Missing the Manor

Part III

It’s been over a month since I bounced back to real life in the U.S. It feels good, but I do miss the place I grew to love—a mansion that’s still shining over the fields of Grantham, England.

My final days there were a blur—their minutes ticking away until my life at Harlaxton became a memory. I finished the long list of work I had to do. I dressed up for one last ceremony and fancy dinner. I watched the summer students trickle out just as the spring ones did. I had a last few par cafeteria meals. Wrote a few cards. Gave a few hugs. Packed my things. All of it was a haze until my last day there. Most of my coworkers were already gone, and after completing a few last tasks, I took one final stroll around the manor. Somehow despite the many people who always grace the building, my last walk through was somehow a solo one. I didn’t see another soul, as if the manor wanted me to focus on it.

I walked through the state rooms where I’ll remember the formal events and the classes in between.

I walked through my office, where I spent early days and sleepless nights cranking out work.

I stood under the thousand-crystal chandelier.

I ascended the cedar staircase.

I looked in the regular common areas—those that are less impressive than the immaculate state rooms, but just as sacred to me. They were where I watched movies. Played games. Had deep discussions. Became part of a family.

I meandered through the gardens, turned around, and saw the place I grew to call home. And although I had made those steps, saw the same view, and took the same photographs countless times before, somehow Harlaxton was more beautiful than ever.

I stopped there and looked at her. And I sobbed.

I stood humbled. Honored. Loved. Thankful. Trying to soak in the moment and the place forever. Trying to remember it just like that. Trying to find just another time at Harlaxton.

And then I walked away. And the home I loved became another jewel on my string.

***

The ride after was swift. It didn’t hit me that I was going home until I was halfway there, because I just thought of how a season of my life was ending. But my mind found itself at 40 thousand feet; it was longing for Kentucky.

The six months I spent in England were so packed with events—so filled with bouncing from one thing to the next—that I didn’t allow myself to be homesick a lot. I was loving it too much. But as I sat on that plane, flying over the same ocean I jetted across six short months before, I realized I was ready for the chapter to end. And although I was leaving one home, I was returning to my original one.

I walked off the plane dragging carry-on and personal item bags that were vastly larger than the allotted limit. I went through the immigration line and presented my work visa one last time. The officer asked me why I was in England so long, and I told him it was for a paid internship at a college.

“How was it?” he asked.

And though I could have applied millions of words to my answer, I replied, “It was good.”

That reaction has been the theme over the past month. People see me for the first time and they immediately ask, “How was it?” It’s a simple question—like asking how a meal was at a new restaurant or what I thought of a movie in the cinema. And since I don’t know how to answer that question and possibly make people feel what I feel about my six months, I say something about it being amazing or the experience of a lifetime or something I’d do again in a heartbeat.

After they ask maybe another question or two, life goes on for them—just as it will continue for me.

People won’t fully understand my experience at Harlaxton. It’s unique. Not even the students or professors can fully relate to what I did or saw there.

I found that to be somewhat lonely at first, because no matter how much I wanted to make people understand… I couldn’t. I’m now realizing that is the beauty of what I had. I get to hold those six months as precious journal pages; although others may read them, they’re still something only I can truly appreciate.

***

At the airport, my family greeted me with lingering hugs. They gave me sweet tea for one hand and Mello Yello for the other. We drove straight to a restaurant that served fried chicken. We stopped and took a photo of me at my home county’s road sign. We arrived to a banner that said “Welcome home, Bryson.” And I was back.

The next few days shook me with readjustments. Kentucky summer was a stranger to my body that knew nothing but mild British weather. Although I melted outside, I shivered indoors because most places in England do not have air conditioning; it’s not necessary.

I ate and ate rich, seasoned food from the American south and gained almost ten pounds during my first week.

My internal clock made me exhausted at 8pm and made me get up at sunrise because my mind was still six time zones ahead.

I still drank afternoon tea and said things like “a bit” and “posh.”

I still thought of grueling days editing photos and grandeur nights in ballrooms. I thought of people hundreds of miles away that now carry pieces of me with them—pieces from that time when we lived in our castle.

I did and still do a lot of reflecting. I think my time at Harlaxton changed me in ways I cannot explain. I think it made me more mature. I think it made me want to do some photography on the side. I think it made me a little British at heart. I think it gave me stories I’ll be telling for the rest of my life—many of which I’ll share on here from time to time. I think it gave me another place to call home. I think it was good.

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