From Boston to British Home – For 89 year old Beryl Burridge – It’s a Wonderful Life

By Terry Miller

“The kettles on”, said Berly Burridge the moment we arrived for our interview at the British Home last week. Her good friend and number one fan Janet Swanson offers us home made cookies and sweets as Berly offers something I used to love growing up in England, good olde sausage rolls.

Swanson, who volunteers at the Wistaria Thrift Shop, recently told us about this truly noteworthy woman with one wild sense of humour (note the spelling) who volunteers at Methodist Hospital at the young age of 89.

We sat down with this firecracker of a woman for our interview (usually this takes about and hour) and found ourselves immersed in this woman’s beguiling life pre and post England and chatted for almost three hours.

Burridge said that she “fell in love” with California during her first visit in 1962 while on holiday in Santa Monica. She moved here in 1979 from Boston, South Lincolnshire in England. Yes, there is a Boston UK. It was the original.

Burridge moved to California for her husband’s health she said as she offered me a sausage roll. As I politely declined even though they smelled terrific I’m a vegetarian) I asked her how many British subjects reside at The British Home, she quipped “Not nearly enough!”

As we sipped our Tetley tea in fine china, I learned that this was no ordinary life Beryl Burridge has led thus far.

Her dad ran a fish and chip shop in Boston, Lanchashire and her mom operated the local sub post office/grocery shop. Her dad prided himself with getting the best fish from Grimsby Fish Market but also the best chips which were made with “beef dripping.”

Burridge once lived in the middle of Hyde Park in London where she was a cook and housekeeper. “I was born in 1922 when they found Tutankhamun -” Burridge rather proudly states. Little did she know that this curious annecdote would play a rather significant role in her later years when she travelled during WW11 in 1944? When she turned 18 she joined the WAIFS and 4 days after D Day she found herself on a ship to Cairo where she would meet her future husband, Stan in 1945 in Luxor. “There was Tutankhamun rearing his ugly head”, she laughs.

Beryl Burridge

On November 23rd, 1922 Lord Carnarvon and his daughter, Lady Evelyn Herbert, arrived in Luxor. The following day, the workers had again cleared the staircase, now exposing all 16 of its steps and the full face of the sealed doorway. It was then that they found what they could not see before, since the bottom of the doorway had still been covered with rubble – there were several seals on the bottom of the door with Tutankhamun’s name on them

Back in Britain, women were essential to the war effort, in both civilian and military roles. The contribution by civilian women to the British war effort was acknowledged with the use of the words “Home Front” to describe the battles that were being fought on a domestic level with rationing, recycling, and war work, such as in munitions factories and farms. Men were thus released into the military. Many women served with the Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service, the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps and in the Air Raid Precautions (later Civil Defence) services. Others did voluntary welfare work with Women’s Voluntary Service for Civil Defence and the Salvation Army.

Women were “drafted” in the sense that they were conscripted into war work by the Ministry of Labour, including non-combat jobs in the military, such as the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS or “Wrens”) and the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). Auxiliary services such as the Air Transport Auxiliary also recruited women.

In 1989 Burridge retired after doing a variety of jobs including managing apt buildingds to live in San Diego.

It was suggested to Burridge that she might find enjoyment volunteering; this is where her sister steps in and got Burridge interested in making dolls. She claims she was “moonlighting” while selling 520 dolls (including clowns ans Teddy Bears).

In 1997 Stan passed away and as she didn’t really want to live alone and decided it was time to move to the British Home in Sierra Madre.

She became a volunteer coordinaror for the Methodist Holiday Home Tour. Of this particular job Burridge said … “I’ve never heard so many excuses (why they couldn’t volunteer) in all my life.” said Burridge.

She admits she didn’t particularly like that job and then became a publicity photographer for the hospital.

She had kind of a seceret weapon when she was asked to photograph a a particular group of people: Burridge wouldn’t say ‘smile please’ as is the traditional photographer’s request. Burridge would say : ” Now Lick your Lips and Say S**T”. Burridge said she captured some marvelous moments on film with that somewhat unorthadox approach.

Burridge can now be found at the Methoidist Hospital Gift Shop where she volunteers for several hours each week. She plays Bridge and still drives everywhere.

At the British Home she also volunteers her time in the kitchen after she received her ” Clean Hand Certificate” and teaches the fine art of British cuisine. She taught the chef how to make Brandy Snaps and Rollie Pollies ( traditional English goodies)…with the help of her sister’s recipes, Burridge proudly proclaimed with a gleam in her eye that she even taught the chef at the British Home how to make Spotted Dick.

Her favorites, however have to be making Marmelade, Mince Pies and Christmas Cake.

Burridge says you can only make really good marmelade with Seville oranges.

In addition to all this, Burridge creates Lemon Curd Tarts, Shortbread andhas introduced one of my favorites, Cheese and Branston pickle sandwich to the British Home menu.

” I’ve discovered a great way to make the Branston Pickle go farther….” Burridge beamed. ” We blend it and make a spread.”

We asked Beryl Burridge where she got her abundant sense of humour. ” My Dad ” she asserted.

He always had “Little Demons” in his pocket. She laughs!

“On holiday once in Ilfracombe, my dad put one of these ‘little demons’ in the ceremonial WW1 canon where tourists would often pose for pictures. When a coach load( of visitors ) would pull up and fall out to pose for pictures, my dad would run up , light the firecracker and just watch the fallout reaction after the ancient canon ‘went off’…it was marvelous.” She said. No one ever got hurt but they sure “jumped a mile high when the darn thing went off”

Burridge also belongs to the Monrovia League and was the treasurer of their Thrift Shop before redevelopment.

Burridge recently got back from a world cruise aboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. We asked her which city was her favorite Port O Call. She said, without hesitation, “United Arab Emirates…I loved it …it was so clean and new. However it was VERY expensive. $150 for a bottle of wine. But everything is so clean and new.”

“My Husband didn’t like old things”, Burridge observed. ” He wouldn’t much like me now, would he?” she said laughing as she offered me another cup of tea.

Her husband had worked for the Ministry of Defense and had Top Priority clearance during the war. It was during Churchill’s time and Burridge admitted that she liked the famous Prime Minister but the troops didn’t. With six-year tour of duties back to back, these soldiers weren’t allowed the right to vote in the 1930’s. In 1945 this changed, of course and Churchill was voted out.

Asking Burridge what her longevity secret was she simply replied ” keeping busy.” Having never smoked and rarely even a glass of wine this nearly 90 something ex patriate sure knows how to continue her wonderful life.

December 21, 2011

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