Blowin’ In: Threshold
By Susan Mangan
“Though there was nothing in particular about the knocker on the door . . .
Scrooge saw in the knocker, not a knocker, but Marley’s face.”
(“A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens)
Through the power of pen and vision, nineteenth-century author Charles Dickens sought to awaken the population as to the plight of the forgotten child and the poor. In his famous tale, “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge, a miserly old businessman, is unwittingly forced to examine his existence. He is given the chance to change the course of his life through a reckoning that occurs in a single night, a reckoning that thrusts Scrooge forward onto a path of benevolence.
The first spirit to confront Scrooge is his “seven-years dead” business partner, Jacob Marley, who manifests upon the doorknocker which leads into Scrooge’s home. The door is a metaphor for change. It can open or close. It is a portal that can lead to a new life, or a barrier that impedes our happiness when we choose to barricade ourselves against a wall of fear. Fortunately for Scrooge, with the help of three apparitions, he found a way past his fear and into the light. Change is possible, if we choose the correct path and step over the threshold of a promising door.
Throughout my travels to Ireland, England, and Scotland, I have had the opportunity to visit with people from all generations and walks of life. I come by this penchant for conversation naturally. My grandmother Mim, a world traveler, would seize upon the kindness of unsuspecting strangers and sit with them for long periods of time engaging in “tour talk,” wherein she would discuss her favorite sites in the given city, village, or hamlet. Granted, Mim did capitalize on her status as a cute little old woman, but strangers were captivated by the breadth of her knowledge and experience.
Mim was always one who embraced opportunity and enjoyed life’s more subtle gifts. During the opening strains of a musical piece, whether by Bach, Beethoven, or Woody Guthrie, Mim would gently close her wrinkled eyelids and smile, tapping out the remembered tune upon her knee. After this brief interlude, she would reopen her eyes, refreshed and thoroughly engaged in the moment. This is not to say that Mim didn’t have fire lighting her spirit. The poor soul that would choose to discuss politics or the state of literacy in our world was often stunned into silence. Mim could preach like a statesman. With intelligence, confidence, and wit, Mim never accepted the status quo.
It is with these genes that I choose to look at my world, even if I only have time to look out my own front door.
This past autumn, my youngest son and I were given the opportunity to travel to Bognor Regis, England. He was to compete in the British National Championships of Irish Dancing. Newly qualified to dance at the World’s Irish Dancing Championships in London during the spring of 2014, we thought it would be a good way for him to experience the challenge of travel and overseas competition.
At first, the journey seemed daunting. Nevertheless, like the wind that continually blows in the tides of change, I embraced the opportunity for both of us, ensuring him that the dancing would be nothing compared to the travel. As we stood in the melee of London’s Underground, my son looked at me with eyes wide and expectant, “Boy Mom, you were right.”
I may not hear those words again until he is a grown man, but for the moment, we stood, gathering our bearings, watching the train doors open and close. Silently, we both wondered where all the Londoners were going and what adventures lie in wait for us.
Bognor Regis is a quaint English coastal town. Each day, my son and I would select a spot to have a bite of lunch and a bit of conversation. Much like my grandmother, I have a knack for finding curious places that specialize in tasty food and interesting people.
Wind chapped and chilled from our walk along the sea, my son and I stopped in a little pub that featured wood-fired Neapolitan pizza and homemade soup. Our server was a lovely English girl. Blonde-haired and rosy-cheeked, she typified an English rose. Smitten with my son’s ten-year-old charm, she lingered at our table for a while. I complimented her on the beauty of her town.
She looked at me quizzically and asked, “You think?” I replied, “Of course, I have always wanted to live on the sea.” In her English country accent she agreed, “I guess we don’t always appreciate that’s wha’ under our nose.” I nodded my head and thought about the truth in those words.
During our last night in Bognor Regis, darkness fell and a sharp, faceless wind blew off the sea. The sky lay black as squid ink and our path was lit only by the light of a full harvest moon. A journey that took us a mere twenty minutes by daylight stretched into what seemed like hours. With relief, my son and I finally made our way to our establishment of the day, aptly named “The Navigator.”
After getting settled, my son ordered a double ginger-ale, and I a locally crafted lager. It was quite obvious to the locals enjoying their Sunday dinner that we travelers came from afar. Older gentlemen in tweed jackets balanced curved pipes onto their tobacco- stained lips and wished one another, “a jolly good meal.” Their wives, proper English ladies, in cardigan sweaters and plaid woolen skirts, smiled and sipped dainty portions of port in bulbous brandy snifters.
As my son and I indulged in steaming fish pie and freshly cut chips, a most curious looking man caught my attention. From our very entrance, he watched us. Most people would be a bit put off by this lanky older man wearing a bedraggled Fair Isle sweater and sporting a grey beard as long as Moses’.
My grandmother’s own girl, I struck up a conversation with this man as I paid my bill at the bar. He told me he was a lazy musician who loved to read, but his love of jazz and letters never amounted to much. He asked about my whereabouts and declared that he had relations in Ohio. Again, I complimented him on the beauty of his village. Much like the barmaid by the beach, he looked at me with bulging eyes and queried, “Ya’ think?”
Holding the door for us as we left, the man wished us an elaborate blessing that involved a host of angels to guide us home and a final “Godspeed.” The door may have closed on the gentle folk in The Navigator, but for my son and I, our journey was just beginning.
*Susan holds a Master’s Degree in English from John Carroll University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Baldwin-Wallace University. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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