By Bethany Hedley

“You do what you have to do and you go where you have to go,” Douglas Hedley, my grandfather, once said to me.

You could argue that I am following in my family’s footsteps by going where opportunity takes me. And it’s taken me a long way — 5,000 miles away from my home, to be exact. I was born and raised in Watford, England, but I am now studying at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

My entire youth was consumed with the desire to attend an American high school or university because it seemed so perfect on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel. When I told my mother about my aspirations, she replied, “If that’s what you want to do sweetheart, we’ll get you there.”

A few years later, I had been recruited and offered a joint academic and athletic scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Without even realizing it, I had continued the unwritten tradition of my family and ancestors.

Grandfather Hedley, who was once an extremely successful accountant, set the example for my father, and eventually me, to go wherever opportunities take you.  He uprooted my father and his family a few times throughout my father’s childhood. Martyn Hedley, my father, who was born in Cumbria in Northern England, lived in Cambridge, Wales, another country within the United Kingdom, and even moved as far as Zambia, Africa.

My grandfather was in pursuit of employment in Carlisle, located in the north of England, when he came across an advertisement in the Cumberland News for an accountancy job in Zambia. My father said that his parents, Douglas and Dorothy, seemed instantaneously excited about the possibility.

“The person advertising the position was Trevor Coppock, a man dad used to work for in Carlisle a few years ago,” my father said.  “Dad made a call and Trevor came to see him that evening then immediately offered him the job.”

My father often tells stories of his life in Zambia as a child.

“Dad was senior accountant for the firm, it was very well paid,” my father said. “The job also came with a large house and pool, houseboy (who lived in the garden), cleaner and gardener.”

My father told me that had it not been for the conflict at the Zambia and Rhodesia border and the lack of sufficient schooling, they would have stayed for much longer, if not permanently.

Upon their arrival back in the United Kingdom in 1972, the Hedley family situated themselves with Dorothy’s sister in Borth, west Wales, and the job search began for Douglas almost instantaneously.

“He found a job and we moved just outside Cambridge, but Dad didn’t settle and did not enjoy his time there,” my father said. “He continued to look for other jobs and found a job near Barnard Castle and we moved there way back in 1973 and as you know, Dad’s been there ever since.”

My father’s auntie also decided to cross a rather large ocean for future employment.

“My Dad’s sister Doreen was a nurse and went on work experience to Canada in 1957,” he said. “She met a local man, fell in love, and never came back.”

Was this an unsaid expectation of my family? Everyone seemed to cross borders without hindrance.

Following in the footsteps

Martyn also moved away from his northern town at 18-years-old to pursue his desired career and join the London Metropolitan Police, the most prestigious department within the United Kingdom.

Although they had a police department in my father’s hometown, he yearned for the hustle and bustle lifestyle of the capital, where the opportunity for promotion and employment was much higher.

My mother, Sandra Denise Hedley, although not as quite distinctly travelled as my father, also let the opportunities lead her life. At 18-years-old, my mother made the plunge and committed her life to the navy.

She moved from Tamworth, which is located in the mid-to-upper area of England, to the south of England. With the navy, my mother travelled through Europe and mentions Italy as her favorite stop.

“I was able to visit all of Italy while I was there; I got to see nearly all of the country. It really spurred me on to enjoy travelling. I loved the food, the people and the culture,” my mother said.

She was also regularly relocated around England, including Northwood, Plymouth, Portsmouth and London.

My mother, unknowingly, continued the family expectations.

My mother adored her time in the navy, and constantly reminds me of some of the lessons she learned. There is one that has always been her favorite.

“What do I always say to you?” she asked. “Wash one, wear one, spare one!”

She even tells me, particularly when my bedroom is messy, that I would benefit from spending some time in the navy. But unlike my mother, I’m not so sure.

Tradition continues

My mother grew up in Tamworth alongside her mother, Audrey, her sister, Tina and her father, Geoff.   

My mother told me that, Geoff’s mother, Beatrice Cooke, suffered hardship early in her life. She was working in her aunt’s haberdashery shop, where a salesman raped her. After the incident, Beatrice’s aunt dismissed her and threw her out of her home.

Fortunately, the Salvation Army was quick to help her and they transported her to Birmingham, where a single woman, called Auntie Min, whose real name is still unknown, took her in and then helped care for Geoff, her infant son, when he was born.

Although not by choice, Beatrice began the tradition on my mother’s side to go where life leads you and to make the best of the situation.

“Everyone loved Nanny Cooke, and she was very loving and respectful. An honest lady who never became bitter with the cards she had been dealt in her life,” my mother said.

My family, those generations before me, set the example for my life – go where you believe there will be the best opportunities.

I am living my life leading the tradition that my family has unconsciously bestowed upon me. Who knows where my next chapter shall be, but I’m sure wherever it may be, it’ll be in pursuit of the best possible opportunities.