Once upon a time, when my wife, Peggy, and I were younger, we fortunately traveled a lot and saw many wonders of the world. I think how fortunately we did it when we were younger, because today, with our health, we could never do it.
We saw much of Europe and the western United States, and we traveled to Hawaii several times. All in all, we were so lucky, but so many funny things happened, I thought I might share one or two of them with you.
As you know, I love history. When we first traveled to London, I wanted to visit the bell tower in the Tower of London. It was there Sir Thomas More was jailed before he was beheaded. Thomas More is one of my great heroes.
We visited the tower, I spoke to one of the beefeaters. Beefeaters are the men who protect the Tower of London. They were all decorated heroes of the British armed forces. I said, “My wife and I would like to see the bell tower,” and his response was, “Doesn’t everyone?” — which was a way of telling me it was not open anymore.
I said, “We came all the way from the United States, and now you say we can’t visit the bell tower?”
He said, “Let me suggest you write the Governor of the Tower. Tell him that you were here, and say that you will be coming back to visit. Humbly request he grant you an opportunity.”
Seeing the Tower
Well, several years passed and we were off to England again. I wrote the governor and asked, Could we please visit the bell tower? I told him Sir Thomas More was one of my heroes. To my delight, I received a very official letter inviting us to be guests in the Queen’s Residence at the Tower of London and to visit the dungeon where Sir Thomas More was confined before his execution.
The day we arrived in England, we immediately went to the Tower of London, and we were escorted to the kitchen of the Queen’s Residence. In time of war or crisis, in days gone by, the queen or king would live in the Tower of London, which is a mighty fortress — perhaps 10 acres or more.
The dungeon where they kept Sir Thomas was off the kitchen. As the governor opened the big door, he motioned Peggy and me, and our daughter, Carol, to enter. It was what you would expect a dungeon to be: Cold stone walls with narrow barred windows. There was a portrait of St. Thomas More, and though it was spring, the dungeon was cold.
Then, to my surprise and delight, the governor said, “Would you like to be locked in there?” To which I said, “Yes.” He slammed that huge door, and we could hear, like a pistol shot, the bolt as he locked it.
For 20 minutes, we wandered that dungeon, and I thought of how he suffered. When the door was finally opened, the governor greeted us as we left the dungeon, and, with a smile, he asked, “Was Sir Thomas More in there?” I said, “ Oh, yes, he was.”
It was an impressive chapter of life. Just one of many.
Some years later, when Peggy and I were visiting Ireland, we were staying at all the Irish castles.
We stayed at Dromoland and at Adare, but the most beautiful Irish castle of all is Ashford. Some of you many remember when President Reagan and Nancy went to Ireland, and they stayed at Ashford Castle.
On that trip, my wife wanted a chauffeur. She didn’t trust my driving. We had a retired Irish policeman, a big fellow, perhaps 6 feet 2 inches tall with fire-engine red hair, who referred to me as “Senator” because I had, in the 1960s, been a state senator. But he knew the title would get me privilege.
As we registered at Ashford Castle in a big, stone reception room, the girl sitting at the desk was very matter-of-fact asking our names. I said, “Bill and Peg Stanley.” But at that point, our chauffeur, Noel, said, in a very loud, authoritative voice to get my attention, “Senator.”
I turned, and he said, “Those gentlemen have your luggage, and they will take you to your room.” Then he said, “Is there anything else the senator or his lady would like of me today?”
I said, “No.”
Then he said, “When would you like to be picked up?” And he added, “Senator?”
I said,” Nine o’clock tomorrow morning, Noel.”
“Very well,” he said, and then added, “Good night, Senator, and good night Mrs. Stanley.” He bowed as he took several steps backward.
When I turned around and greeted the lady at the desk, she was no longer passive, and she, too, addressed me as “Senator.” “Are you enjoying Ireland, Senator?” To which I said, “Yes.”
My wife, Peggy, then asked if we might have the room that John Wayne lived in when they made the movie “The Quiet Man” years ago. She said, “We don’t know what room that was, but we are reserving the Reagan suite for you.”
I said, “No. We just want a room.”
She said, “Senator, complements of Ashford.” I knew enough to keep my mouth shut.
We were then escorted to the most exquisite suite of rooms. The living room had sofas and over-stuffed chairs, a writing desk, several bookcases, tall, stately windows, and to the left, a staircase that led to an even bigger bedroom. I jokingly say the bed was the size of a tennis court. They had drapes that hung from the ceiling and covered the bed. There was a bar, television, stereo and two huge sofas that looked through a historic window to a fountain just a few feet beyond.
It was then that Peggy said, “What’s going on?”
I said, “Peggy, I think they believe I am a U.S. senator,” and that must have been it, because we had a special table in the dining room and we were treated like royalty.
Our visit to the bell tower was one we had planned. Our stay at Ashford Castle was luxurious, but had to be a complete misunderstanding.
But sometimes, I have learned it is best not to explain everything and just accept those occasional courtesies, even when they are presented by mistake.
Bill Stanley’s prize-winning, latest book, “The 9-mile Square” is available at Lawrence & Memorial and Backus Hospital gift shops, all branches of the Dime Bank, Chelsea Groton, Eastern Federal, People’s Bank, Johnson’s Flowers & Gift Shop in Norwich, Wonderland Books in Putnam or credit card by calling 1-800-950-0331