We'd better start with some background ... My late father was the eldest of four siblings in what we all now agree was a dysfunctional family. His next brother down (David) was severely handicapped and died at the age of about two. His second brother (Cyril) is now 85 and still going strong. Then there is his kid sister, Jessie (now 82). They were Baptists and brought up in Canterbury, although during the war Jessie and her mother were evacuated to Newbury. Then all the wheels came off.
The dysfunctional family in late-1930/early-1931.
L to R: My Grandfather; my uncle Cyril (standing; aged 3-4); my Father (aged about 10),
my aunt Jessie (under a year old); my Grandmother.
My grandfather was in the RAF during the war as barrage balloon ground crew whereupon he absconded with some floosie WAAF by whom he had a daughter (Pam, born in 1944). Being of a good catholic family Pam was brought up by her maternal grandparents (I met Pam once when I was about 10 and she would have been about 18.) My grandmother wouldn't divorce my grandfather. And grandfather subsequently had another two daughters by the same floosie; they are both within a year of me in age; I'm told they were both brought up by Barnardos; I have never met them.
So my childhood was pervaded by the running saga of Jessie (by then a nurse) trying to support my grandmother; and my father trying to stop my grandfather going completely off the rails and get him to look after his second family, my grandmother and himself. Needless to say this became drawn battle lines: Jessie, Cyril and my grandmother thought my father was on grandfather's side against them and vice versa.
Then another twist. When I was in my mid-teens Jessie decided to marry her cousin Ray (some years older than her). My father deeply disapproved of this (although he knew children were out of the question) as he thought Ray was a "drip"; the feeling was mutual. The battle lines became entrenched and contact was infrequent and acrimonious; from that point I lost contact with my grandparents, my aunt Jessie and uncle Cyril and their families. The final and total severance came when my grandmother died in 1973.
And so it continued until my father died six years ago. At that point I decided that Jessie and Cyril, if they were still alive, should have the courtesy of knowing their eldest brother had died. I managed to trace them and write to them, not expecting any response. Within 24 hours I had both of them on the phone and we have all subsequently been reconciled after some 40 years. Lots of misunderstandings have been righted (mainly as Jessie and I have swapped family letters), especially that my father was actually all those years equally annoyed by his father's attitude and trying to ensure everyone got a fair deal, to the extent that my parents at one time seriously considered adopting my two youngest half-aunts (Pam being by then over 18). Anyway, as long-time readers will know, Jessie and I have re-established contact and been in regular touch.
Jessie with a portrait of my Grandmother,
painted by my Mother in early-1960,
which we presented to her on her 80th birthday.
Some while ago Jessie expressed the wish to see my mother. This is quite a challenge: Jessie is in east Kent, my mother is in Norwich and Jessie is not very mobile having had a stroke which affected just her left arm and leg. We've considered various plans over the last few years but they haven't borne fruit. But Jessie has now found a good "driver" and commissioned him to take her on a day trip to Norwich! We figured we'd better go along — although Jessie and my mother have corresponded and talked on the phone you never know how these things are going to pan out. In fact I ended up facilitating the whole thing, arranging dates, rendezvous, maps etc.
My Mother in August 2011
Thursday was the day! Noreen and I travelled up to Norwich as usual, popping in to the care home to see my mother briefly in the morning and then running errands for her. We had arranged to meet up with Jessie and her driver at a village pub (King's Head at Bawburgh; highly recommended) for lunch — great fish & chips! — before spending the afternoon with my mother.
We spent that afternoon, just my mother, Jessie, Noreen and I catching up, drinking tea and eating cake. It was fine. Everyone got on. Some tears were shed. Some healing was done. We swapped pots of jam and bottles of wine. And I breathed a sigh of relief. It was a long day; a tiring and stressful day. But a wonderfully successful day. It was one of those days you always dream can happen.
Now of only we could have done this for my father before he died! But I knew I daren't have even tried because with my father there was never any going back. So sad.