“You’re staying in bed today.” I insisted.
She shook her head and blew her nose.
“Don’t worry Babe” I handed her a fresh tissue. “I’ll take the kids into town today”
Back down stairs, Mrs. M. gave us last minute advice. “Make sure you visit the Salisbury Cathedral” she said. “You can’t miss it – it’s got the tallest spire in the whole of Britain. You can see the original Magna Carta.” She added proudly.
“What’s a Magna Carta?” Chris asked.
“One of the most important documents in history, Dear.” She said with a serious tone. “It was the basis of your constitution.”
Jill perked up. “Do they have those coffins – with the statue of a dead person lying on top?”
“We saw lots of those in London. They are creepy.”
“How else will you know what that person looked like?” Mrs. M. folded the bus map into a perfect square. “About those statues – I’ve got a clue for you.”
“If you see one today – specifically a knight – look closely and see if you can discover whether he died at home or on the battlefield. See if you can spot it today.“ She smiled then held up her finger. “One more thing before you leave, please follow me.”
In the living room, she’d laid out jackets, scarves, and mittens. “I picked these up at the local thrift shop and thought you could use them.” She distributed the clothes to the kids. “This one’s for you.” she handed me a fur-lined, patent-leather “bomber” helmet. I slid it over my head and snapped the jaw strap “Perfect!”
“Thanks so much Mrs. M.” I said, pulling out my wallet “How much do I owe you?”
“Oh, nothing” She assured with a wave of her hand. “It was no bother.”
The kids walked briskly ahead of me on the sidewalk. I was running out of breath trying to catch up to them. “Wait up!”
“Stay back there, Dad” Jill yelled. “I mean it!”
“I’m not taking it off. It’s nice and warm – like Palm Springs in a helmet.”
“You look silly!” They picked up their speed
“Okay, Okay.” I pulled off the helmet and stuffing it into my coat pocket. The cold air attacked my ears and I cursed the fashion world.
In town, we found it was market day. The kids and I were bombarded with an assortment of aromas that ran the gamut from fresh fish to spicy dried sausage. At a small trailer we found a man frying little donuts. We watched him pull the steamy morsels out of the hot oil and dip them in a sugar/cinnamon mixture. “Get at least a dozen” Alex said. They were soft as cake inside, but crispy outside. We stood on the sidewalk chowing them down.
“Starbucks!” Alex cried, pointing to the familiar round green sign. He wiped sugar from his face. “I need some caffeine”
“Damn place is everywhere.” I said under my breath, but gave in because it looked warm inside. “Okay, but we can’t stay long, we need to get over to the Cathedral.”
An hour later we walked though much welcomed sunshine toward the tall spire. We found Salisbury Cathedral protruding up from the middle of a large grassy field, making it’s sky-scraping tower even more magnificent. Once inside the mammoth front doors, we looked up. Each of us gained immediate respect for the architects of the thirteenth century.
Sure enough, we came across a row of tombs. “Okay” Jill said, “Let’s figure out if a knight died at home or in battle.” We studied a dozen horizontal statues laying atop coffins, but couldn’t find the answer to Mrs. M’s clue.
We followed the signs to the Chapter House. “This will earn you big points with your teacher, Chris. I’ll get a photo of you next to the Magna Carta.” A small uniformed woman stood just inside the entrance. She had a funny look about her and reminded me of Imogene Coca. Her plastic name tag read Trudy. Behind her was a sign with an image of a cameral with a red slash through it. Her eyes beamed toward mine. “Bring it inside, Sir.” She said. “But please refrain from taking photographs.”
The four of us studied the “Great Charter of Freedom” in its sealed glass case. “So what’s the big deal?” Chris asked.
Trudy had sharp ears. She answered him. “King John had absolute power. This charter took away most of it and gave it to the people.” Her eyes shifted toward the entrance, where a group of Asian students had formed. “Pardon me.” She said, then went over to check them in.
Moments later, the quiet room filled with chatter. Trudy returned and with a louder voice, continued explaining how the Barons – the landowners with all the money and workers – didn’t care for the King raising taxes whenever he wished. In summary, this, along with other monarchical shenanigans going on in 1215 weren’t exactly in the best interest of society, hence the Magna Carta was formed which became the model for British colonies and eventually, the American Constitution.
I was delighted to see all three kids studying the document. Trudy had been a good teacher. She even got my attention. The story of this old document made me think that some things never change. Whether a king, CEO, or television evangelist – once somebody gets enough power, it’s just a matter of time before they lose their minds.
A flash went off and Trudy bee-lined to the offending student. As she scolded, another flash went off, then a third. Trudy was running all over the wing, like a one-man act of the Keystone Cops. A commotion in the center of the room caused us to look up from the case. Trudy was pulling on the shoulder strap of a young girl’s camera, then sped past us spurting out: “Bloody hell.”