The White House

A few fond memories.

Throughout all my elementary school years our family lived in England. My dad worked for a large international corporation and he had accepted a two year work assignment in the UK. What began as a two year stay developed into four then into six years. 

We moved four times in six years. The first five we lived south of London. The last we moved to the far northern part of England, almost to Scotland in the Northumberland area. Our abode was a large farmhouse. There was no number on the house, but a name instead—The White House! 

I wonder if they still give some homes descriptive names as opposed to boring numbers. What a creative idea.

It was fun being that we were Americans living in The White House. My parents would frequently receive letters and cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. President. I’m sure the return address on my parent’s mail to their family and friends back in the US often prompted the postman to take a second look. 

At eleven years old, I didn’t really know how big the acreage was around our house, but I do know at that age it felt huge. We did not really have farmland, but my mother did have quite a vast garden. There was a wooded area with tall trees and a small stream trickled across part of the property. 

I recall a large wooden gate at the entrance of the driveway. During the warmer days, I would climb up and perch on the top amusing myself as I awaited for my father to get home from work. Looking back on that, I’m sure he cherished having his daughter excited to see him after a long day “at the plant” as he described it.

The home itself was probably once an actual farmhouse. It had two stories and several spacious rooms connected by long hallways. An enormous kitchen complete with a deep freeze where my mom would keep special treats—like frozen Snickerbars! It was by far the biggest house we ever lived in and really too big for our small family, but being my dad’s company provided the housing, we didn’t complain.

My brother was seventeen. A few times we took long hikes through the fields that surrounded the area where we lived. There were endless pastures filled with cows and sheep. They didn’t seem to mind much and looked up only momentarily from their grazing to watch us hop the fence and trample through their fields being very careful of where we stepped.

Then it was into the woods in search of a stream. There my brother taught me how to “tickle for trout.” He secured his footing on a couple of dry rocks straddling the flowing water. After rolling up his sleeves, he reached down into the cold water running his hands underneath the flat rocks. Once in a while, he would suddenly thrust his hand into the air clenching tightly to a startled, wiggling fish!

The enjoyment for him was in the challenge of capture, so after a few moments he would toss the fish back into the stream where it quickly disappeared from sight. Unfortunately, I never was able to catch a trout myself. But, I don’t know how I would have reacted should I have actually felt something that slimy under a rock!

As my brother and I were away at our separate boarding schools, and my dad at work, my mom may have been rather lonely. But as resourceful as she was, I’m certain she stayed busy with her artwork, crafts, garden, and a handy telephone to chat with friends. There were not very many houses in our neighborhood. In fact, besides us and the “real” farmhouse across the road, there weren’t any other homes around for miles.

The farm on the other side of the road was a true working farm. They had crops, cattle, sheep, and a chicken coup. The family that lived there worked very hard. I remember thinking how happy I was that I didn’t have to do all the chores those kids did everyday. 

Sometimes I would hike out across the fields to find the farmer working. Riding on the tractor was one of my favorite things to do. I wonder if that developed into my love of driving golf carts. Haha! 

At the end of the day, the farmer would give the command that sent his dog off to round up the sheep for their supper. Jesse was an amazing dog. His master would yell with a very, heavy cockney accent, “Get away back there, Jesse!” And, Jesse would run full speed around the outside of the herd barking and nipping at their feet. He effectively and quickly gathered them up driving them towards the bottom of the field near the gate. There the sheep enjoyed their fill at the troughs.

The farm had a huge barn that was full of hay. I remember climbing up and jumping down, diving and falling in it, and coming home with it all over my clothing and in my hair. One day I went searching for my brother in the barn. I guess there really is something about farmers’ daughters because I found him and the girl locked in a kiss!

Us being city kids, we were very curious and spent time at the farm whenever possible. The grownups over there liked having extra hands to help out and they were always trying to put us to work. One day they sent me into the chicken coup to collect eggs. I watched one of the farm kids reach under a hen and pull one out. How hard could it be? 

Now, I knew from my horseback riding lessons that horses can sense fear in a person. Well, those chickens must have felt a touch of my apprehension because as I tentatively pushed under the first warm birds’ body, she stretched her neck out and pecked my hand! I wasn’t expecting that reaction. I figured she was just mean, so went on to the next one. She did the same thing! What was it with those moody girls! After the third pecking, I was finished with the novelty of collecting freshly laid eggs and I quickly exited that smelly, loud chicken house! 

A few weeks later, I watched with mixed emotions as the farmer fulfilled his wife’s request to pick out a chicken for dinner. While I was still wondering which one he would chose, he suddenly grabbed the nearest one running by. In a split second he had expertly taken it by the neck and swung it up over his head in two circles. The birds neck broke, a little feed came out of its mouth, and it was off to the kitchen! It probably was a pretty humane method being it was so quick but regardless, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the poor old gal.

It would have been fun to share some photographs from our adventures at The White House. But if there are any, I haven’t found them. However, I do have those images etched into my memory and am very appreciative of those wonderful experiences.

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