The Day I Met My Mum. Short real life read.
I was twenty two years old, married but separated and living in Brighton in the south of England when I first had news of my mother.
Maureen my mother lived in Plymouth, Devon, around four hundred miles from me. Even now, thirty years later, writing ‘my mother’ or thinking of her at all is proper alien to me. I am the beginning and the end of my family.
Knowing where you came from is a biological urge, but it is rare to find anyone in the same boat.
I’ve met many people who didn’t understand their fathers and some who didn’t know them at all but never met anyone else given up by their mother when they were one.
I had a friend whose mother left him with an aunt in Jamaica for eight years whilst she came to England to train to become a nurse. He said that when she did return home, she was like a stranger to him and he always had felt some awkwardness towards her but went on to recognise that she did it for him and his siblings.
I didn’t know how I felt about my mother. What did she leave me for? I suppose I should have been angry. But it’s not that easy. How can you feel anything when you don’t have a picture in your mind of who to be angry with? All I had was back handed remarks from my father and snippets of snide information from my step mother. My birth mother was a taboo subject.
If I’m honest, I don’t remember the drive down to Plymouth that weekend. It’s a journey I used to do more often but nowadays I barely remember the way and now would use googlemaps. Back then, I know I was intrigued and very nervous. Meeting my mother and Grandmother, Gwen, for the first time was an unprecedented life situation. A defining moment.
There was much to look forward to. Over the weekend I was due to meet other extended members of my family. I remember being happy. My partner, at the time was a man called Mike, he was an accountant. We thought we were in love. I was working as a model agent and instructor which kept me busy most days and two evenings during the week.
It was a weekend away. We were using his blue Ford Escort 1.4 for the journey. I loved driving his car. I’d never driven anything with less than three previous owners before and the journey down to Devon would have been quick as I always liked to drive fast.
Arriving at the bottom of Gwen’s tower block in Devonport, was unremarkable but forever indentured in my memory. The old worn heavy wooden doors gave way after I pressed the intercom to announce our arrival. The corridors and lift smelled as all council buildings smell; old, pissy with the faint taint of Special Brew. I live in tower block myself now and it is the same.
We arrived on her floor, the thirteenth, and buzz my biological Grandmother’s door. A small dark haired, wrinkled lady opens it and explains straight away that she isn’t my Nan. Her name is Ruby, and she’s Nan’s best friend. For some reason this flummoxed me briefly and Mike takes me arm. He gives me a nod of encouragement and we walked through the dark hall.
As we get to the end of the hall, a green frog, a soft toy security device, sounds out ‘rebbit’- making me jump but we follow Ruby through to where Nan is sat in her lounge.
I hear Nan laugh before I see her. Ruby sits down on the sofa nearest to Nan. My new/old/unknown Grandmother was sat in a chair to the right of me as I came through the door. In front of me were large picture windows looking out over Plymouth Sound. The view was breath-taking.
Photos were on every side and display collections of thimbles were on the walls. Grandmother Gwen’s short white hair stood up on her head above her pale forehead and almost invisible eyebrows. Her white skin was randomly spotted with light brown patches Her strong liquid blue eyes looked into my brown ones. We both had tears running down our faces as I leant down and hugged her for the first time ever, or at least for the first time since I was a tiny baby. She smelt of warm lavender air and talcum powder.
“Oh”, she said, wiping her eyes with a tissue from a box, “you look just like your photo, just like your mother and how I used to before the diabetes got me.” She referred to her huge size.
“Just like my photo?” I asked. I hoped that I didn’t sound as shocked as I was. My mind was swirling. They knew what I looked like. They had photos of me. How could they know what I looked like when I didn’t know that they existed until a week ago? Had my father stayed in contact? I quickly saw it wasn’t that. New Nan proudly explained that they’d seen me in the local paper. They showed me the cuttings.
I’m glad I was sat down. I took it all in and Ruby made us all a cup of tea.
They all knew about me. They had the freedom to discuss me.
Nan chatted about biological Grandad and how much he’d loved Maureen and would have loved to see me again if he’d lived. I was shown boxes and boxes of photographs. Each one so important but all so overwhelming. I tried to remember all the names and places. What relation someone was to me, but it was too much. I couldn’t take it all in.
At some point I asked whether Maureen, lived nearby and then Nan said she’d call her for me. Then my grandmother picked up the phone and dialled her up on massive buttons. They spoke together on that telephone that was stood on a little wooden table near her floral arm chair. White doilies adorned both. The doilies were matching white cotton with embroidered roses. Nan gestured to me to come and talk. That was the first time I heard my mother’s voice. Stood on the dark reddish, brown, swirly patterned carpet, looking at my Nan’s elderly, eager face with the slimline plastic receiver in my hand held blaring against my ear.
What can I tell you? What did mum sound like? Well, there wasn’t tinkles and sprinkles of magic singing in my ears. Maureen had a heavy Devonshire accent and sounded like any other woman on the phone. She tells me she is at work and will come over when her shift finished.
I sit there for what seemed like an eternity, looking at black and whites, waiting to see what she looks like in real life. That really was the main thing I wanted to see. Shallow really but it’s the truth. I also wanted to know why she’d left me and what she was really like. Was she a tragic alcoholic who needed to party? I wanted to know her more than I felt any anger.
Finally, the door went. Ruby went to answer it. I looked at Mike. He looked back reassuringly. I was thankful he was there, being supportive, quiet and not intrusive.
My mother enters after the ‘rebbit’ followed by Ruby, who went to put the kettle on again.
Maureen stood across the room looking at me apprehensively. She said,
“Do you hate me?”
“No.” I replied. I looked at the woman who was my mother and my face cracked, so much emotional came forth and I cried heavily. I stood up and walked to her. I embraced her and she embraced me. She was smaller, fragile even. I carried on crying as we hugged. My desperate need for her to show me love overrode everything else and I don’t know how long we stood there like that just holding each other. She pulled away first. Telling me I had a sister and brothers. We sat and talked as Ruby served tea and my new Nan supplied biscuits.
I was shown the first photos I’d seen of myself as a baby. I was told my baby history. ‘Mother’ dropped me with my Aunt Chris on my first birthday so I could meet my father (Chris’s brother) and never went back for me. Maureen told me that she’d been breast feeding and they’d had to bind her to stop producing milk for me. She told me that I cried a lot. And that as my cousin was a Downs Syndrome baby.
It was difficult and their household could not cope with all of us. She was suffering with depression and didn’t want to make the journey back across Plymouth to get me. The longer she left it the easier it became then she met another man and got pregnant again. She tells me that it was difficult to love her new child, a son, because she was thinking about me.
We cried all afternoon. I see that she is similar but much smaller than me. The similarity is around the cheekbones and mouth, perhaps in the shape of the eyes. Maureen’s eyes are green so my browns must be from father. But the mannerisms surprised me. We both do similar things with our hands and heads when we talk or at rest. It was rather bizarre to witness. She tells me people call her Mo, but I decided to call her mum.
She invites Mike and I to her flat so that I can meet with one of my brothers and my sister. All fantasy that my mother had given me up to live a better life perished when I saw her flat and how modestly she lived. My sister and brother were outstanding individuals and clearly close to Mo. We ordered fish and chips from the corner shop for tea.
My brother and sister were both blue eyed blondes so looked nothing like me. They tell me that my other brother, Matthew, is dark. I’ve yet to meet him to this day. In true Devon spirit my mother gives her bed to Mike and me for the night. The next day I meet the rest of my family from Devon and Cornwall and they make me feel welcome. I felt accepted but I didn’t feel like I belonged.
We were all close for a few years, Mum, her family and I, but by 2000 the relationship became sour, estranged and again, she is now unknown to me.
I’m glad that I know where I came from regardless of the fact that I no longer have a relationship with my biological mother and her family. I don’t belong to her tribe but because of her I never really belonged anywhere else.
Thanks for reading.