`NOT many people come to St. Ives from the United States, and especially not from Texas. In fact, I expect you're the only person from Texas in Cornwall,'' the man said.
He was looking in a store window. I was looking in the same window. He was waiting for his wife, who was shopping.
We began to talk, and he insisted that I go in and meet his wife. Inside the shop, he introduced her and his mother, and then called his daughter who was trying on a dress to come out of the dressing room and meet me. ``The lady is from Texas,'' he emphasized, when he introduced me.
I had gone to St. Ives simply because I had to leave my college at Oxford for a break of two weeks. I had been studying for two months and would soon rejoin my classmates, who were traveling in Europe, back at Oxford where we would finish our instruction.
``This lady is here all the way from Texas,'' he said again to his wife.
``Where are you staying?'' she asked.
``The Pedn-Olva hotel,'' I said.
At this she took me around the shop and told everyone that I was staying at the Pedn-Olva - ``the lady from Texas ... at the Pedn-Olva.''
I waited for an explanation of this interest in me and my lodging, and I soon discovered that the family was staying there, too.
Would I join them at their table for my meals, or did I wish to eat alone?
The dining room was formal, and the hotel by the sea at Cornwall was filled with English families on vacation. The one thing about my holiday that I had not enjoyed was eating alone.
But I hesitated in answering. Why would this vacationing family want me, a stranger in England, to join them at mealtime? The English were supposed to be so cold and unfriendly. What if the situation were reversed and my husband back home in Texas brought a lonely woman from England to join us for meals on our family vacation? What would I say? How would I react? But the wife was standing in front of me, waiting for an answer, wanting me to come. Would I?
I would, yes, I would.
That evening in the dining room, the maitre d' seated me with the English family. As we looked out on the sea, at the gentle waves slapping against the white sands, at the black rocks and colorful umbrellas, they asked questions about Texas and about the lighthouse off in the distance, the one Virginia Woolf had written about. I also learned that the husband was a geologist and the wife a teacher. They were both working to send their daughters to college in Leeds.
``But why,'' I asked again, ``do you want me to share your family vacation? Me, a stranger. Are you sure I'm not an imposition?'' They were polite, yet I knew that they were evading my question.
Each evening, they watched television or went for a walk along the sea wall. They often invited me to join them, but since I had work to do, we parted, and I returned to my room.
One evening I changed my mind and hurried to overtake them. I wanted to join them on their walk as a celebration of our last evening together. There was a carnival-like atmosphere, and the streets were crowded with evening strollers. When I did catch up with them, they were talking about me.
``Do you think she thinks we are friendly?'' asked the husband.
``Not as friendly as the Texans, I'm afraid,'' the wife answered.
When they saw me and realized that I had heard their conversation, they were embarrassed.
``You're twice as friendly as any Texan I've ever met,'' I said.
``That couldn't be,'' said the Englishman.
``But you are,'' I insisted.
``You wouldn't be putting us on, would you now?'' asked the wife.
``I wouldn't. You've made me feel very welcome ... and I want to thank you. That's why I've come to walk with you on this last evening.''
``But we thought... ,'' she said.
``Yes?'' I encouraged.
``Well, it's like this,'' he hesitated.
``We thought you didn't like us. You always rushed back to your room,'' she said.
``But I do like you.'' And then I explained about the work I had wanted to do before I went back to Oxford.
Then they told me a story about a Texan they had known when they were children during the war. The lonely American G.I. missed his family back home in the United States, and he made friends with children near his own children's ages.
``He even let me drive his Jeep while I sat on his knee,'' said the man.
``And I remember,'' his wife recalled, ``that his wife sent him weekly packages. One of the things she sent was a canned sausage, and he always shared with our family.''
``And he always had a sweet for us.''
``And apples and oranges,'' she added. ``We were children then. And, well, when we met you we thought, well, that now was the time to express our thanks.''
The three of us walked down the street, arms locked. And I accepted their thanks to an American soldier from Texas.