On An Old Footpath

Cricket was America’s primary sport before the Civil War you know, says a thick, low, but golden voice. My British friend. Looking delightedly down at me from his 6’4 height, his wizened face crinkles deeper with laughter. This fact he does not let me forget. A few minutes later. You know what America’s primary sport was before the Civil War? Cricket, I answer. More laughter. You’re learning!, he shouts happily. His laugh is a half cackle.

Jack’s thick forearms protrude from usually rolled up sleeves. Very meaty hands belie his non-labor past. He’s RAF through and through, thirty-seven years a pilot and instructor. When I look at his towering frame, easy movements, overall angularity, an angularity cased in thick muscle, I think of the Vikings. His village of Scalby is minutes from the eastern coast on the North Sea. The Vikings surely landed there centuries ago. There is no pure Englishman, just like there is no pure anything else. I imagine Viking blood in this most English of Englishmen.

On an old footpath, I ask him to pose. He leans against the post of the fence, and breaks out a model-worthy pose: hand behind his head, looking off into the distance, one foot crossing over the other. He had instinctively placed his 6’4, 66-year-old body in the position of a sultry female. I snap the photo. What?! You got that? He asks uncontrollably. Delete that! He laugh cackles. I snap again. This one shows his face exploding, in laughter. Yep, I reply. I got that! He then slips into a more socially-acceptable pose, a normal smile, the sultriness has disappeared. I capture that too.

Jack claims Yorkshire is the center of the universe. I’ve crossed the ocean to investigate his claim, and to enjoy this gem of a man. Today we walk along the North Sea, heading south. The sea is on our left. On our right, the countryside, a monochromatic quilt of green shades, and some yellow, pleasantly shaped as squares, dotted with sheep and cows, sewn together with tidy rows of stone walls and lines of shrubs, laid over undulating hills as far as the eye can see. It is friendly and a bit hard to believe. It is soft and kind looking. A blue sky forms the top layer of my vision.

Back in Jack’s blue convertible, he speeds down a winding narrow road. I enjoy the wind and the sun. Finally I ask, what is the name of this road? His full head of flax-colored hair flaps about in the wind. At 66, he really should be happy to have hair. Name?, there is no name, he responds. Trees of a medium height push in on both sides of the road, and the road veers up and to the right, rounding a curve I can’t see around. How in the world do they get their mail here, I shout? The wind carries his answer away, something about areas and numbers. The sun overhead is tremendous; a heat wave for those in Scarborough, Yorkshire. 65 degrees!

We pull into the driveway of his old brick house in Scalby, his hometown – the one surely occupied by Vikings in an age long past – and walk the forty feet to town center. We enter a flower-bejeweled, yet rustic, restaurant. In addition to the ubiquitous fish and chips, Jack declares I must try green mushy peas. So I do. Surprisingly not bad and yes, actually good. After discussing religion and politics at great length, I ask him the most important of questions: what do you associate with the American accent? But before I continue, ask yourself the reverse question, what do you associate with the British accent? Properness, is it not? Properness, manners, rule-following. (Their imperial past belies this but that is a post for another day.) I was delighted at his answer: The Wild West. In his British mind, Americans are rebels; he refers to me as being from the colonies. Thus my accent implies the opposite of what his does: improperness, no manners, rule breaking. Seems American to me!

So, The Wild West has met Yorkshire. And they became fast friends.

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