An intercontinental marriage has advantages - among them the opportunity to celebrate and appreciate the differences and strengths in one another's cultures. After arriving in Lawrence, my husband took me to the historic Eldridge Hotel and spoke about the courage of those who tried to abolish slavery and the struggles of Quantrill's Raid survivors. Present-day Lawrence came at a cost that cannot just be measured in dollars.
A recent visit to Plymouth, England, gave us an opportunity to experience other historical connections. We stood on Mayflower Steps, where many seafarers, adventurers and freedom-seekers set sail for the New World. Others, like Catherine of Aragon, arrived there full of hope; she came to marry Prince Arthur. (Widowed 10 years later, she became the first and longest-reigning queen of Henry VIII.)
From the same Steps in April 1584, explorers began a voyage to North America to prepare for English colonization. On arrival in what is now North Carolina, they claimed the land for Elizabeth I and named it Virginia in her honor.
The pilgrims, ancestors of some of you, disembarked there in August 1620, when their first transatlantic crossing failed. Once repairs to the 180-ton Mayflower were completed and supplies replenished, they sailed for Virginia. Winds blew them off course, and they coincidentally landed near Cape Cod in a place earlier named Plymouth by English Capt. John Smith. Their journey then took 65 days; our transatlantic flight today takes about six hours.
We stood on the Steps and paid tribute to those, on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, who risked their lives to venture forth and discover something better.
We crossed the Strand to Plymouth's oldest street, renamed New Street around the time of Sir Francis Drake. It overlooks the harbor and has two tearooms, which are housed in buildings nearly 500 years old. Both are mentioned and recommended in Margaret Thornby's "Guide to Tea Rooms of Britain" (Yes! Brits really have such guidebooks.) We decided to sample both.
Strand Tea Rooms was built in 1589. Window seats give a clear view of Mayflower Steps and the busy shipping channel. We ordered a Devon cream tea, which includes scones, locally made clotted cream and jam (translate - jelly). Portraits of Tudor monarchs from 1405 to 1509 grace the walls. A massive collection of antique, royal-crested tea pots and plates hung from ancient beams bent with age. When tea arrived in stainless steel pots, I thought I saw Henry VIII arch his eyebrows.
"When did you start using bags?" I asked.
"About five years ago. They're quicker and cheaper than tea leaves."
The scones and cream were mouth-watering.
Twins in their 80s occupied the other window seat. They'd lived through the Plymouth bombings and returned to "take tea" every few months and remember friends who died in World War II.
"My friend perished in the building that used to stand next door. A bomb demolished it during one raid," Muriel explained.
"It's a miracle this building survived," Cecily interjected.
"You should've seen Plymouth before the war, dear," Muriel said. "It was splendid."
"Thank goodness for you Americans," they both chorused, when they heard Don's American accent. "You were very kind to us when you came into Plymouth, and, of course, you helped us win the war."
Royals aren't displayed in the newer 1642 building Tudor Rose Tea Rooms. They have restored Elizabethan gardens, complete with maze and water features. An ancient wall bears the names of all the pilgrim families - Jones, Fullers and Goodmans among them. Peregrine Hopkins gets special mention. He was born as the Mayflower reached American shores. His name means "one who journeys to foreign lands."
The building retains the original oak staircase. Our feet sunk in its indentations and connected in spirit to folks like Sir Walter Raleigh, Capt. Cook and the pilgrims who trod there centuries ago.
Tea was served in faux Elizabethan china tea pots, with oven-hot scones and freshly made cream. In monetary terms, cream tea in Plymouth seems expensive - around $11 each. However, the experience of stepping into history and connecting with those who searched and worked for a better life in a new continent is priceless.