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'International Friends' gather for lunch, Brit chat

Organization gives support to foreign-born 'war brides' who came to the U.S.

August 06, 2010|By HEATHER KEELS

Chatting over lunch Friday afternoon at Nick's Airport Inn, Sylvia Bonebrake and Pamela Davis laughed about some of the cultural gaffes that followed their moves to the United States from England many decades ago.

"We call things by different names, so that was a bit of a problem to start with," said Davis, 75, who moved to the U.S. in 1962 after marrying a U.S. Air Force airman. "I said I wanted a kettle, and my mother-in-law got me a saucepan."

To ease her homesickness and to meet other women who could relate, Davis joined a local chapter of Cosmopolitan Associates, an organization of foreign-born "war brides" who came to the United States with their military husbands.

When the local chapter was formed in 1970, it had about 200 members from 17 European countries, said Bonebrake, 82, the group's founder.

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Today, the 10 remaining members, most of them from England, call themselves "International Friends" and get together once a month at Bonebrake's home near State Line, Pa.

"We are like sisters," Bonebrake said. "We're not just friends. When my husband died, I'd never have gotten through it without these ladies."

The group met Friday at the restaurant to celebrate 40 years as a club and their time in the United States.

Collectively, the 10 members and an 11th, a member's sister visiting from Georgia, have been in the United States for 544 years, Bonebrake said.

"We've been here, collectively, longer than the United States of America," she said with a laugh.

The women range from their mid-60s to mid-80s and come from throughout the Tri-State area. Many talked of meeting their husbands during World War II at dances or parties.

Beryl Light, 85, the lone Australian of the group, said she first laid eyes on her husband, an Army Air Corps soldier, when he was walking down the street in Brisbane with another soldier.

"He didn't even know me from Adam," she said, but he turned to his fellow soldier and said, 'Well, I'm going to marry that girl,' Light said.

They were married Jan. 12, 1945.

Many of the women described coming to America as something of a culture shock.

"When I got here, I thought it was the end of the Earth because all I saw was snow," said Carole Cicero, 68, of Waynesboro, Pa., who came from Oxford, England. "I never saw snow in my life."

Bonebrake, who moved to the U.S. from London in 1947 after falling in love with a Navy sailor, said she would think twice if she had the decision to make over again.

"What you do is you break up your own family and your own traditions," she said. "So I don't have any regrets, but I have thoughts of, 'Could I do it again if I was faced with it?'"

Over the years, the women have become a family for each other, they said.

"I think it's because we don't have family ourselves here," Cicero said.

When the women finished eating Friday, Bonebrake brought out a homemade cake decorated with American, British and Australian flags, and tapped a knife to a glass several times in an attempt to break through the laughter and British-accented chatter that filled the room.

"The hardest thing with this group is to get 'em to shut up," she confided.

When she had the group's attention, Bonebrake spoke of the accomplishment of the women's long friendship and how, though England would always be their home, America had also become an important part of their lives.

"We're grateful for the country that's adopted us and we've adopted," she said.

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