Nude Study 2

Charcoal & pastel on brown paper, circa 1989
Charcoal & pastel on brown paper, circa 1989

Sister from the other Mister

Ann & me & mum

“It’s her isn’t it?” I queried to my older sister on the telephone, the day my mother died. The daughter (our half sister) my mother had given up for adoption 63 years ago had made contact by letter. Dad mentioned it at the hospital upon mums deathbed, that she had received a letter from a woman in England who believed she was related to her. She had read the letter every day for a month, but such was the state of her dementia she probably thought it was a new letter every day! She never told anyone, but then she never told us about the baby she was forced to give up either.

This was her secret and she managed to hide it from us all (4), swept under the carpet, as you did in those days.
We found out 25 years later when she had a nervous breakdown over it. She had forgotten she had 4 children, and simply wanted her baby back. All was revealed during those tumultuous months of incubation, and of course which she eventually recovered from.

The letter from her daughter was polite and considerate of my mothers position in life. She did not want to upset any one, she was mindful of the fact mum may not have mentioned the fact that she had adopted out her first born to anyone, to the point that she did not even state she was her daughter. But mum knew who she was, and continued to hide the letter, as she did her past and her pain.

It came too late, as my mother had suffered a massive stroke and we (the children) had made the decision to not prolong her life owing to the quality (lack of). So we let her slip peacefully into oblivion, with a good dose of morphine to aid the journey. We knew that she wanted that. We also knew that she was over it, and had wanted out some 8 years prior. There is no dignity in being kept alive as a vegetable and believe that we are kinder to animals when it comes to voluntary euthanasia in society today.

Let’s reverse in time to October 2009, when I visited my mother in NZ. I knew that her time was close, and was not wrong for she passed away some 4 months later. Whilst there I said to my sisters “lets try and find her”, surely with internet access these days making the world a village it would be easy to find her. But mum didn’t want a bar of it. Apart from her memory being quite vague, she was also of the opinion that there was too much water under the bridge, or as the case had been of that generation, “lets just sweep it back under the carpet”. When queried about dates, hospitals, she did not want to comply, or could simply not remember.

Little did we know however that what was happening in the northern hemisphere at exactly that time was the initiation of a search by her, our half sister. Months of research, trowling relatives in Scotland that bore her name revealed nothing, until a 2nd search of the boats which had left the UK on a regular basis with immigrants to populate Australia & NZ revealed my mothers name. My half sister had not necessarily needed to find her birth mother, being perfectly happy with her adoptive parents and respectful of their position in this regard. However my mothers name was on her birth certificate, and I guess curiosity gets the better of all of us at some stage. In this case curiosity was all it probably amounted to, as my half sister did not need to know the details of “why”. Considering the era, it was pretty normal for young mothers who were unmarried to give their babies up for adoption.

Once her destination was discovered a private detective n NZ was employed to trace her whereabouts. owing simply to the barriers of geography.

Lets reverse back in time to 1947: World War 2 had ended 2 years prior, a time which had engaged my mother as an entertainer in a dance troop consisting of herself (Elsie) her sister Bessie and Lydia. Think Andrews Sisters and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B. Many a tale was told to me as a young child by my mum, of the war: London’s bombings, the sirens, entertaining in the underground, emerging to the rubble of the bombings, the soldiers………and the luxuries they brought the young ladies, chocolates, perfume, silk stockings! I remember my mother telling me how handsome and generous the men in uniform were.

She went on to have quite a few careers, but the one directly after the war was a bus conductress in London on the double deckers. I am sure that she punched many a mans ticket (because she was so very cute), but a ‘ticket to ride’, was not meant for Elsie, and when she discovered she was in the family way, was promptly hidden from view. On September 17th 1947 my mother gave birth to a daughter and called her Margaret (more than likely in the hope that her mother would take her and the child in as my grandmothers name was Maggie). She had the child in an institution called Brocket Hall, an estate which was turned over to the war office and used as a maternity hospital. Over 8000 babies were born there (exact figure shows 8338). These babies are now called the Brocket Babies and have a website dedicated to them.

Upon my recent meeting with my half sister this month, we delved through the adoption documentation of discovery she had in her possession, and one of the most poignant facts revealed was that her own sister Bessie (also from the dance troop) gave birth just one day after Elsie, to a son, in her mothers home. The difference between Bessie and Elsie of course was her status. Bessie was married! How unbelievably hard that must have been for my mother, knowing that their kids, the cousins, could have had a relationship, and their dance days would have been cemented even further through the children they had born within hours of each other. I did not know this until 2 weeks ago. My heart bled for my mother when I knew she had given up a child after 3 months of cuddling and knowing her. But I finally understood her pain of being exiled, when she had so much to gain from the circumstances of the family connections surrounding her at that time.

Whilst we don’t know who the father was, we suspect that he was tall, because my half sisters sons are tall, and there is a theory that he may have been a Buckingham Palace guard (she did always like a man in uniform – bless her). His name is not recorded on the birth certificate, so lets just list him as “missing in action”.

9 months after the birth of her daughter my mother caught a boat to NZ, to start a new life. She was 27 years old.

The only advise my mother gave me, and which I adhered to in every respect, was this, “when you grow up get as far away as possible from your family, and make your own life”! Not the normal advise a mother would give, but I have only just understood why and I have never regretted her sound words.