If I attended a summer session at Christ Church in Oxford in 1985, it was because I was both a reader and, at that time, a teacher of British literature. In my early thirties, I finally got to set foot in a country whose authors regularly moved and challenged me. I had majored in French as an undergraduate, but for some time the poets of my leisure hours remained Keats and Tennyson, Eliot and Auden.
I was surrounded by other Americans at breakfast in the Christ Church dining hall those summer mornings. I would sit at the long wooden tables and reach for the daily bowl of orange marmalade and the dry hard toast in the toast racks. Negotiating mealtimes felt easier in the company of Priscilla from Houston and Kathryn from Chicago. I was not always sure I was doing it right, but at least my years in seminary had acquainted me with breakfast as a communal event.
I sat under the portraits of former Christ Church students high on the walls of the dining hall. Those three weeks were my introduction to the traditions of English university life. Against the ancient dark wood of floor and walls and ceiling, the light from the electric lamps along the long refectory tables felt warm and safe and forgiving.
One of the traditions of English university life? Frank Cooper’s Original Oxford Marmalade. What I could not foresee when my three weeks at Christ Church were over was how regularly in years to come I would move through a grocery store and slow down by the shelves of imported marmalades. I did not find the exact marmalade of those summer mornings in 1985 until this past month.
I may soon need a toast rack.
Photo of Toast Rack from Styles Silver