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The Backless Dress and The Long Drive

February 11, 2009 | Category: In My Life

About 8 weeks ago, I got a call. I wrote this, and now it's time I think to share it here....

It was late spring just about 15 years ago. I headed to England with $350 in my pocket, an open-return ticket, and a new journal tucked between my spare jeans and the extra underwear in my backpack.

Long story short, I ended up dating a Coldstream Guard. Who invited me, one summer evening, to a dance. I found a little black halter dress in a thrift store and twisted up my hair with an antique rhinestone clip. But like Cinderella, I had a curfew - the B&B I was living at locked its doors at midnight.

And like Cinderella, I lost track of time. I realized it with a panic. One of the more senior men, Ian, had a car and offered to drive me across London.

We raced, but not quick enough. I rang and rang, and eventually realized I was stranded.

"What will you do?" Ian asked.

"Get a hotel room," I mused. I had an emergency credit card stashed, well, somewhere. I knew I couldn't stay at the barracks, and all my contact numbers were up in my room - on the wrong side of that impassive door.

"Dressed like that? With no luggage?"

"What's my alternative?"

"I'm headed home for the weekend," he said, opening the passenger door with a smile. "You can kip with me and my family, if you like."

I nodded slowly. It was uncomfortable, accepting a ride and the offer of a place to stay from a near-stranger. He had ginger hair and a big laugh and that's about all I knew of him. I wondered if I was going to end up in the pages of the newspaper, with the headline 'Unknown Woman washes up on Thames!'

"The thing is, it's a bit of a drive," he said as we headed onto the M1.

"It's far?"

"250 miles, give or take," Ian laughed.

It was nearing dawn when we finally got to Darlington. My gut was full of butterflies. Ian had proved to be a complete gentleman on the trip. Dropping the military persona, he told me stories of how his 3 children had been born and what they were like. And especially about his wife, Susan. How she'd saved lives when they'd lived in Ireland, by noticing something 'off' about a car parked on their lane. It had turned out to be a bomb. They'd lost everything they'd owned when it had gone off, but not a soul was hurt because she'd had the presence to sound the alarm.

I wondered what she would make of her husband showing up at all hours with a blond American in a dress down to here.

I needn't have worried.

She pulled the door open with a merry smile and offered me tea. Her husband looking at her like she was a hot cross bun and he hadn't eaten in days. By the end of the weekend, it was a done deal. Like Sandra Bullock's character in 'While You Were Sleeping' - I was in love with whole family. Ian and Susan and their kids and friends. All of it: their home full of happy noises and the smell of tea cooking, the greenhouse in their back garden filled with pots of dirt and bulbs, and the barbecue where Ian liked to char three kinds of meat while chomping on a cigar. I was in love and grinning and giddy.

As Ian ushered me out on Sunday, for the long drive back to London, Susan made me promise to return. And after my long, hot London summer had ended, I did - eventually moving in with them for several months.

Even after I came back the States, we stayed as close as we could. Exchanged phone calls and Christmas cards. I have pictures of the kids growing up. Clippings, and letters tucked in a box.

When Susan left me the message the other night, I knew. You always know. It's that tone of voice, you know?

I think I was crying, even as she told me.

Leaving the Darlington F.C. game, Ian had a bad fall. He died in hospital later that night, probably of a massive heart attack. He was only 53.

He leaves behind the sweetest woman on Earth, 3 great kids, a brother, and countless mates, co-workers, and former brothers in arms - as well as a desolate dog who is still waiting for him by the door.

He was the kind of guy who wouldn't leave a soul stranded, even if it meant hauling them 250 miles. The kind of guy who would bring a stranger home to his family, and make them welcome. There are too few people like that.

And now, there is one less.

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Tagged: Memory, Friendship, Love, Life, Death, Corporate, Mommy, Life
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oh, that's so sad. such a beautiful story - what an amazing man!

Posted by: Jen Strange on February 13, 2009 08:32 AM

I'm so sorry to read this. Ian sounds like a wonderful man--his family is in my prayers.

Posted by: Amanda on February 12, 2009 05:19 PM

You describe him wonderfully and he sounds like he was a great man. I'm sorry to hear the news.

Posted by: Monica C. on February 12, 2009 02:21 PM

What a beautiful tribute to a kind and generous soul. My condolences to you and to Ian's family.

Posted by: Angie on February 12, 2009 12:07 PM

Cheers, here's to you Ian. Have a pint in heaven for all of us. Condolences to you and his family. A soul like that will truly be missed.

Posted by: Cathy on February 12, 2009 08:48 AM

Those calls are awful. My condolences to you and to Ian's family. He sounds like an amazing man, and I'm sure that he's touched more lives in 53 years than some people do in twice that. Thank you for sharing those memories of him.

Posted by: Alice on February 11, 2009 10:18 PM

Dearest Elizabeth, I love you and you write so beautifully. But, please? Stop making me cry!

Posted by: Cheryl on February 11, 2009 10:07 PM