I do not remember when I could not read. Because my father read voraciously, especially newspapers, I recall sitting quietly in his lap as he carefully browsed The Atlanta Constitution. To avoid boredom, I think I began to attach words with pictures. Occasionally, I would interrupt his reading to ask him to identify a word. Once I began to read independently, I began my travels in time and place.
Working my way through fairy tales and mythology, I graduated to Nancy Drew mysteries and small blue biographies, just inside the door of my public library in Monroe, Georgia, whose librarians became dear friends as they guided my choices and preferences.
My favorite settings were in the British Isles. In my childish fantasies, I wandered the dark moors with Lorna Doone, surreptitiously visited the ruins of Manderley, and broke apart scones in out of the way teashops. Of all the travels I coveted, those of that assemblage held sway.
About 25 years ago, my fellow teacher at Monroe High, Julie Heggoy, queried, “How would you like to spend a few weeks in England; I have a time share in the Cotswolds?” My answer was an exuberant, “Yes!”
I called my good friend in Newnan, the late Cap Goodrum, for travel advice since I was to meet Julie and her relatives in England after they completed her student-centered tour of Italy. “Go to Tewkesbury, Amelia; then you can meet your friends nearby.” I boarded my flight in Atlanta and was bumped to First Class, courtesy of former student Carter Campbell, who worked at Delta at the time.
After landing at Heathrow, I headed for Paddington Station and changed trains three times, a truly remarkable feat as direction is my Waterloo. Taking a cab to Tewkesbury, I settled in at the centuries old Bell Hotel, which Cap had recommended. The floors were uneven, the hallways a maze rather than commonsensical, the beds soft, just as I had expected. England does not just raze structures because they are old, in need of an update. Roads are expected to take hedgerows into account, not cars.
Fearful of venturing too far alone, I had my first tea next door, where a gentleman enjoyed his repast with his dog at his feet, inside, quite a contrast to my Georgia dining habits. I ordered a toasted tea cake along with my tea and looked out at the cathedral across the street. Then realization struck me: all my girlish dreams had reached fruition as T. S. Eliot would say, “with the taking of a toast and tea.”
The next two weeks found our group touring the sites around us: Chichester Cathedral for headstone rubbings, the Roman influences in Bath, Stonehenge, even a trip to Wales. Knowing my penchant for English poets, my friend Julie chose Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey ruins and a trip to the Isle of Wight where Tennyson spent final years; we dined at his seaside home.
For the final week, my oldest childhood friend from Monroe, Brenda Moseley, joined us for a walking tour of the Devon coast. Its tall cliffs were challenging, but there I overcame my tremendous fear of heights as we walked very close to cliffs’ edges with the sea bulging below us.
Wherever we walked that week, our tour guide planned spots for rest around the best tea shops. Since he had led the tour often, he knew exactly when the cooks would be rolling out the scones. Just like us who like our biscuits piping hot, so do the English enjoy their scones, augmented with butter and jam.
Brenda and I had a lovely night in London before the flight home; however, I had left my heart in the countryside with its thatched cottages, club-like pubs and small tearooms. Upon my return home, even today, I still enjoy a cup of hot tea many afternoons, especially in winter.
Occasionally, I make scones, especially when my niece Holly Mitchell and her daughter of seven Callie come by for a visit with Aunt Amelia. Callie has a strong sweet tooth, so her mother monitors that inclination. There are no restrictions, however, when she is at my tea table. To my great delight Callie likes what the British call “fruited” scones to contain the dried variety.
Scones with Dried Fruit and Nuts
2 cups plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shortening
3/4 cup cream
1/4 cup dried fruit
1/4 cup lightly roasted, chopped nuts
In a large mixing bowl combine flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and cinnamon and turn over well. With fingertips or a pastry cutter, add butter and shortening and work until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a separate bowl, stir cream and egg together.
Stir in fruit (cranberries, currants, golden raisins, cherries or any other of your choosing) and nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts or pecans) with the flour mixture and then the liquids. Knead the dough on a floured surface and roll to 3/4 inch. Cut with a scone or biscuit cutter, brush with additional cream, and sprinkle with sugar. Place on a greased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 15-18 minutes until golden brown. Approximately a dozen scones result.
Sometimes Callie and I visit Scott’s Bookstore to purchase the chapter books she favors reading at this point. We come home, travel upstairs to my small den and begin reading, she on the daybed, I in the chair next to her while my cat Mary Lou lies within petting distance of us both.
I do not know where Callie’s imagination takes her in late afternoons; I can only wish that she travels to unseen places as I did at her age. Somewhere, some day, I trust she sits in a small café and realizes, as I did in Tewkesbury, decades ago, dreams do come true. NCM