Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Our Towns

Lady Darley's next letter arrived shortly before Halloween of 1989, when I was pretty much settled into my new house in Fenton, Missouri, some 20 miles outside of downtown St. Louis. From my rear window, I could see the tip top of the Gateway Arch (with binoculars), the dove sign representing a mall, a few traffic lights, a few radio and TV towers, and a great swath of suburbia in what locals called "West County," short for West St. Louis County.

The house at that time didn't have the side garage. The neighborhood trees had barely grown beyond shrubs. A model home or two was still on display at the end of the street. Our new, spacious abode featured a grand staircase and a huge master bedroom with double doors. But the Queen Mother still felt she was staying in somebody else's house. This wasn't the place where her two children had grown up, the one with the playroom and the corkboarded bedrooms lined with school papers and artwork. It didn't have that upstairs dormer with the Royal Father's desk and extra closets.

As I learned to live in my new, adoptive village, Lady Darley wrote with words about hers:

Dear Chris,

I'm sorry that this letter is a little late but well to be truthful this is the second letter. I wrote the first one on large paper but it was a bit messy so I ripped it up. But I did have the intention of typing this letter to you, but as you can see I haven't.

I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying life in Fenton. What kind of a place is it, is it a village, a town or a city? I've probably told you that Darley Dale is only a village. There are lots of different estates and private groups of houses all over the place. I can see what your mum feels about long traffic jams because I don't like them either.
The Queen Mother was getting used to commuting into the city to go to work, up Highway 30 or I-44, into the mess of the morning rush. In Raytown, Missouri, she could stick to the uncluttered side streets. Not anymore. It seemed she had to drive a lot to get anywhere. Nothing seemed right around the corner. But to the transplanted citizen, nothing is around the corner.
Yes, [your friend] has written to me since you left to Fenton. Would you like me to pass any messages on to her, or even though it takes me quite a while I don't actually know whether you keep in contact with her or even want to. But at least I asked anyone, I mean you.

Have you made any new friends in Fenton? You never really told me anything about the ones you had in Raytown? I am friends with quite a few people, but as for as a best friend goes, I haven't really got one. The people I got on quite well with are [Laurie], she comes from Cornwall. But sometimes we get pretty nasty at each other.
I left a lot of friends behind in Raytown. Most of them were on the speech and debate team. I tried to pick it back up in my new school, but their speech team was small, disorganized, and not very competitive. I felt the stranger. Instead, I channeled my interests into the school newspaper club, and barely two weeks into the semester, I was helping lay out the first issue. I needed a new start, and I got one.

At lunch, I sat alone, if only in thought. As I expounded on in a previous post, I would sit silent, surrounded by young ladies, not daring to speak. You can be surrounded by everybody and still feel isolated.
Then there's [Julie], we get on quite well but the thing that splits us up is religion. She thinks because we as a family are not strict Christians, she thinks I'm condemning her and blocking her or perverting her mind. But I just take no notice of her and carry on with my life.
Our family had found new jobs, new schools, a new house, new stores, and new diversions. But we hadn't found a new church. We didn't know of a Presbyterian church nearby. We did have a church down the street from us:

If it had been called "New Hope Christian Fellowship," as it is now, maybe we would have sampled it. But in 1989, the sign outside read, next to a Colonial American flag: "Our Church of GOD of Prophecy." Not exactly an inviting name.

Your humble servant had drifted from church at that time anyway. I grew apart from my Senior High peers at my old church. I wasn't even appearing in the yearly youth group musical, as I had so many times. What used to be called "Youth Club" at church was now "LOGOS Family Ministry." Note to pastors: don't ever ruin a cool group by calling it a "family ministry." And note to my fellow Christians: don't ever close the door on people who believe in GOD, but aren't necessarily living a strict Christian lifestyle. GOD gives us tremendous liberty, for one thing. Secondly, many people haven't really gone through the process of getting right with GOD in the first place, even if they believe in HIM. I should've told Lady Darley to ask Julie if she might be welcome in her church, whether it was the Church of England, the Catholic Church, or otherwise. The tent is open. If I had known GOD then as I do now...
Yes I have been writing a little bit but because I haven't received any kinds of replies back about my stories, I'm becoming a little discouraged. I begun to gather the impression that what is the point in writing when nobody seems to appreciate me and my writing. But at least I realize now that this is only a phase I'm going through and soon I will be writing again.
A rejection letter is better than nothing. I should have asked Lady Darley if she might write for her school paper. I wrote feature stories and an op-ed for mine. Sometimes you have to start small. But nowadays, there's blogs, like this one.
I'm unsure whether I'm about to buy an electronic typewriter, but it will cost me about 235 pounds. I only have 392 in my bank account. If I buy that I don't think I will be able to come [to America]. I would really like to visit America because for some reason it holds such a fascination with me. It holds such a need to go with me.
Wanderlust is cruel, My Lady. If only we could have traded places for a week. I would carry on as a proper English lad who just happens to be American, and Lady Darley would be surrounded by people wanting to talk to her just to hear her British accent.
Yes, I did really enjoy my holiday. About my holiday and [Lem], well I told you that he came to visit. But when he left our house I got the impression he would ring me again, but I guess it's just life. To be truthful with you, I'm not that bothered. The things he did neglected me and made me feel as though he was old. He didn't find things funny that I did and thought I was immature for others. But I guess that's just life, don't you?
Yes, that's life and love. And you were right to let him go, Lady Darley.
Well at school this week a guy who I really like and have done [so] for a long time about 2 years got beaten up. A guy set in on him and another on his best mate. I was really worried about him when I was told because I really like him. I didn't ask him if he was o.k. because well, I don't know. We used to have something going once and I guess I just didn't know what to say. People have told him I like him but he just says why me? So what do you expect me to do? That doesn't really do much for me, does it?

I'm going to be now. It's 10:45 and my dad's watching American football.

Write Soon.
[Lady Darley]
You don't need somebody's permission to care. You never should worry about what they other person would think. Lady Darley's friend may have been in a state of lonely confusion. Why would anybody care about him, he probably thought, compared to so many others he thought were better boys? Been there, thought that.

As I go back through these letters, all the things I wish I could've said just break my heart. I don't even know if I said them or not. And now it's too late. But Lady Darley just perseveres in spite of my cluelessness. Why me, indeed...

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