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The Words We Know

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In recent discussion with my husband about decorating our kitchen, I asked if we had enough paint for the base boards. Base boards? For the life of me, I couldn’t think what we call them here in England. Skirting boards. Yes, that’s what I meant.

This August will mark eighteen years since I left California. Eighteen years and it still won’t be as long as the time I lived there. I am British born and bred, but I left in my twenties and lived in America until my mid-forties. Those years shaped me into who I am today. They shaped my American/British children. And our heritage is richer for it.

My family is a blended mix of traditions and learning. My eldest son taught me what Thanksgiving meant when I volunteered in his first grade classroom. My middle boy taught me the story of Johnny Appleseed planting apple trees. My youngest gave me a tour of a ruined Spanish mission. Together, we learnt about California’s history.

In turn in England, I gave them fireworks on their first Bonfire Night in November. In the summer, I bought them 99 ice cream cones with chocolate flakes from a van by the sea. In between I took them to Hampton Court to show them where Henry VIII once lived.

In America, I did this: I got married, worked in downtown Los Angeles and moved to the Central Coast. I gave birth, raised my children through the American school system. I took college classes. I rented houses, bought one, lost one and bought again. I drove a Camaro that leaked power steering fluid. I switched to a family-friendly Windstar and got pulled over by a cop for a “moving violation” at a four-way stop sign on my way to church. I travelled the length and breadth of California and marvelled at Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.

I camped at Mount Shasta and watched a racoon steal our Cheezits.

 In America I found joy and heartbreak. People I loved died. I got divorced. I moved back to England with my children and the remnants of our American dream in a shipping container. But America and our life there did not leave us. My husband has observed the unique way, as he puts it, that I interact with my children when we are gathered. I am not aware of it, it isn’t obvious. But it’s intrinsic because it’s who we are

I liken it to a friend from my school days growing up in Suffolk. She would invite me to her home for tea, and one afternoon her grandmother called for a quick chat on the phone. She lived hours away in Birmingham, my friend’s original home. My friend chatted away, oblivious that she had broken out in a strong “Brummie” accent. We laughed about it afterwards, but she hadn’t realised she’d reverted to her childhood lingo. She had slipped into it naturally, without thinking.

Expressions with words used differently once gave me pause. The first time an American asked me, ‘What’s up?’ I was taken aback. Nothing was wrong, couldn’t he tell? I soon realised he meant it in friendly greeting. Today in the UK it’s common knowledge, but in 70s Britain?  Not so much.

As a “Resident Alien” in America, I retained my British citizenship with my rights of permanent abode. I could work, pay my taxes, but I could not serve on a jury, nor vote. This got more frustrating as time went by. I remained close to my family and roots in England to the point of homesickness, which never went away. But as time passed, I aligned myself more strongly with American politics, schooling and life in general.

My British accent stuck out in California. My American children stick out in England. It will always be so, but home is where we make it. And though our lives are different now, distant reminders are never far away.

Not so long ago on a typical food/grocery shop, I placed my bags in the boot/trunk of my car. I returned the trolley/cart to the shop/store entrance. I got in my car, closed the door. Where’s the steering wheel? The ignition? My mind had drifted. A fleeting thought in my subconscious, a distant memory of another day and not much to tell. But enough to plonk me down in the wrong seat. The passenger seat.

I smiled to myself and felt like a right twit. The driver’s side once-upon-a-time ago, but not now. I hadn’t driven in America for many years. A simple matter of getting out and going round to the driver’s side. Except I sensed eyes on me. That feeling you get when someone’s watching. A case of goose pimples/bumps? I turned my head and met the stare of a man in the car next to me. He had a sandwich to his mouth and too a chunk out. Of all the empty cars in the car park/parking lot, I had to get this one

I ducked down on pretence of rummaging through the glove/compartment box. Stupid when I think of it. I wouldn’t give it a second thought now to hop out of my car and walk round to the other side. Covid has definitely changed me. But that’s another story. For this story, I will tell you that I kept my head down. I slid my right leg over the gear/stick shift and hand/parking break into the driver’s seat. I heaved the rest of me into position and took off. I didn’t stop to notice if the man had finished his lunch.

A few times hence this has happened, but the gap grows longer and longer. Life goes on but we don’t forget. The lyrics from a song play on a loop in my head…you know the song, you know the words. Hotel California.

My life in America showed me where I belong. Home, I discovered, isn’t always a place, but it resides in our hearts with those we love most. And love is a word we know on both sides of the pond.

Until next time then, I bid you cheerio and have a nice day.

Sherri has published a collection of non-fiction articles in magazines, anthologies and online at her Summerhouse blog, diverse guest features and a memoir column at Carrot Ranch, an international online literary community. A keen walker and photographer from the UK, Sherri raised her family in California for twenty years. She has worked in the legal and medical fields and is now carer and advocate to her youngest on the autistic spectrum. Today Sherri lives in England’s West Country not far from the sea, hard at work on final edits of her debut memoir.


76 Comments

  1. ellenbest24 says:

    I feel I know a little better, you are the lady I missed by a smidge when we moved from Somerset four years ago. We may yet return, as the call of the sea pulls us to the Dorset coast. Good post to read. X

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Jules says:

    In the states there are so many different ‘lingo’s’ – From the true New England north, to the very southern south, mid west and in between. Some accents from places allow us to determine where some one might have originated. Even some common American English words mean different things in different areas. Sack/(paper) Bag, Pop/ Soda, Hot Pad/Pot Holder… Adjustments aren’t always easy. But eventually one gets to live in a house (or space) that they can call home. ‘Home is where the heart is’ and your post was a fun read.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Indeed, we know when we’re home at last. Thank you, Jules, so glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Yes, I noticed that and the same here, although a much smaller country, the UK has diverse slang and dialect. Soda is one of many Americanisms we still use in my family. I only knew ‘pop’ as in music before I lived there. I would always smile when we’d stop for gas/petrol and the sign on the shop read: ‘Pop, snacks and beer’. What more could you want? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jules says:

        Odd that in the 40’s and 50’s that Pop was also a slang for Dad or Father!! Our grands call the other elder Pop-pop. But that could be an American Italian thing as my own Dad (RIP) was also Pop-pop to his grands.

        What I also find interesting is the slanging rhymes on your side. I think of Eliza Doolittle’s father singing in ‘My Fair Lady’ –

        I had forgotten about Pop-music. So many meanings for the same words. You have to know the context. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • So true, Jules…it’s all about context. I first heard Pop used for Dad watching American shows on the TV (black and white of course) growing up. Pop-pop is so cute 🙂 Ha…and yes, the old Cockney slang – apples and pears for stairs and such… old London talk, that 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jules says:

        I bet there could be a prompt in that…
        Old Cockney. If there was a place to find the words and rhymes…
        Here’s a list of the top 100:
        https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jun/09/guide-to-cockney-rhyming-slang

        Maybe next time you host you can make a ‘Box of noise’ for play? We could be like ‘Dustbin Lids’ and while we weave ‘Weep and Wail’ a our 99 words 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha…love it, Jules! Thanks for the link, might be on to something there! My dad was a true Cockney, having met the requirement of being born within the sound of the Bow Bells. That is, The Church of St Mary le-Bow in Cheapside in London. My grandparents moved around a lot so he didn’t grow up there, but in other parts of surrounding counties in the outer London/Surrey area. Where I’m from originally 🙂 While he didn’t sound like a true Cockney, he used a few expressions. And quite a few stories. A lot, actually 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jules says:

        Now there’s a family project – write down Your Dad’s stories! 💕

        Liked by 1 person

      • My next book, I hope, Jules, all in the planning ❤ But at this rate…let's see!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. suespitulnik says:

    Hi Sherri,
    As you already know, I lived in county Suffolk, UK, from August 1974 until March 1977, as an Air Force wife. My daughter was born there and I would love to be able to walk the streets of Brandon again with her and her son to show him where Mom learned to walk. Where the buildings were 700 years old and still in use. Where the greengrocer and butcher shop were two different stores. (They might be one by now, it’s been a long time…) I have such fond memories of my time there but have to admit it took me six months to be able to understand the accent and even longer to figure out the meanings of the words. Eavesdropping in a pub wasn’t easy. But what an experience. I didn’t have trouble switching to driving on the left because I expected it to be different, but returning to the states I had trouble switching back so needed a co-pilot for safety the first couple of months.
    I also have lived in four different states in the US and visited so many more. I retain something special and specific about each place wishing I could congeal all the best parts into one location.
    My growing up years were spent in a very small, rural town in western New York state. One of the first times I went back to that small town after returning from England I saw a goat standing on the front porch of a country house. I got a big grin on my face and said allowed to the empty car, “Now I’m home.” My sister, who lived nearby was able to tell me the goat’s name and that the front porch was her favorite spot. I now live in the suburbs of Rochester, NY, but the rural areas still call to me.
    I admire your ability to compress all those years into a short story, as you can see, I’m much more wordy.
    Thanks for sharing, and I’ll look forward to your memoir.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sue, I was at RAF Lakenheath from 1980-1983! Such a small world. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Sue and Colleen, you are going to love Sherri’s memoir and you understand the dualistic nature of ling on both sides of the pond.

      Sue, I get the goat! It’s one of those inane icons of a place only locals would get. It’s a great way to feel home again.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Sue, and yes, how very I have enjoyed our conversations! I can well imagine, even for me coming from Surrey to Suffolk at ten years old, I had trouble! Greengrocers and butchers are still separate in most small towns and I hope they continue. Some go back a century or more as an enduring family business. But our high streets have been hit hard by online shopping and much worse since the pandemic. What is good is we have a lot of farm shops with locally sourced products. Love your goat story, how delightful! Reminds me of when we found a goat asleep in the boot/trunk of our car when I lived in our rural village in Suffolk. Goats and rural life go hand in hand on both sides of the pond it seems 🙂 As with you in the States, I have moved around a fair bit within the UK. New York is on my list to visit, state and city. It must be beautiful where you live now. How interesting about driving. In reverse to you, I took to driving in the US on the right no problem, but coming back to the UK I found it harder to get used to it again. I would be driving and for one horrible minute think I was on the wrong side of the road! Hasn’t happened in some years, I’m glad to say!
      My memoir is the story before I had my family, of the events from 1978-1981. If not for what happened then, I would not have lived in America at all. I dreamed of California… and the rest is in the book 😉 I would be honoured for you to read it, when the time comes. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Sue. As I’ve said a few times, we could talk for days!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice post. I agree with you about home………. for me Home is where the love is.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. OMG, Sherri… I laughed so hard reading your mishap in the car. I can totally relate to your English/American heritage. Like you going to America in your 20’s, I went to England in my early 20’s. I know we’ve had this conversation, but it occurred to me that those life changes imprinted on us and made us who we are today. When I first came back from England, people would ask me where I was from… I guess I had adopted a British accent. I’m from the mid-West, so you can imagine the looks I received. LOL! I still say garage like the Brits! Years after my return, I took a college class: British Literature I, and II. I was the only one in the class that understood what they were saying. LOL! To this day, I still love reading books penned by my English author friends. I love British mysteries and watch BBC America whenever I can. My adopted “Britishness” makes me who I am, now. Like you, I’m better for those experiences. We are the perfect mirror image of each other.<3

    Liked by 4 people

    • Colleen, it’s great to share these stories, isn’t it? And nothing like a good laugh, too 🙂 Goodness, we really are mirror images! As I replied to Sue, I have so much enjoyed our chats of late. So many stories to share back and forth. Haha…yes, I can well imagine the looks you got back home with your adopted British accent! I don’t have an American accent so folk tell me (and sometimes I wonder if they believe I lived there so long!) but it’s more in the expressions and inflection I use I think. When people I didn’t know heard my accent, I’d sometimes get asked if I was Australian. When they discovered I was from England, I would sometimes get asked if I had ever met the Queen or if I’d ever had tea with Princess Diana! We were similar in age and for a while in the 90s, I had the same hairstyle as her. One Halloween, I wore a tiara just for a laugh when I took my children trick-o-treating. At one house, as a man handed them their candy/sweets, he didn’t say too much until he heard my accent. His face was a picture. He called his wife and said OMG, honey, it’s Lady Di at the door!!!!! As if!! Thanks so much for sharing your British memories, Colleen. I’m so glad you hold them so dear to your heart, as I do my American ones.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sherri, the Princess Di story is hilarious! I remember being pregnant with my youngest daughter when the royal wedding was all the rave. I had a British mid-wife and it was an interesting experience. My daughter was born encased in the bag of waters! She said it was a super rare event. That’s what she got for not listening to me when I said it was time. LOL! I even had a friend who was a nanny who stayed with us for a bit. I learned so much from her. I love these stories. If my life would have been better with my ex, I would have had a grand time in England. I’m sure you can say the same thing. LOL! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, that’s an amazing story, Colleen, so glad your daughter, and you, were both ok! And a British nanny too… ! And another simalarity between us. I was pregnant with my firstborn son the same time as Princess Diana with William. I had this crazy idea they might meet one day, but when my son was three, we moved back to CA. Who knows how different things could have been 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, that’s amazing, Sherri. I had Amy in 1981, so right after the prince and princess were married. I lived in Montana when Princess Diana died. At our local library, we had a journal we could write our colondences in that would be sent to her library in England. I blubbered my way through it and shared how I’d lived there when they got married. I felt like I was part of England in that moment. We all shared our grief at her passing. What a time to have lived in country. You and I could talk for hours. Wouldn’t that be lovely? ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, we were so close yet so far… I was in California when they got married and again all those years later when she died so tragically. Her wedding in 1981 draws in the close of my book, but for very different reasons… Both events forever etched in out collective memories. How lovely indeed to talk and talk 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      • Huge hugs to you Sherri. 😍❤️

        Liked by 1 person

      • Back at ya, Colleen! 🙂 ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  6. denmaniacs4 says:

    A lovely post, Sherri…Enjoyed the expression, “Right Twit.” I would hope it would catch on in America. There are a few.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. TanGental says:

    I relate to the feeling that home morphs and merges across time and place. I’m rural born and bred but I’m a townie by inclination and choice. Still you can’t take the muck and lack of pavements (sidewalks!!) out of a country kid, can you!

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Charli Mills says:

    Like our hearts, we leave pieces of home where we have been. Nostalgia must be a woven tapestry for you, feeling nostalgic for different places over time. There are many of us in the US who are centuries-old displaced Brits. Two of my favorite tv shows are Monty Don’s Big Dreams, Small Places and Time Team. Both fulfill a longing for British soil though I’ve never been. Then here you are in my state where seven generations of my family have lived. We have missed each other in passing and will one day catch up. Beautiful writing!

    Liked by 2 people

    • One day you will tred on British soil and I on American again. It is extraordinary that we have brushed past other and not known it….and here we are now at Carrot Ranch, writing and riding across the pond in the amazing community you created. Thank you so much, Charli ❤

      Like

  9. This is such a great story and mishap. I have a silly story of my own. I was born in the Southern USA and in my twenties moved north. I quickly picked up the midwestern accent and went looking for work. Two years later I placed a call to the deep south for a large supply order. My voice shot back to the language and accent no one knew I had. After a few minutes I hung up and noticed a crowd had collected outside my cube ready to laugh at me for doing something I never realized I even did. I loved your story

    Laughter is contagious. Start a pandemic

    Liked by 2 people

  10. James L says:

    It’s interesting although we speak different languages all the difference in culture and terminology.

    The internet exposed me to a lot of ‘Americanism’ which I’ve had to look up to make sense. Someone saying ‘Fxxxing A!’ I thought was a good thing as an ‘A’ is a top grade, but apparently it’s a bad thing!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Lovely post, Sherri, light- and warm-hearted.
    I’ve reflected a lot on the Americanisms I learnt from fiction, one of the first being ‘pizza pie’. The Ranch and the rest of the blogosphere have taught me many more. I love the different versions of English, but Indian English is probably my favourite, not just the vocabulary but the lilt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha…yes, pizza pie. Funny, we never called it that in California, just plain old pizza. I noticed that from State to State the varied differences. When I first went out with my American GI, going way back now to 1978, he used an expression, ‘bitchen’ when something was cool (or hot, whichever!). I thought he was saying something else at first…you can imagine. Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Hugh, I’m so glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Huge apologies, Anne, I put ‘Hugh’ when I was addressing you…I read his comment after yours in my notification bar and got my names mixed up in my reply to you… how’s that for a post about the words we use…arrghhhh !!!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. What a lovely read, Sherri. I’m definitely a ‘home’ person. I even came back to Wales (my home) after living and working in England for nearly 35 years. Some would argue that England and Wales are the same country, but are they? They may share a lot, but some differences make both feel a different home.

    And you only have to look at all the different ways people speak in the UK. When I moved to the North East of England for 7 years, I was amazed by how some of the things I said meant something completely different. I remember one occasion when I was in a pub and wanted to phone someone (the days before mobile phones) and asked, ‘where’s the phone to?’ To which I had a response, ‘you can phone anywhere you like.’ A light-hearted moment, but nonetheless one that shows how different we all are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Hugh, and thank you so much, so glad you enjoyed it. You certainly did come home and it is those differences, subtle or otherwise, that make it so. It must have felt wonderful to return after so long and must have felt like a different country. That’s a great story about the phone, and I’ve heard that expression in Somerset too! I’d never heard it until I moved here. When, as kids, my brother and I moved from Surrey to Suffolk, the local kids thought we were posh. We weren’t, we just spoke differently. So to fit in, we took up the local lingo, much to Mum’s consternation. The biggest change was in how we greeted our friends…we started saying ‘watcha’. Seems funny to think now as neither of us use it now…

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Liz H says:

    Especially lovely blog today. Cheered me as I look out my window on the not-yet-melting snow!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What a wonderful read this week, Sherri! It reminds me so much of my own family—a daughter from the southwest and a son from the north. Both are unique in their approach to communication and socializing, but from the same country.

    Like

  15. Reblogged this on A View From My Summerhouse and commented:

    I’m thrilled to introduce Memoir Across the Pond, my new column at Carrot Ranch. A huge thank you for following my previous Unsung Heroes column through the travails and challenges of 2020. And to Charli Mills for the opportunity. Writing stories from my Californian past to life today in England connects me to you with universal themes of love, loss and home. The ebb and flow from shore to shore in themes that binds us. The Words We Know is a light-hearted take. Hope you’ll join me!

    Like

  16. Ann Edall-Robson says:

    Thank you for giving us the gift of getting to know you. I don’t think we ever forget where we are from and the impact and influence living in different places has had on our growth.
    Our mom was raised in England and came to Canada as a WWII bride. There were always words in her vocabulary that reflected where she was from. When family from across the pond came to visit, I would act as the interpreter to family and friends when it came to certain words they used that I had grown up with. When our grandson was born, I called him a bonny lad, and found I was still explaining her words to people.
    I look forward to more of your Memoir Across the Pond. Ta-ra lass.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Ann, and how wonderful to learn more about your history, too. Your English Mum! Those words creep in that we don’t think about until we realise we need an interpreter! My eldest son was three when we moved back to California. He retained his English accent through his early school years, but it faded to an American accent more so as he grew up. But even as a teenager, he would tell me how his friends would catch him out every now and then using distinctly non-American words but which he wasn’t even aware of. You can relate! Even now, my youngest, who was 10 when we moved back here and is now late twenties, gets asked, where are you from? A soft ‘accent’ I don’t even notice, but enough to pique the interest of those on first meeting. Subtle differences that speak of our heritage. Thank you so much for reading, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the series. I am catching up here at the Ranch, so to yours I must fly. Ta-ra lass…and put t’ kettle on. Love it!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. purpleslob says:

    Dear Sherri, you have such a wonderful way with words!! Your stories are lovely. My girls spent 4 years in Alconbury, at the base there with their military dad. When my Mama graduated from college, they sent her a video tape. Everyone thought they were British! lol
    Just in case you didn’t catch this post, https://purpleslobinrecovery20.design.blog/2021/03/01/514/
    I wanted to let you know I’m single again. But doing fine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Melinda, I am thrilled you enjoy reading them! And wow, I had no idea your girls had lived in England! My book takes place over three years, 1978-1981, before my life in California that I write about here. A whole other story, about my three years with my American GI who was stationed at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk when we first met. I grew up with American military back when they were posted all around the area. But yes, back to your girls’ accents, that is so cute! My middle boy was born in California and 14 when we moved back to the UK. He was in his twenties when he went back for a few weeks to visit his dad and uncle. They couldn’t get over how British he sounded, but to me, he still sounded American! My mum still has a cassette tape I recorded with my eldest son (in his 30s now lol) when he was six. He sounds so English, even though he was three when we moved back there! Thank you so much for your lovely comment, but I am so sorry to hear your news. I will head over there now…glad you’re okay…big hugs to you ❤

      Like

  18. Diane Box says:

    I loved it from beginning to end with a few out loud laughs as well. Such an enjoyable story for the reader and you mix in the joy and sorrow of it all so beautifully! And oh yes the love, always the love! From across the pond a hearty Well Done! 💞💞💞

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pat says:

    I love this. Always interesting how Sherri portrays the different perspectives in ways we may never have thought of or may take for granted. I’ve never lived in a different country (nor visited to date). So, this gave me a new insight to noticing the differences.

    The closest I’ve come to noticing those distinct differences here in the states was living in the North (Philadelphia suburb) and in the South (eastern shore of Virginia. I don’t know how that compares to different countries. Seems like across the U.S. there is a common thread of unity but also definite distinctions from state to state like, I would imagine, going to a different country with different cultures and even different accents. Maybe, it’s because we have such a blend of people here from all over the world bringing their homes with them here.

    Good job, Sherri. Really liked the piece and found your personal account of life and it’s influence enjoyable. Hugs, my friend, from across the pond and congratulations on getting your article posted over here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Pat, always wonderful to spend time with you chatting at your kitchen table 🙂 I can relate to those differences here, too, despite our tiny sized country compared to your vast USA. There are many different dialects and slang. So glad you enjoyed the view, my friend, and thank you so much for your readership and lovely words. Big hugs back to you from the rolling green hills of Somerset to your magnifent Colorado mountains. How I would love to see them one day….and keep hold of your dream of one day going to Scotland 🙂 ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Luanne says:

    Very entertaining and so interesting, especially when it came to the wrong side of the car!

    Liked by 1 person

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