I said we were on our way back to America from India. It was soon after World War II. We had sailed from Bombay on a large steamship. We had come across the Indian ocean and through the Suez canal. The canal had been an exciting part of the trip because the canal goes right through the desert. Along the way we saw camels and donkeys, and people working in the fields. The canal had two channels so ships could go in both directions. Now and then Betty Ann or Philip came running up to us and said, "Come, see!." They had seen a ship coming in the other channel. Then all of us would watch as it passed us. "See it looks like a giant car running along the desert," Philip said. That was because the desert sand was so high between the two canals so we couldn't see the water. All we saw was the upper deck of the ship and the smoke stack.
During the two weeks on the ship the children had lots of fun playing with other children. Barbara seemed most anxious to get to London and kept asking us, "When are we ever going to get to London?" Then she would add, "I want to get a whole bag full of candy." You see, during the years after the war food was scarce and especially candy. Philip had told Barbara he would be the first one in the candy shop and the girls had said, "No, you wouldn't."
Then we got to London and sure enough one of the first places we went was to a candy store. It was a marvelous sight. "My there are so many kinds of candy, I don't know which to get," Betty Ann said. There were rows and rows of different kinds of candy all behind glass on the counters. Ruth and I watched as each of them picked out his or her favorite candy. Each one hoped to be the first to buy. And then a terrible thing happened.
You see, right after the war sugar was scarce. In London, it was rationed. People had to have coupons to buy every kind of food, and especially candy. Philip had just pointed out the candy he wanted when the clerk behind the counter said, "That will take eight points on your coupon. Give me your coupon and I will mark it off." Phil's hand fell to his side and all the fun seemed to go out of him. "Coupons?" he said, "We have just come from India and we didn't know." By that time Betty and Barbara had come running because they had heard what the clerk had said. You should have seen their faces. "You mean we have to have coupons, too?" Betty Ann asked? They were all about to cry. Suddenly all the fun had gone out of being in London.
The clerk was quick to see how terrible they looked. She turned and talked with the other clerks. Then she turned back to the children and said, "Well now, there is one kind of candy that does not need coupons. We can give you some of that." She pointed to the very kind the girls had picked out. "Oh will you?" they all said at once. You should have seen how their faces light up with smiles. "We will thank you ever so much to have some of that," Philip piped up. He had forgotten about being the first to buy. So with a sack of candy we left the store and went on our way to the Guest House where we were to stay.
We had hardly got settled when the lady said, "You have a telephone call." I went to the phone and said, "Hello." It was an English couple who had lived in India near us. They had come to their home in London only a few weeks earlier. "We would like for you to have lunch with us tomorrow. Meet us at the open air restaurant on the bank of the Thames river at 11:00." They wanted to help us see London and we could hardly wait.
It was fun to go by underground railroad down to meet them. What a lot of fun it was to tell them all about our trip and especially about the candy. We had a good lunch and then they said they wanted to do something special for us. "Here are tickets for the boat trip up to Kew Gardens." The knew the Kew Gardens were world famous and we had planned to see them. Ruth spoke up and said, "Thank you. We will surely enjoy the Gardens." Actually we hardly wanted to get on a boat again right away. We had just been on a boat for two weeks. But we took the tickets and soon were headed toward the Gardens.
What we did not expect was that on the river the wind was chilly." We almost froze because we had not dressed for a cold trip. It was a long way and it took more than an hour. "Snuggle down in your chairs and you will not feel so cold," I suggested. But we were almost frozen before we got to the Gardens.
Now anyone who knows London knows that the Kew Gardens are so very wonderful everyone wants to see them. English people have brought trees and flowers and bushes from all over the world to plant there. The colors were wonderful. At each different kind of plant there was a marker giving its name and where it was from. There were tulips, azaleas, marigolds, and banks of rhododendrons of almost every color. That is only a few of the flowers. What we liked most were the greenhouses. They were glass houses for those plants that grow only in countries where the weather is warm. In the greenhouses they had to keep the temperature warm all the time. We liked those houses especially, because we had hardly thawed out after the boat trip. Our friends were right, there was so much to see we spent most of the afternoon looking at all those amazing plants.
Just before we were to leave we went into the orchid house, because it was the most famous of all. I stopped to take pictures of some of the beautiful flowers and the children wandered off by themselves. "We'll look around and you can find us before we go back to the Guest House," Betty Ann called. When it was time to leave we began looking for the children.
We had not gone far when we met Betty Ann and Barbara laughing and talking as they looked at the beautiful flowers. We said, "And where is Philip?" "Oh, isn't he with you?" the girls asked. "He left us quite a while ago. We though he was going to find you." Now we were in a fix. Where could he be? "Barbara and Betty you go with Ruth that way and I will go this way. We will search through the Orchid house until we find him," and with that they started off. We met at the other end of the building. Both said about the same time, "We can't find him. What shall we do?" After a long pause I suggested, "Possibly he has gone outside to wait for us there," So we hurried to the exit and went outside, but he was nowhere to be seen.
That made us all the more scared. I could not imagine what a little boy would do lost in such a big city. Fortunately we saw some men planting flowers in one of the little garden plots along the walkway. We hurried over to them. "Have you seen a little boy walking alone?" I asked. "Oh that little fellow wearing long pants?" one of the men asked, (Boys Phil's age in England do not wear long pants but knee pants.) "He went down that way," and he pointed to the exit of the Garden. We thanked him, and hurried on. What could have happened to Philip? What would he do if he wandered out of the Garden alone.
Down the walk we went as fast as we could. In no time we were at the gate. There sat Philip on a stone bench. We were panting when we reached him. "You had us scared," I said, "We didn't know when you left the orchid house." "I saw all I wanted to," he said, "so I decided to come ahead." Right then I told him we should stay together for we thought he was surely lost. "If you were lost, how could we possibly find you in such a big place?" I asked. "Lost?" he said, "I was never lost. I knew where I was all the time." But we didn't know. I threw my arms around him and started off down the street. We took a bus back to the Guest House and it was ever so much warmer than the boat. [by James E. McEldowney, Spring 1997]
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