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Teaching to travel

Marjorie Huntington joined DODDS to fulfill two lifelong dreams

Posted: July 3, 2014 2:37 p.m.
Updated: July 7, 2014 5:00 a.m.
Sheila McKinney/C-I

Back home in Camden, Marjorie Huntington displays a travel book on London, an American flag and a couple of Union Jacks (national flag of the United Kingdom), one bearing images of Queen Elizabeth II.

Marjorie Huntington always wanted to travel. So, this creative thinker found a practical way to do it. And it would not be just a short-lived European jaunt. By 1996, she had worked in the Kershaw County School District for nine years, teaching North Central middle and high school students. Her own children were grown and gone. So, it seemed like a good time to flee the empty nest and follow the lure of faraway places.

She applied to the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODDS), a program in which American citizens teach dependents of American military personnel, as well as contractors’ children who reside overseas. “People join DODDS to teach to travel,” Huntington explained.

“The phone call (from DODDS) came on July 15, 1996, and I was in England August 15, 1996. Within those weeks, I moved out of my house, took a three-hour course at Winthrop, had a massive yard sale, completed all U.S. business, said good-bye to friends and family, enjoyed a party or two, and flew to the U.K. I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to live overseas and have wonderful experiences and adventures, which did happen,” she said.

Thus began what would become a 17-year stint teaching English, including Shakespeare, to ninth- through 12th-graders at an American Air Force base located at RAF (Royal Air Force) Lakenheath. The American base on English land is a NATO (National Atlantic Treaty Organization) base.

Living in England, she was able to explore not only many history-steeped places in the U.K., but also numerous sites in France, Spain, Italy, Poland and Germany, as well as in Israel, Egypt and Morocco. She learned to stay long enough to absorb the culture and ambience of each place.

Recently retired, Huntington returned to Camden to live, and the soft-spoken woman with the striking white hair and a ready smile spent a lovely South Carolina afternoon talking about her adventures abroad, her impressions of the sites she visited and the lifelong friends she made.

“Because I was a single parent with two grown children and retired parents in North Carolina, I decided from the get-go to come home twice a year, at Christmas and for the summer. The DODDS program adheres to American school systems and still has the old September through mid-June schedule. We have to keep our military children Americanized with American traditions and sports and education,” she said.

On her first visit home that December, she experienced a reverse culture shock. Having gotten accustomed to the smaller cars in England, the first thing that made an impression on her was that her car, which her son was driving in her absence, seemed so big to her. “It was a mid-sized car, not big at all,” she said.

“Also, the English do drive on the left side of the road, so I bought a new Mazda 3 and drove it ‘on the wrong side of the road’ for a wonderful 17 years,” she said.

On her visits home, the second thing that astounded her was the sun. “It is so bright in the South. I would come from England, where we went to work and left work in the dark. Lack of light can cause depression. Thankfully, I was not affected,” she said.

“There are many Europeans who resent Americans. After a while you see it. I was there 17 years, and I never had any trouble,” Huntington said.

“We were taught to keep a low profile,” she said. She and her colleagues were advised to stay away from large crowds or anyone speaking loudly. “It was part of my life, but it never really bothered me.”

Being from below the Mason-Dixon Line was to her advantage in the U.K. “The English really love the Southern accent,” said the Gastonia, N.C., native, who had lived in Camden since 1971. Armed with her accent, she incorporated a custom of World War II American military personnel -- handing out Hershey bars -- which she always took to parties.

“While in England, I was just plain lucky. I moved into a rental cottage, which was, in fact, a 250-year-old stable, part of a line of old stables at Cheveley Park near New Market, the horseracing center of the world for buying and selling horses at Tattersalls. My cottage had been a stable and was like a ‘Hansel and Gretel’ cottage, which was quaint and ‘ole worlde’ and wonderful. Again, my luck, I moved into Cheveley Park and met three sets of friends, who will be lifelong, wonderful friends. We have traveled together, dined together, and visited and laughed -- even now on Skype,” she said.

“I thought Camden and New Market should be sister cities. They’re both very horsey and steeped in history,” she added.

 After having lived in the cottage for a while, she moved to Methwold in Norfolk. “I was fortunate enough to purchase and enjoy living in real English fashion. I remember how proud I was when Camden friends came over to stay and enjoyed my ‘real English garden,’ which was established long before I purchased it. It was lovely.”

Exploring London

With all her travels abroad -- from France to Morocco, not to mention three visits to Venice -- London remains her favorite city.

For one thing, the London museums have free admission, and she loves to visit museums, often ending a day by visiting the portraits of the Tudors, like Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I.

“Samuel Johnson, who wrote the dictionary, said ‘If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of living,’” she quoted.

She loved wandering through the winding streets at Cambridge University, and hearing the boys choir at King’s College singing every day at 5 p.m. “There’re a lot of things that don’t cost much,” she said.

Another of her favorite places is Ely Cathedral, where graduation ceremonies were held for 17 senior classes she and her colleagues had taught. “And that glorious building is 1,000 years old,” she added.

“While in England, I taught Shakespeare every year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Just think: I was in England and saw Shakespeare productions in London at the Globe (reconstruction of the original Globe on the original site on the South Bank) and several other theaters there. Also, I saw a number at Stratford-upon-Avon (the place of Shakespeare’s birth, early life and retirement home),” she said.

She saw lots of other theater, too. Some of them were American plays with British actors -- without British accents. The renowned Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts teaches its students how to put their native accents away and learn American accents. She said she saw a fantastic production of “Porgy and Bess” with no English accents.

 All these productions were particularly interesting to Huntington because she had majored in English with a minor in theater and speech in college. After graduating, she went to New York, where she started acting -- getting touring and dinner theater work.

Having moved to Camden in 1971, she acted in and directed several Camden Community Theatre (CCT) plays. Among her stage appearances with the CCT were the female lead in “Luv” with Buddy Clark and Mac McFarland and “Last of the Red Hot Lovers” with the late Bart Hayward.

She also chaired several committees for the Fine Arts Center’s MAD (Music, Art and Drama) Festival. Additionally, she directed one of Gian Carlo Menotti’s children’s operas, “Chip and His Dog.”

Back to England: Among the highlights of Huntington’s theater experiences there was seeing Academy Award winner Judi Dench in two productions and going backstage to meet her both times. The first time, “I was by myself. I was dressed kind of nicely, and everybody else was sort of stage-door Johnny,” Huntington said demurely. She just told some backstage staffers she’d like to see Miss Dench, please, and they kept moving her up the line. When she got to the door, another woman came out of the dressing room, walking away, and then Dench came to the door and said, “‘Come in. Come in. Did you see who that was? That was Leslie Caron!’” recalled Huntington.

Visiting schools in Poland

On a more serious note, Huntington is interested in education in other countries, and with her professional educators group, visited a primary school and a high school in Poland. Their school day begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 12:30 p.m. There is no lunch at school because that is a big expense. Students go year-round with two-week breaks scattered throughout the year.

“We were shown the library, and I was particularly interested in books in English. They were sparse and not conducive to children. I thought of all the wonderful books our school libraries have,” she said.

At the high school, her group was hosted by the students themselves, and she was impressed that quite a few spoke very good English. They served a lunch of vegetables, crackers, cheeses, and small sandwiches, all beautifully prepared and presented.

Seven goats, two horses…

“In Morocco, my friend, Linda Hanson, and I decided we wanted private tours only and arranged for a variety of trips over three days to the souk (outdoor market); various wealthy sheiks’ homes, which are now museums; an evening with dinner in absolutely huge tents, with many courses of wonderful foods and a Moroccan horse show, which I found scary for the horses. We also went up to the Atlas Mountain and climbed about an hour to see some beautiful countryside and waterfalls. A very small man, our guide, told us that he had seven goats, two horses, five children and one wife -- in that order. His priorities were a bit interesting,” Huntington observed.

“I went to Egypt twice: once with my Atlanta friend, Beth Wakefield, to Cairo and sailed in a felucca on the Nile, saw the pyramids and Sphinx at Giza, and rode a camel there. Later, I went with my English friend, Frankie McGhee, on a Nile cruise when we visited the Valley of the Queens and the Valley of the Kings where we took a hot air balloon ride,” she recalled.

Having lived overseas, read good newspapers and seen 24-hour television newscasts from a dozen European channels have contributed to broadening Huntington’s perspective, she said. She has seen the poverty in Third World countries; walked the streets of Prague and Krakow and seen how these countries maintained their cultures through music, dance and drama even under Communist influence until 30 years ago. “All of this has made me look at the world differently,” she said.

“I have good English friends, who as children were removed from their homes and sent off to the countryside for safety during World War II. We in the United States have not had these histories and horrors. My childhood and upbringing were nothing like some of my friends had. I do look at the world differently than I did,” she said.

Back in the USA

“I was very happy there (abroad), but when I came back here, it was really fun to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in two decades,” Huntington said. “I’ve always loved Camden. It’s a very friendly town.”

Although she kept in touch with her family through her biannual visits home and from abroad via Skype, she is delighted to be able to spend more time in person with her daughter, Jennifer, and her husband Ed Latini of Evergreen, Colo., and son, Ben Huntington, and his wife, Susan, and their three little boys of Rock Hill.

The recently returned world traveler also spends a lot of time with her mother, Marjorie Nuttall of Gastonia, N.C., who will be 94 in July and a few weeks ago, visited a children’s amusement park and took a ride on a miniature train with her daughter, her grandson and her three great-grandsons. The great-grandmother enjoyed the adventure as much as they did, her daughter said, describing her mother as a happy person with a great sense of humor.


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