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Work helps a transplant put down new roots

(ran HT edition)

First names are used on badges the employees wear, so I didn't know Mary's last name.

I was interested in her because of her charming British accent. I thought she was kidding when she told me her last name was "England." She told me how many times she was stopped short by impatient officials at the American Embassy in London who said, "Madam, I want your name, not your nationality."

Mary and her husband, Ron, have lived in River Country Estates for two years. When Ron told the family of his intention to move to America, his sister teased, "The way Ron keeps wanting to live in Florida, it must be in his blood." Then she added one of those valuable gems of family history that are often lost from lack of attention: Ron's father was born in New York and lived in Brooklyn for seven years. His parents returned to England but made frequent return trips to the states, and on one of these journey's Ron was born.

Ron and Mary, who have been married 34 years, set out from their home in Manchester to visit the American Embassy in London, 200 miles away. Soon they were enmeshed in the volumes of documents they needed to prove Ron's citizenship. It took some doing, but after tracing old records, his grandparents' marriage certificate and his father's enlistment in the British Navy, Ron was finally given his American passport.

It was then Mary had to face the fact they would be leaving England to live permanently in the United States. This was not an easy prospect for her. "I cried for six months," she said, "and this was before we left."

The couple bought their Spring Hill home, but Mary continued to have a hard time adjusting. She grieved over leaving her two sons and three grandchildren behind and, like so many other grandparents in Florida, felt an emptiness in her new home that was hard to fill.

Mary made the same discovery, however, that many have made in adjusting to Florida. It happened when her son Simon took a trip from England to visit his parents. He noticed how depressed his mother seemed. She had been toying with the idea of answering an ad for help in the pharmacy department of Wal-Mart in Spring Hill, and Simon jumped on the idea. "Go for it, Mother," he said, and with encouragement, Mary applied for the job.

"When I was accepted, I realized I had a great deal to learn. We don't have half the number of over-the-counter medicines in England that you have here, so I had to memorize the names and where everything was located on the shelves," Mary said.

Soon she realized her depression was disappearing.

"You can't stay at home and say, "I don't know anybody'; you have to go where the people are and get to know them yourself," Mary said. "I like working at Wal-Mart; the girls who work with me have been great, and I have met so many nice people." She also has the company of her spouse at Wal-Mart; Ron works in the garden department.

Mary looks forward to return visits to England. In the meantime, she waits on customers at the pharmacy, addressing the ladies as "Madam" and always referring to the male customers as "gentlemen." The titles seem to go with her charming British accent.