The 1st Journey: U.S.A.
by Derek Bickford-Smith
My first series of visits in 1993 was with the communities who had been kind enough to respond to my self invitation. Each gave facilities for talks, radio broadcasts and press reporting, so that the baggage of literature was in several pieces of luggage and my arrival at Kennedy airport was beset with carriage difficulties.
A large dark form hung over me and said "Can I carry your bags?" - so despite my nervousness in that by then empty airport I agreed. We arrived at the bus stop for my hired car station and I only had a $10 bill and despite my helper saying that he would go and get some change I waved this goodbye. However when the bus arrived I was welcomed by my porter with that change! Quite the warmest welcome I had ever had to any country!
Car hire was a foreign language as was the automatic car, as I attempted to find the way out of New York toward Connecticut and my first Norwich community.
In becoming lost early on, I stopped at a hot-dog stand and asked a lorry driver for help. His turned to a friend to chat, then turned back to me and said in that 'foreign' English "Come in between us and we will put you on the right road". And so this tiny little red car went between the two motoring monstrosities onto the highway and was honked off onto the correct road.
The chapter of experiences continued at a bridge toll where in my confusion I gave $10 instead of $1 and heard the cry from the attendant "Ten Dollars!", by which time it was too late in that stream of concentrated traffic. Those dollar notes looked so much alike!
The sight of that first road sign 'NORWICH' meant a photographic session. I couldn't find the hand brake, so left my car in the lowest of gears on an upgrade, took my photograph and turned round to find the car gently coming toward me. I put my foot out to stop the wheel, only to find that when it did stop it had run over my foot! To be sitting on the side of the road run over by one's own car was ridiculous in the extreme! I managed to get my foot out of the shoe and turn off the engine. So glad I was on my own!
City of Norwich, Connecticut
Arriving in the City of Norwich, the Armstrongs were very kind and offered to be my hosts during this, my very first visit to another Norwich.
The photograph on the right brings back happy memories of the stay in the Armstrong home during my visit.
Dale Plummer, City historian (photograph left) delegated to be my guide, and arranged a remarkable couple of days with opportunities for meetings, radio broadcasts (my downfall on radio was on being asked "How's the family". I replied that I had not had time as I had only been there a few hours), and press coverage, plus meeting the people - from the octogenarian lady, who was difficult to find until we discovered her tilling her garden as "the young couldn't be trusted to do a thorough job!" - to the workers in Dale's own start-up wool weaving mill, mirroring those days of that trade and utilising one of the remnant vast buildings built for that purpose along the river side.
Of the 'public' meetings so excellently arranged, the primary question was always "Where is Norwich and where is Norfolk in England?" - a question that is to be repeated at all the communities I have visited - much to the disbelief of my own fellow citizens who have that factor 'of being the most important' at least in common with all their namesake communities!
All too little about wonderful Norwich CT - The oldest and the largest of the Norwich communities in the United States of America.
Save to relate one experience during the four meetings I addressed while there...
At one meeting, one of the audience rose to his feet to declare "We are no longer a colony, we are independent!" I found it difficult to reply adequately until his third interruption when I declared in my turn "But now we are friends!".
There was a remarkable cheer from the audience.
Another event that comes to mind, was my being presented with a silver token from the enormous centre for gambling in the nearby Indian Reservation. Maybe one day a million dollars ???
All too soon, the visit was over and it was on to my next stop....
Norfolk Town, Connecticut
My visit began with the being welcomed by Louise Schimmel, the Library director. And that evening after attending a church choir practice, being regaled by songs whilst giving vent to the only one I could remember - namely "Do ye ken John Peel?" and allowing myself to give full vent to the "View Hullo!"
That night I stayed with those delightful people Debbie and Colin Tait in their 'wonder house' (no locking of doors!). The photograph on the right shows the Taits in England with the City of Norwich Town Crier during the first ever Norfolk & Norwich world gathering in 1996.
Thence to a morning's tour led by historian and museum curator Gay Fields (and my first experience of an 'American' sandwich!).
Then an afternoon drive around by Louise to the settlement of self contained Huddite peoples houses (was it there I was shown a staircase with the middle steps three time higher so as to make marauding Indians stumble? Visiting 7 communities in 14 days makes the memory confused).
This was followed by an evening arranged for me to give a talk on my own country. How fortunate for historical records that the tape machine was found not to be working!
Norwich Town, Vermont
The next stop on my world exploratory cycle was Norwich Vermont, and as I had time I drove through and over the hills. I stopped at a farm with calves being reared in their own little insulated huts under the most modern methods and congratulated the farmer - who seemed surprised?
Then back to Norwich (or was it West Norwich?), and on the hill overlooking the town was a timber bungalow with two 'old' lads sitting in the garden sunning themselves ..
I stopped and passed the time of day. One called Bill and the other John said that theirs was the original site of Norwich before the railway came, and proved it by a map. Then I was taken to the back of the bungalow and over the hill to a graveyard. There were graves of those who had downed tools to fight the British in 1776 - that year was so marked on the slate headstones. This was the most poignant memory I had in all my journeys - those lads had gone off - been killed and their relatives had brought them all the way back home. The mind goes blank at the thought of that journey - no roads and a slow grieving cart ...
Arriving at the centre of 'modern' Norwich I was met by John Lawe and I remarked upon his excellent English accent... "I am English", he said!
I explained that I still hadn't found the hand brake to this hired car - after some 5 days of driving! He solved this with one press of his foot on a lever!!!
My reception was that of great generosity. From the introduction to the Selectmen government, to a tour of the College Campus and system explanation, to the meeting of some delightful personalities, to a great 'bring a dish' supper.
My day and a half was most rudely ended by my sneaking off at an early hour next morning from John and Jean's house for the journey to Norwich, New York State.
I left a piece of me in Norwich Vermont! That piece is with Jean & John Lawe whose help with 'Our Family' has been enormously appreciated!
My visit in 1993 was the beginning!
Right: Jean and John Lawe whose support has been the foundation, and are my main and extremely helpful contacts. (Also appreciated is the fact that John showed me where the car brake was!)
Norfolk Town, Norfolk County, Massachusetts
Norfolk Town is another of these remarkable communities of America and that short taste given me in 1993 ... the church service with a christening ... the presentation of the town insignia ... and a remarkable meeting of that blind chorister who demonstrated how gardening was excellently managed for such a disability by having a string map as guidelines! ... and even more remarkably having just retired from being the chief cook at the local school for many years!
Yet another potential disaster during the visit was the sudden loss of my hearing, in that my battery went flat in the middle of the presentation by the Senior Selectman. I had to interrupt and say that I couldn't hear, and that my spare battery was in the car two blocks away! All this was taken with great calm - my presenter took me there in his car and we returned to take up where we had left off!
Next door at Foxborough, and its Boyden Library, the chief librarian was Bertha Chandler. Bertha had been the American Librarian at that unique Library in Norwich UK - the largest American Library in England. And what a wonderful job she did in those few years with the schools and associations of the Norfolk County, England. It was wonderful to meet her again!
A Norfolk Town Rug was presented in 1993 to a delegation from Norfolk England. Now with Norfolk & Norwich Museum, England - a fabulous gift!
Centre: Geoff Woodrow, Senior Selectman Norfolk Town. Right: William P.O'Donnell, Chairman Norfolk County Commissioners.
In 2003, Norwich, England was honoured with a visit from Jacqueline and Dr. John McFeeley, Chairman of The Norfolk Town Selectmen Massachusetts.
This photograph shows us being welcomed to Norwich Castle by a 17th century
Sheriff of Norwich.