By John Estabrook
Growing up I and my friends had the run of the Sleepy Hollow neighborhood in Northern Virginia, about one square mile. There were few rules: let your parents know where you’d be, don’t cross Tripps Run or Sleepy Hollow Road, and don’t ever cross US Route 50. It was a tranquil, insular existence. The school bus stopped nearby. Then my father came home from work one day, gathered the family, and announced we would be moving to England that fall. Seemingly our little world came crashing down.
I was 14, my sister 11, and my identical twin brothers 9. In England we all had to get to school somehow, on our own. Jim and Dave walked downhill to their primary school, while Margaret and I took the tube [subway] to different destinations. Her school was near the Oxford Circus station, and mine was near Camden Town.
My father’s assignment turned out to be for four years. For the first two years we rented a 6-floor row house, what my father termed a “vertical rambler”, in Hampstead. The last two years were farther outside London in Hampstead Garden Suburb, where the tube was above ground and a lot more interesting.
I can only relate my experience, and within a year my self-confidence grew to where I was able to travel all over greater London on my own. Frequently my brothers and I would buy all-day passes and tour London by Underground [subway] and double decker bus. The assistant headmaster of my school had a connection to the Covent Garden Opera House and was able to get opera box seats at 75% off. I saw a five-plus hours performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, and was worried I’d be stranded if the tube shut down for the night before the opera was over.
My sister wanted a dog to replace the one we had to leave behind in Virginia (6-month quarantine and aging dog). And so we acquired Admiral Michael, an irascible wire-haired fox terrier. On her way to symphony practice my mother would drop us off at dog obedience school, and going home I would buy tube tickets for “one and a dog to Golders Green”.
Sundays were for touring England by car, especially castles and cathedrals. Church attendance was not a priority, and until college my only formal church experience was Unitarian Sunday School. I broke with the Unitarian church because God was missing. With no prior experience I joined the choir in college, where my circle of friends were all music/religion oriented. Most had a Congregational background. Not long after moving to Connecticut in the mid-1970s I joined the choir and found God in our church. I was amazed (and grateful) that there was no audition.