This is about the year I came home to England after most of a lifetime in America, bringing with me my two daughters, ages 8 and 16.
I love America, especially the years spent in New York and Boston, but my heart is in the Derwent Valley in the Peak District of Derbyshire, where my parents were born and raised, and where all of my grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and on back to the year dot lived and worked as farmers, carpenters, builders, stone masons, gardeners on an estate, blacksmiths, publicans and, in the case of my great-grandfather, John Bent Wallis, as a painter and nature columnist for the Sheffield Telegraph newspaper.
For the early years of my life, my parents, younger sister, and I lived in Cambridge where my father taught at Cambridge University. When I was three, we moved to America in order for my father to take a position as a university professor. Every summer of my childhood we returned to Derbyshire to spend three months on my grandparents’ three-hundred-year-old farm with its cows and stone walls and the Roman road on the moor above the farm. As a child, I could count over a hundred people who were related to me by blood within five miles of my parents’ village of Crich, including family members with farms that had been passed down through the generations. My great-grandparents and grandparents have died, but still the aunts and uncles and cousins remain, their doors always open, their cups of tea on offer.
I tried many times to return to England, but something always got in the way: my father’s astronomical U.S.-based career as a professor and research scientist which kept our family in America; my post-college love affairs with several Americans; graduate school at Harvard; a career in New York book publishing and a strong and abiding passion for Manhattan; and then the arrivals of my greatest loves, my children, Americans all.
All great reasons to remain in America, but still there was always the deeper, more primal call of England, where my love of family, the land, its history, and my writing converged.
With my oldest child nearing her majority, I was running out of excuses not to come back to England, I was running out of time to bring my children here to see if they, too, could find a place in their American hearts to also love England.
I came to England because it was no longer something I could not do.
It was now or never.