– Tell me stories about when you and Mum first met.
– They’re too hot for a young girl like you.
Mum was born in Birmingham, England in 1936. An only child in wartime, she was sent to boarding school at the age of six.
She was twenty-one in 1958, the year she set off by herself to see the world and boarded the nine day ship’s voyage across the Atlantic to New York. She had found a job as a nurse in Philadelphia. Her fiancé, a South African PHD student, joined her when school finished and they drove across the country to California.
At the end of the summer, Mum wasn’t ready to get married so she stayed in San Francisco, alone.
– She bought this car, took the back seat out of it, put a mattress back there and drove up from California with her friend.
The car cost a hundred dollars, the windshield wipers didn’t work and she was the only one with a driver’s license.
When it rained, Mum stuck to the tail of a big truck while driving over a mountain pass, relying on his taillights to stay on the road.
In Eugene, Oregon, a policeman pulled her over for driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Looking in the car window, he saw Mum’s friend boiling water for tea on a camping stove in the well of the passenger seat. Before driving them out of town, he said,
– You girls follow me and don’t come back.
In Vancouver, they bought postcards to send home to their parents.
The man selling the cards said,
– You girls sound as if you should be on Vancouver Island with all the Limeys.
Never having heard of it, they took the ferry from the then downtown terminal.
– She was driving down the street and asked this guy if they could park in front of his house to sleep.
The man was a friend of his and they met at a party.
Mum lived in town and worked at the Queen Elizabeth Solarium. Early one morning at the Swamp, Dad’s car wouldn’t start so he called Colin Barker, the local Saanich policeman, to ask for help.
– He came whistling over there in his police car and picked us up.
– He had his bedroom slippers on and his pajama bottoms with his uniform top and hat.
As they turned onto the driveway to the Solarium, Colin turned on the siren.
– Everyone in the hospital saw her arriving in a police car.
Mum started work with a blush.
– You were married to another man before Dad!
Said little girl Kristin, coming home from a custody weekend at Dad’s with leaked information.
– You need a dog, not a wife.
Mum had told Dad.
Unsatisfied, Mum had given him Satan, and driven back to California.
Back in San Francisco, Mum joined an avant-garde theatre group and met her first husband, Milton. They married in Tijuana but lacking an official marriage certificate, they married again in London when Mum went back to do her midwifery training.
Milton was an aspiring American writer. He didn’t want children. She did. The marriage was annulled and Mum had forgotten his name by the time Kristin found out about him.
My parents were married in 1966. They had stayed in touch over the years and Dad had asked her to come back.
– At least she wasn’t pregnant when we got married.
– John was three weeks old.
My brother slept in the bathroom of the one bedroom cottage for the first two years of his life.
– That’s why we named him John.
– We kept him in the john.
John never liked that joke. Fortunately, he was actually named after my mother’s father, Jack Austin.
– We must have gotten along at one time.
Dad says on our way to Mum’s for a glass of sherry.
– We had three children together.
These past months, I have witnessed my parents forgive each other for the hurts and wrongs of the past. I am inspired by the courage of their hearts to let go, move on and accept one another for who they really are. As their child, I am grateful to no longer stand caught in the middle. We are a family again, a family I never knew.
We are blessed with love.