British Hospitality

There she was, standing on the deck of the ferry looking out over the White Cliffs of Dover, the sea air tossing her new French cut, when a kind Englishman noticed her and her three small  children.

20140105_174618_resized“I had made it across the ocean,” Dad remembered, “traveling for eleven days on the MS Berlin with no sickness. Dolores and Eddie both got so terribly seasick they had to stay up on deck for fresh air. They weren’t able to eat except to go down to the German sausage bar at night. They survived on that sausage. I did end up getting sick though when we crossed the channel from the mainland to England. I don’t think it was seasickness, I was just plain sick.

We’d been all over southern Europe by this time with Amsterdam, Berlin, Denmark, Norway and Sweden still ahead of us. I was down in the men’s room and this Englishman befriended Dolores. He saw her, started talking to her and she happened to mention to him that we were camping.

crossing channel mom

When he found this out he said, ‘Well, you’re not going to live like an American Indian in the Queen’s country! I’m in real estate and I have a vacant flat near my house in the West End I’m going to let you have while you’re in England.’ He didn’t know when he said this that Dolores’ family were descendants of the American Indian tribe known as the Ujamis.

By this time, I had made my way back up to the deck and introduced myself to him. He gave us his address in London where we should meet him after we got off the boat. He said he would probably be detained while going through customs so if we happened to miss him, we should go on to London and meet him there. His name was Mark Finley. He was an importer-exporter.

It did end up that we couldn’t find him when we got off the boat and we really were looking for him. So we loaded up the kids into the car and since I was still sick, Dolores had to do the driving. Now remember, this meant driving on the left side of the road and we were in a German car with the steering also on the left. That is kind of tricky to do. So we were on our way to London and we stopped at a couple places, doing our best to try and find somewhere to stay for the night but couldn’t find anything. Dolores drove all through the night in this unfamiliar place, on the left side of the road, in this German car, with three little kids and a sick husband.

How we ended up finding this guy after all those hours of driving I don’t know, but all of a sudden, there he was standing outside of a nice looking house with his landlady, just raving. “Where are they?” he ranted at her. “Why haven’t they come?!” we heard him say. It was clear he was upset but as we pulled up and he noticed us, immediately relieved.

He welcomed our family in and showed us the apartment he had told us about. I have to admit it really was nice not to have to pitch the tent and set up camp in the shape I was in. Instead, we made up camp on the apartment floor and the landlady brought us hot chocolate.

The next day, Mark Finely came driving up with a truck load of furniture—beds, a dining room table and chairs. He furnished this apartment for us. He mentioned Mom was welcome to stay on there at the apartment instead of camping with me. But I didn’t trust him. I got the feeling that his plans were different than ours”.

“So how long did we stay with this man?” I asked.

“Not long, a week or so. You all came with me on a couple of trips, we saw Westminster Abbey, Shakespeare’s house—Mom would take you to visit things while I did my work.

An interesting thing we learned was that a typical apartment building would be heated to about 68 degrees. Additional heat had to be provided by the tenant with small unit heaters.”

London Bridge

Playing London Bridge in front of London Bridge

“Did you ever hear from Mark Finely again?”

“Yes. He wrote to us. He was going on a trip to South America. He said he’d try to come to see us in the states if he could fit it in but he never made it. That was 1958. Years later, in ‘71, Mom and I went on a tour in Europe of industrialized housing and new towns. The first stop was England. When we were in London, we were walking around to see if we could find Mark Finley’s house. We remembered it was across from Hyde Park. The area looked familiar. Just then, a man in a wheel chair was being brought out of one of the houses to be put in a chauffeur driven limousine. We saw that it was Mark Finley and went over to greet him but his eyes told us he didn’t remember.”

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