol. The finishing touch: a neon pink glacé cherry.
It was a magical evening. The convivial party consisted of six Americans and four Brits – the chat, humor and drinks flowed and I felt flushed with affection for our hosts and all those assembled around their dining room table, all of whom had generously clubbed together and presented us with the most magnificent framed painted map of Rye as a memento of our American adventure.
All too soon it was time to depart and saying goodbye was bittersweet – we had had too little time with these excellent people before moving back to the UK. I was reminded of how real friendships never just happen overnight – it can take such a long time to get to know people. When would we ever see everyone again? The thought caused quite a pang in my chest.
The next send off was a good old fashioned afternoon tea party held in Izzy’s leafy garden in Rye.
It was a week day – the husbands were at work, the children at camp. A group of girlfriends had gathered for the occasion, which was reminiscent of a scene from The Great British Bake Off. There were cookies and cakes, scones, sandwiches and strawberries and it felt like we had been transported to Heaven. It was the very best sort of afternoon and a blessed escape from the rental house we were attempting to vacate at the time, those hellish scenes being I have tried to erase from my mind.
It was a scorcher of a day. We refreshed ourselves with endless cups of tea and platefuls of homemade goodies. The gorgeous group of girls (incidentally, when one is in one’s 40s, can one still qualify as a girl? I fear not) had put in a huge amount of time and effort to compile a wonderful hard backed photobook for me, entitled Rye Recipes. It was so touching – packed full of terrific photographs, notes, anecdotes and delicious recipes. I look wistfully back on it now, fondly remembering our life in Rye.
Yet again it was time to say goodbye to a selection of friends I felt almost cheated to be leaving. In truth, I didn’t find it easy settling in to life in a New York suburb. I can’t lie – I never wanted to come to America and experienced a major culture shock in those first few months.
But then, as so often happens, things became easier and this British wife actually started to enjoy American life. About 18 months in and life seemed pretty good. Two years in: two wonderful families we spent a lot of time with suddenly left and then life became slightly tougher again. But that’s expat life for you – a rollercoaster of highs and lows where often the only predictability is the unpredictability of it all.
First-rate friends of ours, Swedish Kristine and her Austrian husband Gunter – had moved to Rye at a similar time to us in 2015 and happened to be departing a few weeks after us. It seemed fitting, therefore, to join forces and host a joint goodbye gathering.
This would be our third farewell – we had been lucky enough to have two others with our nearest and dearest, so I imagined this would be a fairly basic affair. I had largely run out of steam amidst the enormity of the move and had decided that I did not have the capacity to whip up a proper party. In my mind, we would expend minimal effort. I saw this as an opportunity to invite everyone we knew in Rye to pitch up at Oakland Beach in Rye with picnics and we could empty our cupboards of liquor and chips. It was July, so we could be fairly sure of balmy weather and the evening would run itself. Ideal.
Leaving the boys with a babysitter, Henry and I set forth through Rye Town Park towards the beach. Transportation of the remnants of our kitchen cupboards was provided by a wooden Radio Flyer – a terrific little trolley or wagon we had picked up at a Rye tag sale. Not exactly sophisticated, but most practical for the occasion.
The Saurwein family had already assembled by a spot in the park overlooking the Long Island Sound. They were presiding over a table laden with something close to a banquet and had clearly put in considerably more effort than their British friends with their wooden cart.
John Lydgate, circa 1440, is said to have observed that comparisons are odious and yes, John, they are. What could be more unfortunate than the contrast between the Saurweins’ efforts and ours?
Everyone had a laugh about the Philips’ efforts and we went on to have a wonderfully fun and relaxed evening, which, as expected, more or less ran itself. The weather was peachy, there was plenty of food, drink and good cheer and it was a simple, low key way of saying farewell. Just what we had hoped for.
With final farewells under our belts, it was time to turn our attentions to our new life back in the UK. Suddenly I had mixed feelings about returning. I have to confess that in the run-up to the move I had become hugely excited about returning to the motherland and could hardly wait to get back. Having been away for nearly seven years, I had started to feel increasingly rootless, wondering where we belonged. From that perspective, it seemed the right time to be heading back to be closer to family and friends again; a chance to put down roots.
But once again, we would be new. We were returning to an area with which we really had no prior links. Other than a sprinkling of friends we’d made during our brief spell in rural North Essex in 2015, yet again we would be new. At least we were used to it though, I mused. We had become so used to meeting new people and making new friends how hard could it be settling into a new area? But then I thought back on all the time and energy we’d put into our friendships with people we’d met while living abroad and what a challenge it is to stay in touch and this unsettled me.
As we left Rye on that blisteringly hot July day in the back of a monstrous black SUV taxi, a jumble of emotions swirled around in my head. What lay ahead, I wondered? Who knew?
Postcard from Rye, July 2018