You might ask, “Why Manchester?”
EVERY single passport inspector and taxi driver that we happened to share our travel plans with asked the same thing. It became a running joke. But when we explained that we were visiting family, they all agreed that was a pretty good reason—and apparently one of the few. Even Lee’s family members who live there describe it as “a bit dodgy” and “scruffy.”
Despite the scruffiness, Manchester was one of my favorite legs of our journey, though, for wholly different reasons than the first two stops. There’s something about seeing where L grew up, the people and places that shaped him into the man I know and love so dearly. That’s part of what makes us who we are—the smell of your grandmother’s biscuits (or scones!), the texture of the carpet in your childhood bedroom, the familiarity of a school uniform or a newspaper delivery route. The Eiffel Tower is lovely, but the precinct where his family used to do their weekly shopping means so much more to me. It’s real, a bit untidy, but it’s authentic.
Back to the reason for this whole post writing thing … It took two trains, but we eventually made our way to Manchester. Lee’s mum met us at the platform. Seeing her face the moment she makes eye contact with Lee is on my list of favorite things (like mittens and brown paper packages tied with string—only it’s too long to sing). That smile is one that fills you right up with warm, fuzzy feelings. There’s just so much love in it—and in the extra long hug she gives him. I can vouch that Lee is a pretty fantastic person to hug, though. (;
We visited aunts and uncles and grandparents and cousins, all of whom make me feel like I’ve been part of the family for ages. They’re all so funny. I can’t remember laughing so much. I think we were a tad too busy catching up over brews and laughs that we forgot to take as many pictures, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I heard so many stories about little Lee from each of his relatives. I won’t share them here because they’re not mine to share, but they’re as adorable as he is.
Food was a big part of this visit. The mister has to make sure he squeezes in all the things he’s been missing, even if that means squeezing into an extra snug pair of jeans. I kid. A little. We ate pastys, bacon butties, steak and ale pie, kebabs, fish and chips, scones (that one was more for me), curry, toad in the hole, and plenty of chocolate. Lee’s granddad told us that some people were saying Cadbury’s couldn’t call its products “chocolate” because there wasn’t enough cocoa powder in the recipe. Whatever it is, it is good.
^^^We went for a kebab at the same place Lee’s family used to go when he was a boy. Afterward, he showed me the parking lot across the street where they’d pull in to eat them in the car with tea towels they brought from home. I LOVE getting the chance to experience tidbits of L’s childhood—in case that wasn’t clear. (:
In between all the meeting and eating, we took breaks for some good old-fashioned TV watching with Lee’s mum. Some of the humor went straight over my head, but I got most of it. I think TV shows and grocery stores are two ways you can really get a feel for other cultures, but I promise that’s not all we do on vacation!
The earlier parts of our trip were so rushed as we tried to fit in as much as we could. Lee and I joked about needing a vacation from our vacation, but that’s just what Manchester ended up being. I am about as far from a morning person as you can be, but that time of day ended up being something I looked forward to there. We never set an alarm clock. We all woke up at our own pace, came down in our pjs, had hot tea, and ate breakfast curled up on the couches. It was slow and easy, but it was so nice to feel that level of comfort with L’s family.
We spent most of our third day with one set of Lee’s grandparents. We piled into the car and took the scenic route to Southport, a seaside town on the west coast. Outside our windows was a steady stream of cottages, farms, heaps of wildflowers, cows, and fuzzy sheep. If it had just been the two of us, I’d have asked Lee to pull over no fewer than twenty times, so I could take pictures of it all.
In Southport, we hit the penny arcade and strolled down the wooden pier. The view wasn’t quite what I expected. Apparently the sea is rarely in at Southport, so even the very end of the pier stood in wet sand. You could kind of make out the real shoreline out in the distance … if you squinted. Lee’s granddad said if you kept walking straight off the pier, you’d hit Dublin eventually (maybe a little to the left), but your feet might get wet. I adore grandpa humor, especially when it’s coming from Lee’s grandpas.
On our last day, we made the rounds to say our until-next-times, with hugs and cheek kisses aplenty. For the first time, I really felt the weight of those goodbyes. I’m never glad to see Lee’s family go, but my sadness has always been more for L. I know it’s hard for him to be away from people he loves—and vice versa. But that day, I was sad because I wouldn’t be seeing them for a while. His family just radiates joy and love for one another. You can’t help but be drawn to it. It makes me so grateful for this second family of mine. I truly lucked out.
Manchester, you might need a good scrubbin’ in some spots, but there’s still so much loveliness tucked into your corners. Mail slots. Rows of windows filled with white lace curtains. Tiny stained glass windows. We’ll miss you and all the wonderful people that call you home. -C