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.
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 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.