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I had to write a metaphor for my family of origin for a class. I always find those assignments to be especially difficult. One object does not define us. We changed too much with time. Even though we have been through the wringer, I do not want to define us entirely by our past, especially since we all have worked to put that (mostly) behind us. Of course you can’t ever totally do that because we are each individually and collectively a sum total of our experiences.

Anyway, I woke up in the middle of the night and knew what I needed to liken our family unto…

We started as a pound cake.

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A simple enough family consisting of my mom and dad and brother and sister. But then my parents divorced. I don’t care what these people who say that they are “consciously uncoupling” but remain “best friends” say about the “friendly” divorce. Divorce will always leave scars. It did with us.

We were broken.

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Then Walter came along. True story: I have a beloved uncle whose name is Walter. His nickname, what his parents and siblings called him, was Babe because he was the baby in the family. (He also happened to be the “runt” of the litter. But he went on to get a Ph.D and become a great college professor. This I know because I had a friend who happened to have him as her German teacher.) Anyway, we grew up calling him Uncle Babe, but he really did not like it. He wanted to be called Walter. We tried and failed. I finally told him that we have too many negative associations with that name and that is why we struggled with his name. So sad because for him, the name is associated with a much loved uncle – the brother of my grandmother. Long story short, he is very understanding of our need to call him Uncle Babe.

So, then came Walter. What a disappointing piece of humanity. A smart man – English was his second language but he spoke like a native – but it was all utterly wasted. He was just filled with hate and misery and wanted to make everyone else feel like him. I truly believed he wanted to destroy us. If divorce broke us, Walter was intent on smashing us.

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Family Systems Theory describes the roles that family members take on or have placed upon them when there is serious dysfunction present. Those roles were very evident in our family after Walter came along. Gratefully, my mom finally left for good after we were grown and gone.

Some time later, Bob came back into my mom’s life. They had gone out back when we were young, and pre-Walter. Bob is a truly kind and generous man. I think we would have patched ourselves together without him, but with him we were transformed. Now we are a trifle. A trifle is made of layers of pound cake, berries, custard and whipped cream. Our broken-up pieces of pound cake have been mixed with new family members – spouses, in-laws, children and grandchildren – and over all of that a smooth, creamy custard sauce has been poured. The custard has seeped into all the pound cake and filled in all the empty spaces. Bob is that custard. He has helped make our pound cake something entirely new, and we helped to transform him as well.

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He called my mom out of the blue. After all those years. I think John told her if she didn’t marry him, he would. I’m just grateful he called. Thank you, Bob.

10 days in England. Four in London, one in Cambridge, two in York (pronounced Yawk), three just outside of Oxford. I have been to England before, and I have loved it every time. This was Emma’s turn. Her sisters got to go many years ago ( Must keep things equal. Kinda.)

Some things I learned this time:

• All of Europe goes on vacation in August and London is one of their destinations.

• There is no one map of London that serves all of your needs. You need two: one detailed city, and one tube and bus.

• A trip in the summer requires almost two different wardrobes because you just don’t know what kind of weather you may encounter.

• People eat dinner late in Europe. If you go to a restaurant between five and six in the evening, you will have no problem getting a table, and the restaurant/pub will not have run out of Sticky Toffee Pudding yet.

• Airbnb is a mixed bag. Reviews can be misleading because your idea of a comfortable bed may not be everyone else’s. On the other hand, you may end up someplace that is really great (see The Nook in Oxfordshire).

• I thought I liked Cambridge more than Oxford, but I was wrong. Oxford is a beautiful city. Cambridge is quaint.

• WWII was hell for the British.

We went to a couple museums/memorials about the war and went on a walking tour of York where we learned even more about that period of time. I knew the country was bombed by Germany and that Hitler intended to invade, but the exhibits we saw really helped me better appreciate what it must have felt like to be British at that time. It is a short 20 miles from the continent. The country is about the size of the state of Alabama. There they were, minutes from Hitler’s army.

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Göering overlooking cliffs at Dover from France.

60,000 civilians were killed. It must have been so frightening to live through. The thing that helped me understand the best was our stop in Coventry. Coventry is….ugly. Much of modern architecture in England is truly hideous – it looks like communist Soviet cement blocks. (Prince Charles called some of the modern architecture “monstrous carbuncles”.) Coventry had the snot beat out of it and it looks it. Years ago we visited Vicksburg Mississippi. We could see that the city had never really recovered from the Civil War. It was a poor and depressing place. Well, Coventry is not poor or depressing, but it does not look like other English cities that sustained damage during the war. Coventry Cathedral, like many other stately building, was utterly destroyed. The damage was too extensive to rebuild, so the ruins were kept as a memorial.

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Unlike most other British cities that enduring Nazi bombing, Coventry had a hard time keeping that famous “stiff upper lip”. They had sustained such damage that people were utterly demoralized. Churchill understood how important it was to keep up morale. For that reason the government created the Ministry of Information which was given the responsibility of boosting morale. That is the origin of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster.

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Keep Calm and Carry On was the third in a series of posters. The first two were Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory and Freedom is in Peril. The third poster was printed and ready to use when the Nazi’s invaded. It was only a matter of time.

But! We know that Hitler made a Napoleonic mistake. The RAF managed to maintain control of the air over southern England and Hitler turned his attention to Russia. He figured he could come back and get England later. Fatal mistake. So the poster was never used. Copies were found decades later and today we are the happy recipients of the reminder to prevail with equanimity.

People have co-opted the “Keep Calm” slogan. They trivialize it by turning it into such silly things as “Keep Calm and Buy Stuff” and “Keep Calm and Eat Cake”, or worse. Only a people ignorant of history and lulled by ease and imagined security could play such games. For my part, I am grateful that Churchill helped bolster a people already known for their fortitude.

This is no time for ease and comfort. It is a time to dare and endure.