The day I met my birth mother (Part two)

‘William, your birth mother has approached our department and asked us to try and trace you. How do you feel about that’?

That was the beginning of Bill Paget’s foreshadowed reunion with his mother.  This is the second part in which he described how it all went…

‘Oh William, thank you for calling. I can quite understand why you might not wish to.’

By now I was picking up a distinctive regional English accent, probably from the West Country.  Then the floodgates opened, so to speak. No doubt it was a speech she had rehearsed – ever-so-painfully – many times.

In essence she was asking for my forgiveness for her abandoning me at birth. She ‘would understand’, she said ‘if that was not possible’.

My attempts to get a word in got nowhere. I quickly decided to let her finish what she had to say before saying anything. When she finally had to stop for breath I tried desperately to convey to her that she had nothing to apologise for. When she, as a single woman, became pregnant with me, she had very few options. It was 1949, after all.

Adoption was one of them. I had been fortunate to be adopted by loving, caring parents. At no stage did I remember being angry at my birth mother for ‘abandoning’ me.

Just when I was starting to feel a little relaxed, she threw me by announcing that ‘there was something rather unusual’ about her. ‘Whatever could this be’, I thought.

‘I’m very tall – 6 feet in fact’, she confessed. Wow, that did sound tall, given that my mother was barely 5 feet 2 inches.

Towards the end of our 30-minute conversation the subject of our intermediary from DSW came up. Apparently, following his confirmatory conversation with me, he had told my birth mother that I was to be seen on TV on occasions. This  led to her scouring the screen for a ‘likely suspect’.

Her heart sank one night when she thought that the redoubtable Paul Holmes might be the one. ‘Oh no’, she thought, ‘I can’t stand him!’

I promised to visit within a few months. I wondered whether I should pack my high-heeled cowboy boots.  I arranged to meet her on a Saturday afternoon. She lived in a part of Christchurch I had not visited before – Redcliffs near Sumner.

As I neared Redcliffs my heart started thumping. I started having second thoughts. ‘Pull yourself together’, I admonished myself.

Finding her street was not difficult. I parked the car some distance from her house.   As I was about to open the gate my anxiety got the better of me. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So, round the block I went at a fast trot – at least twice, as I remember it. Meanwhile, my birth mother, with her English punctuality, waited … and waited.

Once my nerves sorted themselves out I opened the gate. The house appeared to be a modest bungalow, probably built between the Wars.

The front door made quite an impression on me. It was at the top of two steps. What was unusual was that there was no landing at that point. Instead the door opened where the 3rd step would otherwise be.

I mounted the two steps and knocked reasonably forcefully on the door. Then I stepped back until I was safely back on terra firma.  After what seemed to be quite a period of time, the door opened – slightly. This was when my nerves really kicked in.

In all my planning and careful attention to detail I had omitted to consider just how I would greet her. Quickly, I considered my options. A hand-shake didn’t sound quite right. Nor did a ‘keep-your-distance’ wave.

Again, self-flagellation provided the necessary fill-up. ‘ For God’s sake, man, she’s your mother. Give her a hug.’

And so I did, or rather attempted to do. Unfortunately, instead of mounting the 2 steps before commencing this course of action I began to twist my body before I had left the ground.

My birth mother meanwhile had opened her front door (ie, approximately where the 3rd step would be). Given her height, this meant she was at least 8 feet tall. Instead of a hug it became a rugby tackle around her thighs. What a first impression.

We picked ourselves up. Neither of us was able to see the obvious humour in the encounter. She gave me a rather stern look, like ‘what do I have here – Frank Spencer from the wonderful 60s TV comedy “Some Mothers Do Have Em”?!

Somewhat uncomfortably we shuffled along to her modest living room. She beckoned me to sit on a small chair near her open fire-place. I was offered something to drink. The tea tasted like it had been brewing for some time.

Then my birth mother was off again with a moving plea for forgiveness. ‘Oh no’, I thought, ‘not again. This time I’m really captive’. Just when I was starting to feel somewhat desperate, that peculiar wind that blows down the Alps and across the Canterbury Plains came to my rescue.

Without warning there was a strong gust of wind. It rattled the windows. More dramatically, it had the effect of loosening the soot in my birth mother’s chimney.

Down it came and covered me completely. Hard to believe, but it’s true. This stopped her in her tracks. There was an anxious moment when we both looked at one another. Then we started to laugh, and laugh.

From that point onwards until when she died a few years ago, we got on really well – a relaxed, caring, adult relationship. It was profoundly moving for me on the day I remarried when my two mothers sat together on the ‘high table’.

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Bill is a freelance writer based in Auckland.