I drove down Church Street while Yancey kept a lookout for Mason Croft. I was still getting used to shifting gears with my left hand.
“There it is!” he gulped at the last possible second before I was to drive past. Making a hard left, I pulled our car into the parking lot across the street and got my bearings.
The car had been so warm that I found myself reacquainted with the English chill when I opened the door. I slipped a cap over my ears, zipped my jacket, and set foot in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Mason Croft was your typical English building, red-brick with white-trimmed windows and the air of dignity that came from age instead of notoriety. Nothing on its exterior was remarkable or obviously declared it was home to The Shakespeare Institute. I remember feeling slightly disappointed, figuring that any such facility located in the birthplace of such a great man should have been showier. After all, everything across the pond screamed with some sort of advertising plastered on its facades. “McDonalds!” “Taco Bell!” “UNT!”
Yancey and I walked inside Mason Croft and were greeted by several people. Before we could introduce ourselves, one of them quickly figured out who we were. “You’re Jim‘s friends? From Texas, correct?” she said We nodded.
“Texas!” she declared once again, with a tone of disbelief.
“Umm, yes,” we said.
The others in the room picked up on our origin and soon came a fount of questions about our home state. Everyone present was a student at the Shakespeare Institute, and Jim was famous for being the Texas boy who wore cowboy boots each and every day. The most detailed questions centered around pronunciation, a stickler for descendants of the inventors of the English language.
“You all don’t have Texas accents. ‘You all’. It’s ‘y’all’, isn’t it?” They continued to practice as if they were participating in a foreign language class. “Y’all. Y’all. Y’all,” this mantra they repeated until satisfied they could pronounce it better than us natives. Others not y’alling were practicing the way to pronounce oil. “Awll! Awl!”
Once sufficient mastery on their part and mocking on ours, we graciously informed them of their success in properly vocalizing our state’s trademark colloquialisms. At least we weren’t asked the inevitables such as, “Do you ride longhorns to school?” and “Where are your cowboy hats?”
Although these people we were meeting were quite interesting, there was one person I was dying to meet: Kate. A Shakespearean from Hungary, Jim and Kate had struck up quite a relationship during the time both were studying in Stratford. In the emails and phone calls I received from Jim, he spoke about her in ways he rarely had done for anyone else. It was definitely something more than just friends. And because Jim didn’t own a camera, I had never seen what she looked like. So I scanned the room, trying to guess which one was Kate.
Then Jim finally arrived. Upon his entrance, his classmates boomed, “Texas!,” the nickname he earned due to said boots — or to his green pullover emblazoned with “NORTH TEXAS” in giant letters.
It had been several months since I’d seen Jim, as I was in transition between Dallas and Austin while he had moved to Alabama — then England — during that time. I had to travel half the world to meet up with him! Our reunion was heartfelt as we gave each other a strong hug. Jim turned to Yancey, an even older friend of his, and likewise welcomed him. It wasn’t unusual for me to be in England, but Jim was somewhat surprised Yancey had made it.
Jim took a moment to ensure we’d been introduced to everyone present. After getting the name of the final person present, I was disappointed to find out that Kate was not present. We would have to meet her another time.
Soon, someone popped up to leave. Several other people said their goodbyes to us then also disappeared. We asked Jim what was going on. He asked his classmates to wait up then turned to Yancey and me.
“Do you want to go see Shakespeare’s First Folio?”