"I traveled among unknown men,
In lands beyond the sea,
Nor, England, did I know till then,
What love I bore to thee.
Tis past, that melancholy dream
Nor will I quit thy shore,
A second time, for still I seem,
To love thee more and more.
- William Wordsworth -
When I was a young girl I yearned for England. I missed the rolling green hills, the hedgerows, the English gardens, the heather and the vast endless skies. I wanted to see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament one more time. I wanted to visit all the ancient cathedrals and the majestic and magical castles, Trafalgar Square, the Tower Bridge, especially at night when it glistened like jewels as it sat proudly over the RiverThames. I dreamt of the Changing of the Guard as the cavalry marched proudly out of Buckingham Palace. In my imagination I walked through Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, Serpentine Lake, St. James Lake and Green Park seeing all the spring flowers come to life as I wandered dreamily through all of it, my joy unsurpassed.
I had never been to England. Why I treasured a mindful of accurate memories of a place I’d never seen remains a mystery to me. I had never even seen a travel guide or a book about London. I didn’t know anyone who had been there who could have told me about it.
Then many decades later I went to England. I spent a week in London, feeling as if I were home, then took the train north to a place called Whitley Bay that overlooked North Sea where friends of mine lived. I spent a delightful week with them visiting all the local castles and museums. Every place I went was familiarity. At one point I asked Kathleen to stop the car. As she did I ran over to a field of beautiful purple flowers and knelt in them burying the blossoms in my face.
“Heather”,I said to Kathleen as she came up to join me.
“Have you ever seen heather before?” she asked.
“No, I haven’t but I know this is heather.” I was right and its fragrance, its beauty was balm to my soul. I was home.
Kathleen and I drove up to Flodden Field, the battle site of one of the most deadly battles between the Englishmen and the Scots. Their 10,000 Scots, the flowers of Scotland, the best and the bravest, lost their lives and many were buried underneath the earth on that hill.
Slowly Kathleen and I walked up the hill. All of a sudden, the ground, previously dry, became wet and slippery, a heavy bog that made it difficult for us to move. As we drew closer to the crest of the hill we began hearing noises, at first faint then slowly growing louder. They were like nothing I had ever heard, horses screaming, men crying out loud in strange words with heavy accents. I covered my ears as my eyes scanned the hill. All around me were thousands of men crowded so tightly that scarcely an inch of space remained. Swords were flying, blood spurting, the painful whinnying of horses hit by weapons was chilling. The weapons were unfamiliar to me: long staffs ending in hook-shaped blades, heavy spears with equally long shafts andhand drawn wooden bows. They seemed cumbersome to my eyes, a tool of destruction rather than survival.
A storm of arrows flew everywhere and the sound of cannon fire was deafening. In the distance over the heads of thousands of soldiers, more bog and scrub woodland met my eyes. A group of soldiers were hacking one young man to death, cutting the throat of another and stripping still other dead soldiers of their armor. Panic stricken, I looked with horror at Kathleen whose hands were over her ears as well.
"Kathleen, can you hear it? Can you see it?" My voice was a ragged whisper.
"I can. I never knew horses made such terrible sounds when they're injured. And the blood. It's everywhere."
Kathleen ducked her head as a sword came flying and looked behind her in time to see the arm of a young man leave his body. His facial expression of shock and pain overwhelmed Kathleen. I grabbed ahold of her and the two of us stood in the midst of the battle of Flodden Field on its anniversary date and clung to each other. The scene went on and on. Kathleen was sobbing now and I led her slowly back down the hill. As we entered the parking lot the scenes disappeared and Kathleen doubled over on the ground as dry heaves assaulted her. She sat down on a nearby curb,wiped her mouth with a tissue and took deep breaths as she tried to regain her composure.
What had happened? Had I indeed been in England in another life? Is that why I had spent my life yearning for a place I’d never seen? I don’t know. I'll never know for sure.
Two years later I was married in Melrose Abbey in Melrose, Scotland, to another McKinnon. Tom and I had met on the Internet searching for ancestors on genealogy sites, both of us visiting the McKinnon site often. Our wedding was complete with a piper band who played our song at a five star restaurant and friends who had driven over from Glasgow. The site of George and his two sons, Christopher and Adam, and Eddie MacKinnon, another friend from the Internet, all dressed in kilts walking down the street to meet us before the ceremony was a pure delight. Tom wore a Harley shirt and a pair of jeans. Kathleen and her husband Paul were best man and maid of honor.
As I stood in Melrose Abbey in my street length lavender dress with black lace over it and a ring of flowers on my head I looked around and sighed a deep sigh of satisfaction. I was home; I was really, really home.