I just heard an interesting bit of family lore today. I called my mom, thinking it was Mother’s Day. It’s not Mother’s Day, of course, and I woke her from her usual Sunday nap. Nevertheless, despite being disappointed by some photos I’d sent her by request (she was hoping for full body shots), she was in a pretty good mood. We had a nice chat.
We got on the subject of Bill and me potentially trying to go to Mildenhall AFB in England in a couple of weeks. I was telling my mom that it makes me nervous to take a trip right now, since Bill doesn’t have a job lined up yet. On the other hand, this trip would not be as expensive as it could be, since the flight there on military transport would be close to free. Mom said if we manage to get to Mildenhall, we should see if Tolley Cobbold Road is still there.
Tolley is my maiden name. My dad is Charles P. Tolley, but everybody calls him Bill. Bill is a childhood nickname given to him by my Aunt Jeanne that stuck– she evidently preferred the name “Billy” to Charles. Apparently, my dad liked it better, too.
Anyway, I do remember Tolley Cobbold Road, even though I was very young when I lived in England. When I was growing up, we had a British road sign that my dad had put up in his picture framing business. I was told that the sign was the result of a practical joke one of my dad’s Air Force buddies played on him when he was finishing up his Air Force service in the late 70s. You see, Tolley is a very English name. And, for centuries, the Brits produced a beer called Tolly Cobbold Beer. I even have a bar towel that I purchased from a Brit on eBay a couple of years ago. Tolly Cobbold Beer was made at a very old brewery near Bury St. Edmunds, which is the neighborhood near Mildenhall.
I bought this bar towel because we used to have a light blue and white one… Tolly Cobbold Beer went extinct in 2002…
One time when he was stationed in England, my dad had to go TDY to the United States. There was evidently an unnamed street on or near the base that didn’t have any houses on it. One of my dad’s co-workers, an Italian guy, had a sign made for that empty street. The sign read “Tolley Cobbold Road”. It was a play on my dad’s name, using the “e” in our last name, and the name of the beer, of which my dad was probably a diehard fan. They put the sign up on the street. When my dad got back to the base, the military police called him asking where “Tolley Cobbold Road” was, since someone had had an accident there and they had never heard of it before. That’s when my dad found out what his buddies had done.
About twenty years ago, my dad had occasion to visit Mildenhall and the sign was still there. I looked on the Internet, and lo and behold, it does appear that Tolley Cobbold Road may have actually become official. I see that if you look on maps, the street is spelled “Tolly Cobbold Street”, but if you search for it using the “e”, there are many references spelled as my maiden name is spelled. In fact, I don’t see any references of it, other than notations on street maps, where it is spelled “Tolly”. And again, my parents actually saw the sign posted, got photos, and were even presented with a replica of the street sign.
Of course, I understand this story could very well be bullshit… but I’m guessing it probably isn’t. My dad is a memorable character. Indeed, though my dad retired in 1978, his former secretary, Faith, still works at Mildenhall. About ten years after my dad retired my cousin, Jeff Tolley, was in the Air Force and based at Mildenhall. He happened to run into my dad’s former secretary who, before knowing who Jeff was, commented that he reminded her very much of a gentleman she once worked with. She said my dad’s name, and Jeff said, “He’s my uncle.” Mom says if we go to Mildenhall, we should look Faith up and say “hi”. They have kept in touch all these years; Faith even sent me a wedding gift!
Given this crazy bit of family lore, I feel I owe it to myself to check it out. Besides, what better way to end my Bill’s years in the Army than by checking out my dad Bill’s last duty station? I need to get there and take a photo of that street sign. And if it turns out it is actually spelled “Tolly”, no big deal… I can still enjoy the UK and Ireland anyway.
I hope I inherit that way cool street sign someday.