Nell Whittaker

Sundays are eat-in-front-of-the-television nights. That’s when “Downton Abbey” is on and another program Spark and I are hooked on. This week we had to set up an extra TV tray for Nell Whittaker, an English girl who’s staying with us for a few weeks.

You’ll be seeing Nell’s byline in The Missourian. She’s interning at the office, then going to St. Louis for a stint at the St. Louis American before heading to New York City for another internship.

Nell is 19 and this is her “gap” year between boarding school and college, the year she’s set aside to travel before she’s off to Cambridge. Her first impressions of the United States have been fun to hear about. When we picked her up at the airport, she was amazed at the profusion of fast-food places along Manchester Road.

“You always hear that everything is bigger here,” Nell said. “But everything really is bigger — cars, roads, rivers.”

Fire hydrants and drive-through banks also have drawn Nell’s attention, as have free refills, something you never get in the United Kingdom. Nell also is amazed at how friendly and trustworthy people are. She said she hasn’t gone into one shop in Washington or St. Louis without having a conversation with someone waiting on her, or waiting in line.

The other day I dropped her off at a Walgreens in West County to get an item while I ran an errand. When I returned she was all dimpled smiles, which isn’t unusual for Nell, but this time she was bubbling over. A woman heard her talking and asked where she was from, then handed her a bookmark and keychain with a “Welcome to St. Louis” logo.

The token couldn’t have been more unexpected, or appreciated. It will be put to good use in the used car Nell just bought. The red Cavalier will be waiting for her when she returns from NYC for a road trip to other states she wants to see, perhaps Texas and New Mexico.

This plan is ambitious, but there’s little doubt Nell will pull it off. She’s been planning to come to the United States for over two years, and though she admits she grew increasingly scared as the date of departure neared, she forged ahead.

“I would have been sorry for the rest of my life if I had canceled. I wanted an adventure, and I’m so happy to be here.”

And we’re happy to have her with us.

We met Nell and her family last summer when we were in England. My mother’s cousin, Gill, introduced us. Nell and I had already been corresponding about her coming to the States, and we thought her family would be more comfortable if they met us — or perhaps they wouldn’t! Gill also thought we’d like to see Nell’s home, Pimhill Farm, one of the oldest organic farms in Great Britain. It’s located in Shropshire, a gorgeous county on the border of Wales and England.

The 700-acre farm has been in Nell’s family for four generations. Their stately brick home was built in 1584 and is a virtual history lesson with a set of bells in the kitchen, once used to summon servants, a secret wall panel and tiled floors uneven with age. Though it might appear pretentious, there’s not a hint of stuffiness about the place — think cozy with Old World charm.

Most families have photos on the wall, but Nell’s house has portraits, one is of her great-grandfather Sam Mayall, his hand on a horse, foxhounds at his feet — “Great-granddad made the farm organic in 1949, and everyone thought he was mad,” Nell said.

These days, Nell’s mother and stepdad continue the organic measures that were established as they raise and care for 250 head of Holstein-Friesian dairy cattle. The family grows oats that they grind to made a variety of porridges, oatcakes, muesli and flour.

On the property there also is a huge Elizabethan barn they are now renting out for weddings. The beams look as if they were hewn from redwoods. This new venture has been immensely successful — they’re booked for the next two years.

Here in America, Nell’s not only been impressed with the friendly people and her new car, but our food, especially Honey Crisp apples, tacos, which she’s never had before, and chicken piccata, which she helped me make the other day.

Nell’s a whiz in the kitchen, and happy as a clam to have access to all the books I have in my home office. Look for some book reviews from her, as well as feature stories. And when you see her on the street, ask her to talk for you. She really does have a lovely accent.