Wednesday, 16 April 2008

The Elusiveness of Memory


This is about a memory I thought I had. My mother was a GI bride; she met my father whilst doing war work in Birmingham; he was stationed in Sutton Coldfield, a suburb of Birmingham. Early in 1946 they were married. I was born in April 1947. Somehow I had assumed that my father had stayed on in Birmingham and did not return to his home in New Bedford until a year or two after I was born. Looking back this is I think an assumption I made rather than anything I was told. I knew my mother missed the boat (literally) because my grandmother was ill and she did not want to leave; as time went on she then seemed to get cold feet about going to live in the USA; in the end my parents were divorced.
Recently I made a discovery that - whilst it was unsettling at the time - presented me with a slightly different version of events which made better sense than what I'd believed before. Migration records were published on the family history sites and I discovered the date of the boat my mother was to have taken and the alternatives - all three in the Autumn of 1946; soon after my mother would have discovered I was on the way, I suppose, almost as if I was a parting gift to her from my father, though of course he would have assumed she would be following him in a couple of months' time.
My parents had been very young by todays standards, (22 and 23), both from close communities and away from home for the first time, during wartime and the immediate postwar period when everything was disrupted. Though I spent some years of my life feeling unhappy that I didn't have a dad of my own, only a stepdad, and had a tendency to hero-worship the dad it now turns out I'd never met, I can see at this distance that it was a difficult and unhappy time for both my parents and can understand much better why they made the decisions they did.
So how does this fit in with my earliest memory? Well, what I remember is my mother taking me with her to a large railway station to meet a man whom she hugged and kissed; in my memory I had assumed this was my father, but now realise it can't have been (on reflection I think it might have been one of her cousins who came to visit her and my grandmother at that time - he and my mother had grown up together and were like brother and sister - I have a couple or recollections of his visit).
The piece here, however, portrays the memory that didn't exist. Two faces, poised as if to kiss; two faces turning away; onlookers in the background; all done in layers or various organzas to suggest the ways memories sometimes seem drifting and insubstantial.

4 comments:

paulahewitt said...

I enjoyed this story, and I liked your piece. I can relate to the story - not the details, but the feeling of false childhood memories - I think you've captured that well.

hippopip said...

that is very sad,and such a difficult decision for your Mother to have to make,now America is so near but in¬46 it was a long way away.I hope your stepfather made you all happy .Best wishes Pippa

Wild Thread Studio said...

This is a powerful story and a powerful piece of art. I'm clapping over here in the States!

MargB said...

Memory is a funny elusive thing and I think you have portrayed it so cleverly