Life Story: Colour of my childhood

by Sylvia Lister
(Cumbria UK)

We have another new year almost untouched by our faults and failings and yet there is always hope in all our lives. Some hope for material gain, some for better health, some for a better world system of things and a few of us (although we too are a dying 'breed') hope for that so important information that means so much.

At 67 years, I am at that age where life has stopped giving me things and started to take them away. Perhaps you may think I should be content with what I have achieved, be grateful for my life and forget about that 'void' which had always been part of me. I have this need to tell my story.

Was it not Alex Haley who said "In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage- to know who we are and where we have come from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness, and the most disquieting loneliness."

Even if it had been raining the sun would have shone for Mary (Mabel) on the day that she met Donald Alexander Weir. He wanted her to call him Jim. Life must have been hard on her own with 2 small kids in the old rusty pram and husband away fighting the war. He was tall and handsome with an accent that she had only heard on the radio. Boy! was he handsome in that RCAF uniform! He would boast about the Sunderland aircraft that he flew and his life 'back home' in Montreal.

She was a pretty woman with that 'extra something' that only few women have. I can imagine how she would laugh on occasions like the times when Hazel would shout at her to stand still on the chair when 'painting', with an eyebrow pencil the line down the back of her tanned legs to simulate a stocking seam!

She must have wondered how much longer the war had to go on. "It will be over by Christmas" the government had said in 1939 and now it was Summer 1944. Although Pembroke Dock was'nt a big city, the Germans still bombed that area because it was a garrison town. There were always thousands of military at any one time.

Who can blame her for wanting that little bit of excitement and those warm, strong arms that she must have yearned for. He, too, must have found solace in her, no one knew whether they would live to see peace in their time again.

As in life, all good things come to an end sooner of later and "what we sow so shall we reap". Jim was stationed in Castle Archdale in Ireland in 422 squadron but would 'hitch' a ride to PD. When he could, to see her but the visits stopped and she realised it was over or was it ? her worst nightmare! she was pregnant. What would Hubert, her husband say and do? he would be home from Italy after the war finished, what would people say? if only she could have turned the clock back.

I could have had such a different start in life. Most 'war-babies' were put into adoption homes and a lot, up until the 1950's, were shipped off to Australia and Canada. I have been told recently that a neighbour took interest in Mam being pregnant because she wanted a little girl herself. How different to today's thinking!

Life can take many avenues and I feel I have been blessed by knowing my Dad who accepted and loved me as his own. I have been told that he first saw me when I was 3 months old. I had a 'shock' of ginger hair, so unlike my older brother and sister who were very Hispanic looking. It could have been the sight of me gurgling in my crib of that endearing laugh that babies of that age have. I just know that when he saw me, he said "she will be part of our family, there will be no difference made" and 'it' was never allowed to be mentioned again! and it wasn't until after he died. One of my regrets in life is that I never got to say thank you to my Dad for everything that he did and sacrificed for me, perhaps he would have been embarrassed anyway.

Hubert was a good, kind man with simple ways, a true Christian who never went to church. He never went out at night and always put family first. He could have 'doubled' for Humphrey Bogart in his younger days. His garden and 10 Woodbines was two of his everyday priorities.

There must have been times when he looked at me and wondered why Mam did what she did but I never noticed. He thought that to talk about things made it 'indelible' on your mind, so negative talk was never heard. In those days children born 'out of wedlock' spelt shame. The neighbours would have had a 'field day'!

We were poor but always had clothes on our backs and never went hungry. Of course, there are the memories that 'kick in' sometimes like when we had to pick ice off the seat in the toilet, at the bottom of the garden, before we could sit on it! or visions of Mam taking a hot brick out of the fire to be wrapped in newspaper then put in our bed.

No food was ever wasted, our plates had to emptied or we would sit until they were. Bath night was on Sunday before supper, as it was school on Monday morning. As I was the youngest and smallest, I was privileged to have clean bath water that was manually carried into our sitting room and placed in front of a roaring fire. The smell of Lifebouy carbolic soap haunts me to this day! Raymond was second and then Val. Poor Val! with all the trials and tribulations of being the eldest.

How could I possibly forget seeing my mum's bleeding knuckles, one winter, after she had been scrubbing wooden floors for 10 shilling a morning so we could have school uniforms! What mother today in the western world would manually pick potatoes all day in all that mud then come home and start on the household chores? But we survived because of the two of them and survive we did.

There are so many memories, life wasn't complicated, it was good really despite the hard times. I will never forget the warmth of my Dad's hug and that smell of Persil on his clothes that had just been newly pressed. The times when before we had electricity, we would all sit together listening to stories from a battery radio in front of the fire, it was all magical!
'Time and tide waiteth for no man' and the years roll by with the laughter and tears that life brings.

After 40 years of nursing, retirement is sweet with Jack, my husband. The modern use of technology had become commonplace in our household so the search for my natural father/family came automatic. Because of the 'guilt syndrome', we war babes get, I had waited until my mother and 'Dad' were no longer with us.

I have met so many lovely folk through the Internet who helped me and after 5 years of thorough research I found out who my father was. Although he had died in 1986, his daughter survives him. I was so nervous when I wrote to her.

In general, 'war babies' like me, think all that void would be filled when we 'find' but not so. Even though I had mentioned DNA testing in my letter, there was nothing but a callous, cold response. How dare she!! I know if the roles were reversed, my arms would have ached from hugging her! I feel money has played a large part in her rejection of me, even though, I iterated all I wanted was to know my 'roots' and familial medical history. Her values may be vastly different from mine perhaps that is the case.

I was advised to get a Canadian lawyer or 'go public' and get the media involved but I have read what they can do to a dead persons reputation. My mum, even though she is no longer with us, is still cherished.

Someone once said "we are the total sum of our experiences", of course, there is the age-old reasoning of 'nature versus nurture'. I will never get the chance to prove or disprove.

I have had my share of knocks and joy in my life but none has been so devastating as the rejection from my 'family' in Canada but I am a survivor.
On that 'journey', I have learned so much, not just about my genealogy but about people and those that have taught me -----------

  • My maternal sister who has always been there for me
  • My late maternal brother who has given me an insight to the essence of the human mind
  • Maxine in Alberta who never gave up on the search
  • A certain 'sleuth' in a small town in Montreal, a true lady who gave me the personal information that I would never have known.
  • Mandy and Paul for giving me two of the joys of my life, Emily and Ryan.
  • My paternal sister who has, solely by her attitude, taught me how fortunate I was to have had the loving parents that I knew, I hope she was as 'rich' as I was.

  • Comments for Life Story: Colour of my childhood

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    Enough Material for a Biographical Novel
    by: Retd. Prof. Durgesh Kumar Srivastava. New Delhi, India

    Dear friend,

    Your life story makes a very interesting and absorbingly readable story. I request you to sit down, collect all your notes and photographs, and write a biographical novel. It is sure to become a best seller and may be turned into a film.

    Best Wishes. Retd. Prof. D.K.Srivastava, C-3, Janakpuri, New Delhi, India, 4 March, 2013

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