THE QUEEN RIDES IN A BLACK CAR
By RON CAMPBELL
Special to the Daily Messenger (Canandaigua, NY)
December 1, 2014
CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. — “The Queen rides in a black car,” Mum casually observes as we pull out of her suburban Detroit driveway, demonstrating the ever-so-gracious Queen Wave with exaggerated royal flair. It is June 25. Gwyneth Rose Campbell and I are heading to our much-anticipated, long-overdue rainbow family reunion in Canandaigua.
I’ve rented a shiny new black Chevy Malibu for the 360-mile drive. Compared to my rusty white van, it seems like a Rolls-Royce to her.
Mum cracks me up when she talks about “old people” as though she’s still a tall, shy, pretty teenager at Fairfield Senior School in her former hometown of Widnes, about 12 miles southeast of the busy port of Liverpool, England.
Not that the 85-years-young grandmother of four children from across the globe isn’t tall, shy and pretty still.
Hitler’s Luftwaffe rained bombs on Mum’s childhood during World War II, and she often huddled with her parents, Amy and Sydney Morris, and two sisters, Amy and Gwladys, in their backyard shelter. It seems strange to say, but if not for those bombs, the family she is heading to Canandaigua to reunite with would not exist.
Gwyneth Morris married Robert Campbell, a kindly U.S. Army corporal who befriended the Morris family while he was stationed at a base near Widnes, at St. Paul’s Church on September 15, 1951.
“Our wedding day was the happiest day of my life, and the day after was the worst,” Mum recalls wistfully. “Everybody was crying. That was an awfully emotional moment, leaving home.”
But she had to make one of those difficult decisions love often forces you to make. Robert was working as a draftsman in Detroit; all the jobs in post-war England were going to British men. Gwyneth Rose was 22 years old, and already tired of sad goodbyes.
Even so, Mum and “My G.I.” – as she fondly calls Dad – were happily married in her new country for 44 years, until he passed away in 1996. They raised my two older brothers, Rod and Rich, and me in the Detroit suburb of Berkley, Mich. Mum lovingly tended her garden, avidly kept up with news about the Royal Family and exchanged countless letters with her beloved mother and father – the grandparents I never got to know – and her dear sisters and friends on the other side of the Atlantic. But she has only been able to make it back to her homeland four times in the six decades since that tearful farewell.
When Beatlemania swept across the U.S. in 1964, Grandma Morris expressed her concerns about the four shaggy-haired, mischievous Liverpool lads in one of her posts. “I hope Americans don’t think all British boys are like that,” she wrote.
Although our family matriarch – our Queen, in her own modest way – has lived in the States for over 60 years now, she still takes tea six times a day and won’t let anyone else use her Union Jack mug. She still puts “toe-MAR-toes” in her BLTs and “harf and harf” in her coffee. She still quotes Sir Winston Churchill and her favorite poet, Rupert Brooke. And she still proudly remembers the exciting day in Berkshire in April, 1948 when her Women’s Royal Naval Service squad marched before Queen Elizabeth, later known as The Queen Mother, Elizabeth II’s mum.
The Queen rode in a black car that day.
This perfect early summer day is exciting, too. Rod, a 61-year-old software engineer, his wife Lynette and their younger daughter Alicia, 19, are driving to Canandaigua from Mt. Joy, Penn. to meet up with us.
Rich, a 59-year-old running enthusiast who holds an Sc.D in work environment policy, is coming in from suburban Boston with his wife Anne Maillet, a nurse practitioner, and their two children, 14-year-old Gabriel and 9-year-old Grace.
Rod and Lynette’s eldest daughter Carla, 22 – who couldn’t make the trip because she had an important summertime math class – and Alicia were adopted from Paraguay. Gabriel is an Aymara Indian from Bolivia. Grace came to our family from China.
None of us knew exactly when we’d all been together last; we just knew that it had been too long. So Lynette, a retired occupational therapist, masterminded a plan to rectify that last winter.
Canandaigua – “The Chosen Spot” in the Seneca Indian language – was the perfect choice as the site for our reunion, a delightful, historic resort town about a six-hour drive for each of our three family groups.
Finally, Mum and I pull up in front of Simply Crepes. The whole family is there. Smiles and hugs all around. Alicia is now a blond. Gabriel is a video game whiz. Grace is an irrepressible force of nature.
Grandma’s heart overflows with love.
For three magical days in Canandaigua, we live side by side by side at the Holiday Inn Express. We pop in and out of each other’s rooms. We share more meals in the hotel dining area, at Peppers and across Eastern Boulevard at Wegmans. We play in the sand and swim at the Canandaigua Lake beach at Kershaw Park.
Grace makes us bracelets. Grace makes us laugh. Grace makes us wish we lived closer to Boston.
We watch the U.S. lose to Germany, 1-0, in a World Cup soccer match. Mum is confused when she sees on a TV news program that the Americans have advanced to the next round despite the loss.
“I thought the U.S. was out of it now!”
“No, Mom, ENGLAND is out of it!” Rich needles her. The English team had been eliminated the week before, much to the chagrin of my cousins across the pond.
We eat lots of ice cream at Scoops.
We marvel at the beauty and grandeur of Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park. It reminds Mum of English country estates and one of her favourite television shows, “Downton Abbey.”
Most of all, we enjoy simply being together.
“Canandaigua looks so appealing along Main Street – stately old buildings and interesting shops,” Mum remarks on our last day. “But the purpose of the trip is to be with my family, and that is the highlight of this whole visit. It is great to see my three sons together again. I am very proud of my family; my grandchildren are growing up too fast for me! I hope we can do this again before too long. I wish we could all be together much more often, as time is fleeting.”
Indeed it is. All too soon, I pack up our rental and point it west on Eastern. Four lads from Liverpool serenade us over the Malibu’s stereo with a simple message for a family separated by too many miles and not enough time.
All you need is love.
The Queen rides in a black car, heading back to Detroit after yet another round of poignant goodbyes. Our Queen. She’s already dreaming about her next visit as she gives Canandaigua one last royal wave.
—Detroit-based freelance writer Ron Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.