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Travel time

Deep snow covered the north country, and a cold front had marched down from the Alaska interior, smothering any initiative I might have felt for outside activities. As if that wasn’t motivation enough to escape, an investment with a man I’d trusted had recently obliterated a sizable portion of my retirement. It seemed an excellent occasion for a reprieve from the elements, as well as an opportune time to reflect on my future.

Though the hurricane ravaged coast where I landed was nearly bereft of amenities, it offered what I needed; solitude and sun. During the day, I trudged the beaches, awed with a nature that could for days on end caress its inhabitants into languor and lassitude, then in a fit of pique, pulverize their dreams—and sometimes their lives. The sobering wreckage of beach homes and

washed-up fishing boats were a suitable backdrop to the struggling eco-resort where I stayed. They had advertised electrical power, telephone—even Internet. That was before the storm. Now, they supplied flashlights, candles, and the steady hum of a generator.

The first morning, I gathered a suitable selection of fruit and first meal necessities from the buffet, then sauntered into the dining area. Breakfast seemed a communal affair. No empty tables were available, so I requested permission to join an interesting couple I’d met the night before. We discussed the lack of resort amenities as we ate. Afterward, as casual acquaintances in foreign lands often do, we lingered over coffee while we exchanged travel experiences.

The couple across from me claimed New Brunswick as their current home. They related several of their European travel experiences, which seemed their first choice of destinations. Several times, they disparaged the dismal connections into Europe, especially through London. At first I nodded sympathetically, but the conversation degenerated into a diatribe, particularly directed against Heathrow airport, and then to a significant part of the British nation. I looked for a break in the unrelenting monologue, wishing for a reasonable excuse to depart. No opportunity presented itself.

My table mates moved on to British attitudes and lack of service, until the conversation fell into a lull. That was the cue I’d waited for, and I gathered my breakfast things together, glad to depart. I’d nearly made it to my feet when the elderly gentleman leaned across the table.

“I realize I haven’t been kind to the Brits, and that is not completely fair. I have had one rather good experience with them. If you have a few moments to spare, I would like to relate it.”

I sat back and politely stated that I would be most interested. Inwardly, I braced myself for a long and boring tale, and though I was on holiday and had nothing more than my usual beach itinerary planned for the day, I still resented the time this would take. Fleetingly, I wondered if one of the excellent Nicaraguan cigars I’d managed to obtain during my last stop in Granada would relieve the boredom of his tale. However, at the moment I neither had one, nor was it the place to indulge.

The gentleman pushed his cup away, cleared his throat and began.

“It was years ago, just after the war, and I was a young fellow knocking about England. I’d run out of money, so though I had no work permit, I found employment on a farm close to London. It was hard going, and I was more or less treated as their private slave, with little enough on the table at the end of the day. Several weeks into this difficult employment, I got off a bit earlier than usual. With the few coins I’d saved, I walked down to the village to see if I couldn’t find some kind of added sustenance to bolster the miserly bit that this tightfisted farmer offered. Unfortunately, all the shops were closed, but I poked around looking into shop windows, planning to come back as soon as I could.

“Suddenly, somebody tapped me on the shoulder. Turning swiftly, I looked up into the eyes of a big London Bobby.

“Who are you, and what are you doing?” he asked, in a rather gruff policeman’s voice.

I nervously explained that I was a Danish lad working at a farm up the road, and that I had come to the village because I was very hungry and hoped to buy some food. The big Bobby’s expression softened, and oddly, his eyes seemed moist. I held my breath, waiting for the request for my non-existent work permit.

“You’d best come with me, son,” he ordered. I was weak with relief at his next words.

“The Missus is baking a fresh batch of scones.” So off we went to a very good English tea. As we sat and talked, he continued to watch me closely with those knowing Bobby eyes.

“I used to speak a little Danish,” he began.

“I leaned forward in my chair, more interested in the last of the scones than whether he was fluent in my country’s dialect.

“He pushed the plate my way. “Take it son, and there’s more if you want them.”

“I slipped the scone onto my plate and made short work of it. While I ate, the fire behind the open hearth across the room popped and crackled, spreading it’s warmth into my thin shoulders as my generous host talked.

“I was part of a British police detachment during the war. We were assigned to Dunkirk during the evacuation. Through the long days and nights they loaded the troops onto anything that would float. Our job was to keep order. The problem was, we weren’t evacuated.

During the panic of the final embarkation, I was separated from my unit and left behind. When the Germans arrived, they sent me to the concentration camp at Buchenwald. It was full of Poles, Russians, and Gypsies. They were made to work, but for whatever reason, I was not. However, I got little to eat, and after a long thirty-six months I knew I was done for. Few men could survive on the rations we were allowed.

One day, the men in my barracks never returned. They were replaced with new men in black uniforms. These men did calisthenics and were strong. All were Danish policemen who had been rounded up to keep them from aiding the Resistance. They even had a police doctor with them. Slowly, they nursed me back to health. Later, they found me a uniform and forged a set of Danish papers for me. When the Germans moved them, I went along. We were supposed to go to Stockholm, but these resourceful and daring Danes had other plans. The train was purposely slowed, the doors opened, and we disappeared into the night. With the help of the Resistance, I made my way back to England.”

Both of us stared into the dying fire as my London Bobby struggled to control his voice.

“I will never forget those Danish countrymen of yours.”

It was late, and I made my way to the door. I felt I’d made a great friend, but just to be on the safe side I skipped over to the next village and found work with another farmer. I still didn’t have a work permit, and my new policeman friend had taken an uncomfortable amount of interest in me.

A couple of weeks later, another tall British Bobby pulled into the farm yard where I was now working. He uncoiled his frame from one of those mini cars that littered Britain after the war and asked the farmer if I was there, and of course, I was. Grinning down at me, he handed me a work permit and said, “These papers are given with the compliments of your friend.” That Bobby knew where I was all the time, and that I had no work permit.”

The old gentleman stared through the eye-level bamboo slats and out toward the hurricane ravaged coast. After a few moments he turned and spoke. “Though I was a young lad, I’ve never forgotten that Bobby’s kindness.” He smiled. “It seemed after bashing his countrymen; I should tell you that story.”

I thanked the couple for a memorable visit, and the pleasure of their company. They left, and I spent my day tramping the shoreline while I stared at the wreckage, much of it as great as my own recent ill-conceived financial disaster. But the old man’s story had helped to put my own situation into perspective. At any level, war, hurricanes and financial disasters are hell. The old man I’d breakfasted with had survived. The people whose homes had been destroyed would somehow build again. And I would find a way to rise out of the ashes of my own financial ruin. I wouldn’t let my gullibility and the actions of a man I’d trusted, embitter me. I would start over. Somewhere out there, my own London Bobby waited. I just had to find him.

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