Aphelion Issue 295, Volume 28
June 2024 --
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Ever notice how the things you plan to do wind up taking longer and being more difficult than you first thought? I've been trying to get a few simple chores done around the house for the last several weeks -- before the weather turns cold. I've failed to get them done as quickly as I originally planned. So far I'm getting roughly four hours a day on my days off to work on them. Problems keep cropping up, difficulties assert themselves, and real progress winds up materializing in very small portions. Other distractions keep presenting themselves. Problems unforeseen arise, and must be dealt with, before the scheduled chores can get done. Case in point: the September and October issues of Aphelion.

I was unable to work on my Aphelion duties due to the poor health, and eventual death, of my father-in-law during September. October got swallowed up by the need for Lindsey and I to fly to England for her father's funeral, and our recovery from the return flight. It was a difficult, highly emotional time for Lyn and I both. We began planning the trip as soon as we were told of Reverend Burt's failing health. Without exception, the plans we made were laced with problems on every attempt. Passports turned out harder, and more expensive, to obtain than we first considered. Airfare for international flights turned out to be more expensive and more difficult to schedule than domestic flights have been in the past. Time off from my job turned out to involve Union and Management negotiations rather than simply filling out paperwork. Airport security... Well, the less said about those instruments of torture, the better! But those bridges were crossed, those hurdles were leapt, and we finally arrived in England the day before the funeral.

I never got to meet my father-in-law in person. For the entire time I have been married to Lyn, her father had only been a welcome voice on the telephone once or twice a month. Now, I never will get the chance to show him how much I love his only daughter. Nor will I be able to reassure him that I will always be there to take care of her, to be the man she deserves to have love her, unconditionally, truly, madly, deeply... But somehow, I think he knew all along.

Reverend Leslie Burt was an amazing man. Father to three boys and a beautiful girl, loving husband to their mother, patriotic British soldier during WWII, accountant for Shell Oil Company, and later on an ordained minister of the Church of England. There are villages in France where he and his comrades are still honored as liberators. He and his fellow tank crew members were air-dropped dropped behind German lines into France on D-Day -- by parachute -- inside their tank -- from a glider. Upon hitting the ground, they had to climb out of their tank and cut away the parachute lines that had fouled their tank's treads as they fell. They put their combat knives to use to free their machine, then rolled onwards to their assigned position. During the remainder of the war they were hunted by German tanks, even as they hunted those enemy tanks in return. As they proceeded across Europe, they were occasionally dive-bombed by German aircraft, while Leslie sometimes took a well-earned nap on the outside of their tank. "Should we wake Les?" his crew mates asked each other. "No," came the reply. "Let him sleep. If those bombs can't wake him, what chance do we have of getting him to stir? Besides, if he dies, he'll never know it..." At the crossing of the Rhine, Leslie's tank was blown up out from under him by a German tank. As he walked out of the flaming wreckage, his black Pompy Paras Regiment tanker uniform ablaze, he was captured by a platoon of American GIs. Leslie's regiment was the only British force to wear the same sort of black tanker uniforms that the German tanker crews wore, so the GI's confusion was understandable. "No one could have survived that explosion," they said to one another. "He's gotta be a German!" The Americans wrapped him in a blanked to smother the flames of his burning uniform. As they were trying to decide whether or not to shoot him as an enemy soldier, Leslie simply asked for a cigarette in that lilting Portsmouth accent of his. "He's on fire and he wants a cigarette!" they said to each other. "Gotta be a Brit!" they finally decided. They sent him to a nearby medical unit where Leslie received treatment for his burns, and then asked to be returned to his unit. Typically for him, this incident became the opening lines of one of Leslie's favorite war stories. "I love the Yanks," he always began the tale. "They didn't shoot me..."

Following the end of the war, he became an accountant for Shell Oil, married and fathered two boys in England, and was eventually sent to Caracas, Venezuela- where his two youngest children were born. In 1965 he and his family returned to England, which is roughly the time he decided to pursue his calling to the church. He became a minister in the Anglican Church, and eventually became the official Padre for the veterans of his paratroop regiment who had also survived WWII and returned to live in the Portsmouth area. He conducted Sunday worship services, presided over weddings, christenings, and funerals in a number of churches for many, many years. Finally, at the age of 88, he was taken from us by cancer. He is survived by three of his four children, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and his 2nd wife. Thus lived and died a wonderful man that I regret never having met face-to-face. Among his greatest gifts to me is his only daughter -- the love of my life, the mother of three of my step-children, grandmother of my 2nd grandson, Lindsey Carole Burt Hollifield.

In mid September, we were told that Leslie had bought a mobility scooter to replace his beloved automobile once he was too infirm to continue driving. Typically, he had taken his new scooter out for his first test run, and crashed it twice on the way to the local grocery store. He never could drive worth a flip, which is probably why he was assigned to that WWII tank crew as a radio operator. Lyn and I began to fill out the necessary paperwork to renew her passport and to get my first one. At the hospital for treatment of the broken arm he received from the scooter accident, the doctors discovered that the prostate cancer Leslie had been fighting for years had spread to his bones. He was transfered to a terminal care hospice where it was discovered that the cancer had also spread to his lungs. While Lyn and I were waiting for several weeks for our passports to be processed Leslie hung on, but eventually died peacefully in his sleep. The passports arrived the very next day. Meanwhile, unaware that our passports would arrive so soon after Leslie died, Lindsey's brothers and sister-in-law made arrangements for Leslie's body to be kept in the morgue in near-freezing temperatures for two weeks, to give us time to complete the arrangements for the flight from Atlanta to London. Because the funeral was set for several weeks after Leslie's death actually occurred, I had to ask for special Union and Management negotiations at the factory for a funeral leave situation that was not covered in the contract at my place of employment.

With precedent already set for a fellow employee who had been forced to fly internationally several times for funerals in his own family, there was never any doubt that I would be granted the leave. But the process had to be followed so as to prevent anyone from misusing such a tragic situation for personal gain. Once I had been granted emergency leave for the funeral, Lyn and I were able to schedule our flight across the Atlantic. Buying our tickets online proved to be the best and cheapest solution. On the day, we drove over to Rob and Larissa's and left our car with them for the duration. Rob drove us to the nearest MARTA station where we caught a train to the airport. Once we reached the airport, we were assisted by two very lovely and patient ladies who worked for the airline with whom we had booked our flights. We then made our way to the security processing area. After having faced all the tortures devised by America's largest, busiest, rudest, and most sadistic airport TSA branch, we were finally allowed to board our flight and depart for London -- a far more civilized port-of-call than Atlanta wants to be. The contrast between Atlanta's branch of the TSA's "we own you filthy animals and we'll do whatever we want to you for as long as we wish" attitude and the "welcome to London, we're so sorry to hear about your bereavement, how can we help you?" reception with which we met at London's Gatwick Airport couldn't have been stronger if it had been scripted! We were swiftly assisted through the Arrivals and Customs gates.

Within moments of landing we had met Lyn's oldest brother near a coffee shop on the outside of the security zone and were loading our luggage into his auto for a drive to Lyn's sister-in-law's home- Where we would be staying for a great deal of the time we spent in England.

The next day, the hearse and two limos called at the house for the family. The funeral director, in top hat and tailcoat, led the three car procession on foot to the nearby church where the ceremony was to be held. Men on the sidewalks took off their hats and bowed their heads in respect as we passed. I saw drivers in other cars in traffic pull off the road and cross themselves as they waited for the procession to go by. As we pulled up to the church, I saw other members of Leslie's regiment there in full uniform, with a color guard holding their regimental flags. The family filed into the church past two hundred or more mourners, and we took our place in the pews at the front of the church, After the single, grandest funeral I have ever attended, the funeral director made sure that Leslie's casket was driven past the local military base, as well as the local landmarks that he had loved so much in life. After the cremation ceremony, the family went to a local pub for a cross between a family reunion and a post-funeral wake. Many toasts were drunk in honor of the dearly departed, many stories were told of his life and deeds, and I was introduced to what seemed like a thousand family members and friends of the family. Finally, three taxis took the family back to Lindsey's sister-in-law's house. Then the farewell party truly started. Sometime approaching dawn, we each staggered off to our respective beds secure in the knowledge we had given Leslie the best send-off we were able to achieve.

Lyn and I spent another eight days in England visiting friends and family. We got a chance to play tourist in London, Bristol, Gosport, Cheddar, Glastonbury, and many more places the names of which I cannot recall. We rode trains, ferryboats, the underground, a double-decker bus, taxi cabs, and walked for miles. As an example, one day we went to visit Lyn's foster-mother's family, from where we went to visit our friends Suzi and Anton, who drove us the next day to catch a train to London. There we met our friend Trevor Bond who led us around London for the day we spent there, we saw Nelson's Column as we walked past, walked around Regent's Park, saw the Palace, we saw Big Ben off in the distance as we walked town, we went to the Sherlock Holmes Pub for lunch and drinks, walked past Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, went to the Sherlock Holmes Museum and their gift shop, stopped at the White Hart Pub for a couple of drinks, went on a night time Ripper Tour led by our friend Philip Hutchinson. Then we took a bus to a different train station for a ride back to Lindsey's sister-in-law's home in Cosham... And that was just our one day in London!

We also visited with our friends Lee and Alison Bevan in Bristol, who took us to see the sights there, including a wonderful old manor house that is now a park. They also took us out into the countryside to see the gorge at Cheddar, to Glastonbury where we spent most of another day wandering around the shops and seeing the sights. We didn't get to go into the famous church ruins themselves for lack of time. We plan to do that on another visit.

Finally, we had to come home. Once again we faced the rude TSA personnel of Atlanta airport and remarked upon how much more civilized and friendly the same procedure was in London. We took the MARTA train from the airport back to the North Springs station, where Rob met us and took up back to his and Larissa's apartment. After a too-short while with them, we loaded up the van and drove back towards our home. Once home, we cried yet again at the loss we had suffered, and drank yet another toast to that that grand old man we had journeyed so far to lay to rest. After that, I took yet more medicine to combat the cold that I had caught during our last three days in England, and we slept. Two days later, still sick, I returned to work. It would take me another two weeks half to rid myself of that cold. But the memories of the time we spent in Lindsey's English home town will linger within my mind forever. We plan to return next year, and every year that we can afford to do so.