–by Diane Worthey
Princess Street is far from our Pullman home. Located in the northern industrial city of Preston, England, it is surrounded by remnants of abandoned cotton mills. These mills once ushered in the Industrial Revolution. Now they stand empty and crumbling.
No “princess” lives on this street. Vacant lots full of garbage pepper the neighborhood. Smoky pubs have sprouted on every corner. The people in the market say, “Why are you here?” “You, the lucky American family on sabbatical, why are you HERE?” “You can travel anywhere in England- to Oxford, Cambridge, Durham…Why Preston? Why here?”
It’s true, we could have gone to countless places for Guy to do research. How and why we ended up in Preston, England is a “God Moment.” To me, a “God Moment” is an experience that isn’t planned, and it can’t be repeated.
Preston, England wasn’t in our plan. We had hoped to spend sabbatical in Australia, until the funding fell through. A colleague of Guy’s in Preston came to the rescue and offered a workable deal. What we thought was purely a research opportunity for Guy and a tourist opportunity for the rest of the family quickly became a “calling”.
The divine element of our trip began to take shape over a conversation with my mother. Upon hearing about our upcoming adventure to England, she said, “If you get a chance, visit Preston. That’s where your great-grandfather emigrated from. He was a weaver in the mills, and came to America during the cotton famine of the 1800’s.” Although I knew my great-grandfather was from England, I had no idea that he was from Preston. From this moment on, the trip became a quest to find out more about my mother’s family. I wanted to know how they lived and where they worked. I wanted to know why my great-grandfather boarded a crowded ship to America with his young wife and children, leaving behind his entire extended family.
I began to read and learn everything I could about Preston life during the late 1800’s. Because of the American Civil War, the Cotton Famine hit Britain with a vengeance. Mill workers lost their jobs as the mills shut down. People starved. Some burned all of their furniture to stay warm. Others survived by eating the gruel that was meant for their animals.
As I learned about Preston’s history, I began to appreciate, with a strange sense of sadness and thankfulness, why my great-grandfather chose to risk coming to America. I marveled at his grit and resourcefulness. Most importantly, I began to feel extremely humble. All of the comforts we enjoy seem royal and decadent compared to the life that my great-grandfather’s family led. Even today, our life in Pullman is rich compared to the average Prestonite’s. Could this be the message that God was trying to communicate to me by bringing us here? Could God be telling me to appreciate the sacrifices of those who came before me? Could he also be telling me to appreciate my Pullman life more than perhaps I have?
What transpired in the next 6 months regarding our genealogy project still gives me pause. All in all, we added 23 people to our family tree and traced the family back to the French Revolution before losing the trail. As we neared the end of our sabbatical stay, we came across a census record listing my great grandfather’s street address as being on Princess Street. Curious as to if we might be able to find the address on foot, we quickly turned to the city map. I can’t describe in words the emotions we felt when we realized that out of thousands of apartments available to lease in the city of Preston, we had unknowingly chosen an apartment located only one block away from my great grandfather’s Preston home. All along our journey into the past, we had been gazing at the same brickwork and walking the same cobblestone sidewalks that my great-grandfather had walked. This….was a “God Moment”.