Sometimes we all feel drawn to the place of our birth. Perhaps we’re trying to make a connection with something from our past. Maybe we’re searching for a faded sense of belonging? Whatever it is, I was drawn to Hertford, UK this week looking for just such a connection.

My late-mother ran a lolly shop in Hertford. Dad always said it was the prettiest town in England. He was right! Hertford reminds me of a beautiful Dutch village – although the streets are not so ordered. There are lots of curvy roads intersecting each other.

In the oldest parts of the town there are other pretty quirks too. For instance, the doorways are all small. That’s because people were much shorter in centuries past. It’s all part of the charm of Hertford.

A chance meeting, and me

Mum’s lolly shop was popular – probably because it was a place of joy amid the trials and tribulations of WWII. In fact, it’s where mum and dad first met. My father and his airforce mates turned up one day – and the rest, as they say, is history.

The two got married in the same week that mum’s father died. So, according to old British tradition, she married wearing black.

I was born a couple of years later, during the Blitz. My mother and grandmother used to hold a sheet over my cot to protect me from any bomb blasts.

Long distance lovers

Dad was away on army duty for long periods at a time. So, mum would make the long distance connection to him from a phone box outside the Hertford library.

When I was younger, I would imagine them talking over the phone lines. She in the phone box and he at his Airforce Station, trying to be adults in dreadful circumstances.

Phone box in Hertford, UK.

The phone box in Hertford where mum and dad used to make their long distance connections.

I found it difficult to conceive what they actually talked about. There was a war on you know! However, I could imagine the sense of longing transmitted across those phone lines.

Going back to Hertford

The other day was my late-mother’s birthday. She would have been 102-years old! I’m in England as I write this, so in honour of her I went back to Hertford. I was hoping to catch a sense of her presence in the place where she lived and where I was born.

I’d been back once before, but this time I found myself getting anxious. I realised this visit was very important for me and I was hoping to achieve some sense of connection I hadn’t had before. Also, I really wanted to see that phone box!

I walked out of the railway station at Hertford, asked directions and followed my nose right into the town centre. Then, sure enough the phone box appeared. It was still there! To me, it was more than a symbol of all that I am. I photographed it in every way possible, and then moved on through the town.

I walked past the church of Saint Andrew, the place where I was baptised. Ironically, the only thing my mother would tell me about my baptism was that the officiating Minister pinched her on the bum. She did not like that at all!

St. Andrew's Church in Hertford, UK.

St. Andrew’s Church in Hertford, UK where I was baptised.

I walked up and down the village, in and out and around about. I saw lots of coffee shops and art galleries. I took heaps more photos and bought some souvenirs. Hertford is now a place of arts and artisans. It is full of lots of those well-to-do English people who are awfully nice.

Alas, my old mum’s lolly shop is no longer there. In its place is a motorway and a carpark.

A faded Hertford connection

In fact, what really surprised me about being back in Hertford was that I could not make any connection. I couldn’t feel the presence of my mum. Nothing at all. In fact, it was as if her presence was out of there, long gone, never to return.

I pray that somewhere in this reality we all live, she knows I made the effort to go there to connect. In many ways, our relationship suffered lots of ruptures as I was growing up and now in my older years I regret that.

But life is what it is, and I am not the young person I was back then. I’m not the person I was even 10 years ago when I last visited Hertford. Maybe that’s what the difference is; I’m more comfortable in my own skin now. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t make a connection.

Thinking about it, I can’t help feeling sorry for my mum. On an earlier visit I met her cousin who told me what a beautiful, warm, loving, vital young person she was. That’s how l really want to remember her. Maybe that’s what’s come out of this most recent visit?

Nonetheless, happy birthday to you mum and may you rest peacefully in Gods loving care.

Comments

14 Comments

  1. Jan Crews 23 January 2023 at 20:42 - Reply

    This piece brought back wonderful memories of your mum to me. Thank you. I never knew she was born the same year as my own mother – who is still alive and due to turn 102 in September.

  2. Pam Tremlett 24 January 2023 at 13:23 - Reply

    Happy birthday to Mum I remember her as an elegant kind lady. Rest In Peace

  3. Roger March 1 February 2023 at 11:36 - Reply

    Thank you Bill. I visit old places with deep emotional connections a lot’ part of. the ‘maturing’ process! It’s a shame you couldn’t feel your mum’s presence. Sometimes life disappoints when we least expect it.

  4. Eric Markantonakis 1 February 2023 at 11:39 - Reply

    I remember meeting her at her home in the southern suburbs of Sydney many years ago – she was so kind and graceful.
    I feel there is nothings more important and formative than fond memories of special people who have literally shaped our lives 🙏

  5. Mario rotunno 1 February 2023 at 11:51 - Reply

    The first part of your story bill has blown me away it’s true God has brought me back to an area of my childhood to start a new life . I feel god has said , do you remember when you were a pure soul as a child well here you go son let’s start again
    I have had so many god jobs happen to me the last 7months it’s a miracle
    Thankyou bill for your email today you have just made me believe more strongly . I now believe God has put me here for a reason I I can’t thank you enough for today’s reading god bless you.

  6. Lois Allen 1 February 2023 at 12:33 - Reply

    Beautiful, how nostalgic to see the phone box still hehe that would’ve been exciting, I’m glad you are following your heart for your journey. Love you

  7. Angus Trigg 1 February 2023 at 12:42 - Reply

    What a lovely reflection Bill – thank you.

  8. Joanna van Kool 1 February 2023 at 12:54 - Reply

    I grew up in Gloucestershire, England and I have written many times about my childhood there. I notice Narrow Boats on the river in Hertford and i am reminded of the happy times we spent in more recent years with my old Nanny ( yes, I had one!) and her husband on such a boat as we trundled down the Thames and Severn rivers. I went ‘home’ for the last time in 2014 taking my daughters with me. A nostalgic trip for me. I understand your need to feel a connection.

  9. Judith Barriskill 1 February 2023 at 13:27 - Reply

    A beautiful story Bill, many thanks for sending it,. My father was an english pilot in WW1.

  10. Robert 1 February 2023 at 15:59 - Reply

    A wonderful story of nostalgia and remembering the old days. It’s always sad when a piece of personal history such as your mother’s lolly shop is wiped away.

  11. Peter Green 1 February 2023 at 17:50 - Reply

    Nice memories, Bill. I would have liked to visit the home town of my Mum, Bury St Edmunds, too. The rural parts of England were largely untouched by the war, but not so the cities. So, your father and mine headed for New Zealand (but only got as far as Sydney) on the Stratheden. Soon after, not sure exactly how long, Mum headed for Australia by flying boat, accompanied I was led to believe by your mother. Or did your Mum and you kids travel by another means? Two families escaping from the darkness of post-war England. I remember fondly those lunches with your Mum in her twilight years.

  12. Noel McGarrity 1 February 2023 at 23:58 - Reply

    Dear Mr Crews,
    Thank you sharing this heartfelt time of your recent journey back home to where life began for you. It is a gift you have given us as you journaled your thoughts at this time.
    Do we get to a stage in life where our biological origins are less significant compared to our identity in Christ Jesus (Father God)? I feel this is so for me!
    Thank you ☺️ I greatly enjoyed this journey that you shared with us. ❤️🙏

  13. Renee park 2 February 2023 at 20:12 - Reply

    What a heartfelt story. So glad
    The phone box was there some reflection of both your mum & dad also the church where were baptised. Sorry to hear that you didn’t seek the connection in your soul. I’m truly proud to have read your family’s story. Take care
    God bless love Rene’e & Capri 🐶

  14. Phil Ryan 3 February 2023 at 14:38 - Reply

    Sincerest thanks bill for sharing such a heart-centered and special time of revisiting your happy and earlier childhood memories. Not a lot in life remains constant. Things are always in a process of change and evolving circumstances. The memories will always remain with us as life unfolds in its own way.
    Wishing you much love, joy peace, and happiness always.

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