I recently received an envelope with a Canadian postmark from a childhood friend, Sian, with whom I last had contact more than 40 years ago. Sian’s Mum, who is still in touch with mine, had mentioned to Sian my book Dear Mummy, Welcome, which caused her to write.
I used to assume that if my family had stayed in Wales, I would never have travelled, would have married early and had children. From Sian’s letter I found out that she did indeed marry early, she and her husband moved to western Canada soon after and she never had children. Following a divorce and a very happy second marriage, Sian wrote, her life, far from civilisation, is very different to the one she had envisaged, yet she loves it. Mike mentioned that when he, Mattie and I made our road trip from Texas to Montana in 2007, we were only a short distance from Alberta and might have visited her had we known she was there. Perhaps that chance will come again.
Sian wrote, ‘I remember my friend Beth across the road. How I envied her, her dark skin and dark hair, so very pretty.’ Funny, I envied Sian her fair hair and curls, and her pink bedroom full of things that I would have loved to own! Sian recounted memories of our childhood. ‘Playing cricket in the street or hide-and-seek, time spent in garden sheds and in dens at the back of our gardens where we spent countless hours, listening to stories of Winnie the Pooh at school…’ She enjoyed identifying family members in the book, too, recalling how my younger brother David would go round to their house to visit their Dad ‘who had him convinced he was an astronaut, his hard hat being his helmet…It was a sad time when you moved to Wolverhampton. You were missed.’ For me, looking back, that time resembled something from an Enid Blyton book.
I was just nine in 1966 when my father’s new job took us from Wales to England. Years later, during the adoption process, I recalled that move as a significant loss. Yet only after reading Sian’s letter did I realise that for both our families that idyllic childhood froze the same year: Sian’s father (most likely everyone’s favourite Dad in the neighbourhood) died just before we left, her mother re-married and she had to adjust to living with a new step dad and step siblings in quite a different part of the city. I told Mattie about Sian’s letter and she asked me to read it to her over tea. I have to admit to shedding a few tears.
Mattie, Mike and I took another trip down memory lane last week, on the eighth anniversary of Mattie’s Adoption Day. This was only the second time that the three of us were all together for this special day. After giving Mattie cards and gifts in the morning (a metronome from Mike and books and hair accessories from me), we had lunch on the patio at Paesano’s Italian restaurant. Mattie chose her favourite Chicken Alfredo followed by chocolate pudding. During the meal, I reminded Mattie that on that first adoption day we almost missed the court hearing when a court clerk had waylaid us by mistake. ‘Typical’ grinned Mike. He had been back home awaiting the return of all the family members for celebratory eats and drinks. ‘I remember that cousin Mei ate some food from the table as soon as she arrived back and you told her off,’ said Mattie gravely and I smiled at the thought that Mattie, who liked to be the little boss back then, no doubt enjoyed that particular event. Later in the afternoon of her eighth anniversary, Mattie and I went to see a film and then do some shopping, during which she bought me a little gift. ‘It’s your adoption day, too,’ she smiled at me.