Kim Benjafield and her husband, Mark, of Colchester, Essex, England, were feeling a little down as the Christmas holiday approached.
The couples children were now grown and had other responsibilities, which meant that they wouldn’t be coming home for the holidays.
That’s when Mark presented Kim with an idea.
“We were on holiday in Greece, and we were sitting there and he said, ‘What are we going to do for Christmas?’, and I said ‘I don’t know, because the kids are off doing their own thing. They’ve got partners and they didn’t come home for Christmas, and I struggled the year before,” Kim said, “I was dreading Christmas again with no kids and seeing everyone’s family pictures on Facebook, and then it’s just us two. It’s not the same. He says to me ‘Do you want to go to America and see your family at Christmas?’ Well, that was it. We started planning.”
The plans would bring the couple to Switzerland County last week — a journey about 50 years in the making.
Kim’s parents met in England when her father, Bob Lowe, met her mother, Linda Miles, when he was in the service.
“They married and came back here to live, and shortly after that, they split up,” Kim’s aunt, Thelma Powell recalled. “She left here when she was about six or seven months old, and we haven’t seen here since other than 32 years ago.”
“When we landed at Heathrow (airport in London), my mom phoned up my granddad — her dad — because they didn’t know we were coming; and said ‘me and Kimberly are at the airport’. He said ‘Get in a taxi and I’ll pay. Back then it was 10 pounds (about $13) to get from Heathrow to Colchester. I lived with them for about 2 1/2 years while my mom went out to work. My grandparents looked after me and I bonded with them. They became an extra mom and dad, really. I really had that close bond, especially with my granddad. He was a really great person. He was the one who I looked to as you would to a father for advice and help, and he certainly gave it to me.”
Kim said that she and her mother and step father moved around the country quite a bit when she was growing up, ultimately going back to Colchester — where she and Mark still live.
Kim said that just before her 21st birthday, her mother wrote a television show called ‘Surprise! Surprise!’, hosted by famous singer and British television personality Cilla Black.
“It was a bitter divorce, but me and her mom were always close,” Thelma said. “We kept in contact throughout the years. At the time. I was working at the Vevay IGA and the phone rang and it was this woman, her name was Thelma McGoff, and she said that she was looking for Thelma Powell. I said, ‘this is she’, and she said, ‘we would like you to come over to this TV show called Surprise! Surprise! to reunite with your niece, you and her father, because I was basically the only contact with my brother. They actually met on this TV show for the first time. He hadn’t seen her in nearly 20 years.”
“Cilla Black was a famous singer and television personality, and it was really big,” Kim said. “They did surprises all throughout this TV show, outside of the studio and in. I was the big one at the end, before they left the reunion for her to go and sing.
“It was really emotional, that song,” Kim continued. “I remember at the end (after she had been reunited with her father), they’d done the wrap, she came back over, and I didn’t know that Bob had a microphone on under his tie, and she asked if I’d like to join her in the reception area for a glass of bubbly sort of thing. I was shaking so much I said, ‘I need a bottle’. I remember sipping on the sofa when she was talking to me. I was feeling so nervous. Mark and I were engaged, but we hadn’t discussed marriage or set a date or anything. We were bored one day, so my mom and I went to look at wedding dresses and stuff and had a bit of a girly day together, which was lovely.
“We stood in the fitting room, and I said, ‘you know, I’m never going to have a dad to walk me down the aisle’. That’s when she wrote into Surprise! Surprise!,” Kim continued. “Mom had put that all in the letter to Cilla Black, so while I was sitting there being all nervous, Cilla Black said ‘you and your mom have been trying on wedding dresses’, and I’m thinking, ‘Mark’s in the audience and I haven’t told him’!”
Kim said that the TV crew didn’t have time to bring Thelma out onto the show, so after the show was through, Cilla Black said that she had one more surprise for her — and told her that her aunt is backstage, and that’s when they met.
The television show didn’t fully restore the relationship between father and daughter.
“It was really hard,” Kim said. “I think I disappointed him, maybe, because I felt that he wanted me to call him dad; but it’s very hard to call somebody dad when I had just met him. I had a step-dad from when I was 2 1/2, so I still flicker between real dad, step-dad, Bob — I’m still on that circle now.”
Life in England
After marrying Mark, Kim worked several jobs before she had the couple’s children, and after becoming a mom herself, she took on a few part time jobs that she could fit in around raising her children.
“When Mark would come home, it was like tag team,” Kim laughed. “There’s your dinner, now I’m off to work for a couple of hours; or I’d get up at 3 a.m. to do my job when it was school holidays so I was back for 7 a.m. I’d walk through the door and he’s waiting by the door to go off to work and I had the kids all day.”
The couple has a daughter, Gemma, who will be 25 in April; and a son, Nathan, who will be 22 in August.
“Gemma works in London. She’s done four years of study at ‘Uni’ (college); and Nathan is doing his master’s at ‘Uni’ now, and then he’ll being going to London to pursue what he wants to do. That’s where the field of his training is going to take him,” Kim said. “It’s a bit unnerving knowing that they’re living in London and doing their own thing. It’s a busy city. It’s about 60 miles away, but the environment is quite different.”
Visiting Switzerland County
The couple’s visit to Switzerland County centered on Kim’s long time social media relationship with her cousin, Alisa Keith (Thelma’s daughter). The two have gotten quite close over the years, so when the idea of coming to Switzerland County came up, it was meant with excitement and anticipation.
With a goal of coming for Christmas, 2021, the Mark and Kim began looking at flights, They were trying to keep the trip a surprise from Thelma and her husband, Renzie, as well as Bob. Alisa’s sister, Amy, was also in on the secret.
“I really wanted it to be a surprise,” Alisa said.
“We were looking at prices, but we had to wait for America to open up on November 8th, and when that happened — and it being Christmas — the price of flights just went really high, and I got pretty upset because I really wanted to see these guys at Christmas. It’s a special time of the year, so to have a reunion then would have been perfect — but it wasn’t to be,” Kim said.
That’s when Mark suggested that they travel in March of 2022 (Kim’s birthday was March 19th). Flying in the spring would mean lower prices, which allowed the couple to stop for a few days in New York City before flying back to England.
“I sent Alisa a message with the ‘Confirmed’ stamp, so that when she woke up in the morning, she’d see it on her phone. I was literally looking at it on Messenger to see if she’d looked it, and all of a sudden — ‘boom’ — she was on there.”
The hardest part was that everyone had over 16 weeks to get plans together and organize things, and the thought was still to keep everything a surprise.
But that didn’t last long.
“We were on a FaceTime and we were doing well to keep it a secret,” Kim said. “Doodle (Renzie) knew, and it was cleared that we could stay here; but just as we were coming to the end of it, Aunt Thelma said to me, ‘I do wish you could come over one day.” Well, that was it, and I said, ‘How would you like two visitors in March!”
The family has been very busy during Kim and Mark’s time here. They arrived early Thursday morning, March 10th, and have taken in family things like cookouts and family gatherings; and also went to Dearborn County Hospital, where Kim was born; Rising Sun High School, where Kim would have attended school; and the home that she lived in as a baby It’s now the Rising Sun skate park.
They also attended a Monster Truck event in Louisville; visited the Cincinnati Zoo; and even tried Skyline Chili (They liked it).
Another highlight was eating at Wendy’s. There are currently no Wendy’s Restaurants in all of the United Kingdom, but Colchester will soon be getting the very first one, so the Benjafield family will be fast food veterans. “He’s in trouble,” Kim laughed looking at Mark. “We’ll being going there a lot.”
A family gathering on Sunday, March 13th, allowed Kim to meeting another Aunt, Thelma’s sister Sandy; as well as cousins Debbie and Kyle.
“It was lovely,” Kim said. “Thelma made a lovely dinner and there were pockets of chat going on. Come the evening, it was coming down because I had to say goodbye to everyone again. That sits your emotions again.”
“We’ve already said that we’re going to meet again,” Alisa said. “We’re going to meet in Florida or somewhere. This won’t be the last time we’re together.”
‘‘They have made me feel so welcome and a part of the family,” a tearful Kim said. “I feel like I’ve known them for years. They’re wonderful. All of them.”