I’ve been thinking a lot lately about connection, and ways to improve my own. Particularly with people in person. I work mostly from home, and can sometimes get too good at my own routine, my own rhythm of communication through social media, email, and texting. When it comes time to actually have a natural conversation, with immediate, unedited and meme-less responses, it can get more stressful than I’d like. As the weather goes from Fall to Winter, this question feels more important. Hiding inside from the cold can leave me feeling even more cut-off from others than usual. While pondering this, I was reminded of Charlecote Park.
It was a chilly March morning in England, almost two years ago. After waking up at a boutique hotel outside of Stratford-Upon-Avon, my mother Michelle, her best friend Lissa, her best friend’s sister Janell, and I took a short drive to Charlecote Park in Warwick, England. [You can read more about this trip and other destinations I visited, like Sissinghurst Castle, Longleat, and the Victoria Art Gallery].
While the grounds warmed and the crunch of the grass softened, we explored the historic home. Upon entering, we were greeted by a friendly pair of tour guides, genuinely excited to talk to us. As we began to explore, the guides trailed along while also at times disappearing to talk to others. We quickly learned the home itself is/was grand enough that Queen Elizabeth I once stayed there. It was expected of her subjects to accommodate her when needed, but also very nearly bankrupted the family to pay for her and her entourage two-day stay. It turns out she was only passing through the area to see her lover, Robert Dudley, at Kenilworth Castle. Quite the lavish booty call. Our guides, we also learned, were married and retired; their stories shifting from Charlecote to their own lives, and back to the history of the property.
Situated along the river Avon, the land of Charlecote has belonged to the Lucy family for over 900 years, the home that stands today first being built in 1558, along with additions and modifications over the centuries. Styles flowing between Elizabethan, Tudor, Georgian, and Jacobean, as time moved on and renovations continued. As we learned more about the bones of the house, the guides also started asking me questions about my own life: where I was from, what I did for a living, seemingly innocuous questions, yet they felt like more than just idle curiosity. It felt somehow more pointed than that. Me being me, I answered somewhat sparingly, wanting to return to the history of Charlecote.
One of the many claims to fame of the Lucy family’s property are the animals surrounding it; the home being situated in the middle of a wildlife preserve. Not only have the same type of fallow deer and Jacob sheep been inhabiting the area for centuries, but they were once hunted by arguably the most famous person in English history – William Shakespeare. Reports say he was arrested as a young man for poaching rabbits and deer in the area, even having to report before the magistrate of Charlecote. David Ross, for Britain Express writes about the magistrate, “In the course of his duties, he was responsible for prosecuting local families with Catholic sympathies, including the Arden family, William Shakespeare's maternal grandparents.” So not only did young Shakespeare appear before the Lucy family court, but also his grandparents. Ross expands that:
The story goes that Shakespeare was forced to flee the area to avoid prosecution by Sir Thomas. The young playwright escaped to London, and the rest, as they say, is history. Shakespeare satirised Lucy by casting him as Justice Shallow in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry VI, part 2.
Stories continued to unfold from room to room, but the guides kept trying to talk to me. They started telling me about their son who had moved away to a bigger city some years back. How I reminded them of him, or at the least they thought we would get along. At the time, the attention was a little uncomfortable, but as they shared more, both Charlecote-related and personal, the story behind the story became more apparent. They were letting me know their son was like me: gay. When I realized this, suddenly their questions felt less obnoxious, and my defenses came down. They thought it was wonderful I was interested in history and traveling with my mother. They wanted me to feel welcome, but more than that, I think they just liked seeing others like their son – a coming together of separate worlds, lives, times.
Eventually we said our goodbyes and gathered outside to explore the gardens and the stables. Janell commented, “Boy they really seemed to wanna talk to you.” I laughed it off, but somehow it felt like we all knew exactly what was going on, and recognized that they missed their son, and that their kindness expands beyond him.
Connections can happen so quickly, that before we even know it we’re sharing parts of ourselves with total strangers. One moment I was wandering an old home, learning about a living relic, the next I was back in the present, confronted with real lives. But isn’t that what we are all looking for? Connection and recognition; the feeling of knowing we’re not alone. The people surrounding us sharing their stories like a spider’s web with different strands linking us all together. It may have taken me a while to open myself up to it, but that day at Charlecote Park I took the time to get to know someone else’s story. A lesson I should do better at remembering.