Sunday, June 21, 2009

For fathers and Brits

On this Friday evening just passed, Josh and I were lucky enough to attend a cocktail party hosted by the officers of a British Naval vessel visiting this port. Admittedly, I am a stand-away observer to my Husband's career (for a number of healthy reasons) and I was struck by the contrast evident with the officers with whom Josh serves. I dare say, and here is where it will be really great if he forgets to read a few posts, these British they are charming, social, (dare I say it?) fun, and not the least bit self-conscious regards their own social graces which are (and you could say I am a tough judge) pitch perfect anyway.

This is a phenomenon I have noted in my own travels between the UK and US in more situations than just this recent gathering. But I knew it perhaps innately as well, as indeed, my own Grandfather, Harold "Red" Turnbull was a master of our spoken language in a formal way with a far more broad vocabulary than I have found conversationally in the US otherwise (but do not please, for one second, believe I lack patriotism). He was a comfortable, warm person whose voice never belied a mite of nervousness in dealing with his fellow man. He was the kind of man you wanted to know: A gentleman, yes. A friend, always. But a Brit, you see, through and through and in my experience, different than the American assumptions of both those terms. He was, as they say, comfortable in his own skin in way too many are not here and now. Why? I only wish I knew. But I hung about with Grandpa, and visited the UK with him, and I can tell you assuredly, there were more like him there. I have found none like him here.

It had something to do with being absolutely certain he was okay, right with the world. He always looked swell, and never thought very much about it because swell was his natural way. He smoked and drank a little but not with any interest or real commitment. And he sang or hummed all the live long day. I mean: He was a charming man. He smiled, even when he was burdened he never laid it on your plate with even a frown.

He was the sort unafraid to talk to a powerful person, a beautiful woman, or a scoundrel and he took the same, "Very pleased to meet you" tone with one and all. He had a British accent but beyond that, no affectation (which I have always thought was self-concious glaring terror anyhow). When you called Grandpa Turnbull and asked something of him, no horses would be spared to be at your side in a time of need. He was a good man. The kind of person who never would say he had something he had to do, wonder what was in it for him, or had to stop to change his clothes thinking maybe he could look better. He just came: With his broad, handsome smile, earnest handshake, old tweeds, and without judgement. And he lent a hand to human beings. He and my Mother have always been known for this quality, this open kindness, humanitarianism, understanding, decency.

I loved him. He was my best friend for more years that I know. When he was leaving us, I flew home from Charleston. It was a cold spring day and his exit took grace, elegance, and shimmer from my days in ways I still uncover and which causes much heart to stall in a bit of agony.

This past Friday, I had a conversation with a British officer hailing from not far away from where Harold Turnbull began his life in Hartlepool, England and I caught mesmerizing glimpses of him in the accent, the easy certain elegance, and the even-handedness of a British officer we are now lucky to know. How I miss our man and the sound of his voice. But how lucky I was to get to speak with Dave and be reminded of him. I can only hope he keeps in touch as we have asked as I thought it such a gift, especially on this Father's Day weekend.

Rather ghostly coincidence, is it not?

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