British Wives Serve Tea And Current Events At Meetings

Talk Of Di Quickly Turns To Troops Overseas

April 21, 1991|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff writer

The accents in the room range from Queen's English to cockney, with topics stretching from Princess Di to the plight of British troops inSaudi Arabia.

"Did you hear? Di had another row with Charles lastweek, and the tabloids caught her out walking alone on the beach," said one hearty woman with a mischievous laugh. "She was a sight. Theykept asking her where Charles was, and she kept saying she didn't have the faintest."

Amid the barrage of laughter from the crowd of 20 members of Columbia's British Wives Society came a quick response: "Perhaps she buried him in the sand!" Another, not wanting to be outdone, retorted, "Maybe he's looking for a new fish in the sea!"

Throughout the evening at the stylish Colonial home, the group of transplanted English women roared and jeered about social graces both American and British.

The society meets monthly at different houses of members throughout the Columbia area. Members take a light-hearted approach to their evenings together, which usually feature tea, cucumber sandwiches, anda lively living room discussion that could aptly be titled "English Yankees in Columbia's Court."

At a recent meeting, they talked about croquet and the upcoming annual picnic held in honor of the queen.

"You see, we have a picnic every year on the queen's birthday. It's on June 9th -- or is it the 12th?" asked Johnny Creech, a 70-year-old Columbia resident known as "Mum" to society members.

"Well, like the Queen, we never seem to have it on the right day," said Creech, who moved to America from Gloucestershire 27 years ago. "And we usually forget to toast her, too, for that matter."

Perhaps Valerie Smith, one of three English immigrants who began the society 14 years ago, puts it best when she says, "Of course we still love England. But I think all of us would rather be here."

The society's roster ismade up of about 40 area residents, most of whom are from Howard County. Columbia is home to several British companies, and the nearby National Security Agency in Fort Meade is the workplace of many a Brit,say society members.

"A lot of us are here. We work in your economy, and we help advise how to run your security agency," quips one woman, who identified herself only as the wife of an NSA official. "Honestly, I don't know what you'd do without us."

Smith immigrated here approximately 14 years ago from Yorkshire and is a real estate agent for Re/Max Realty in Columbia. When she first arrived, she said, two of her English friends approached her about starting some type of club for British wives.

The three women put an ad in the newspaperinviting anyone of British heritage to come by, and on the snowy evening of the first meeting, at least a dozen Brits showed up, Smith said.

Since then, the group has steadily grown and has donated smallsums from its craft and bakery sales to charity.

"Everyone reallycomes for the social thing. We don't wave the flag. A lot of us don't need to be with English people," Smith said. For most members, she said, America has a way of growing onan Englishman -- or woman.

"Whenever someone first comes over, they say to us how sad they are because they miss home. We just tell them, 'Wait 'till you've been here a few months. You won't believe how good things are here.' "

The society meetings are host to a divergent range of British people, withWelsh, Irish and Scottish immigrants attending. A surprising development, says 79-year-old Edith Chambers of Columbia, is that "Everyone forgets the rivalry when we're over here. We all get along so splendidly."

Viola Waldron, an Ellicott City resident who moved from Plymouth, England, in 1950, said throughout her years in America, she hasseen English people often miscast as stodgy aristocrats.

"People remember the bombings of World War II and say, 'Oh, those stoic British, nothing seems to really excite them,' " Waldron said. "I think we've been as much on the edge as anyone over the gulf conflict. Our soldiers are there, too."

Many at the meeting nod in agreement. One member says, "We're pleased that we're taking part in it."

In one of the few serious moments of the meeting, some chimed in that relatives visiting the United States were having trouble at American airports because of tight security concerns about terrorism.

When QueenElizabeth II arrives for a visit next month, says one woman to interrupt the silence, the security will probably still be tight for Her Royal Majesty and her entourage. "What with all this business about the war, she jolly well may have trouble getting through the airports."

With that, the living room discussion adjourned for tea.

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