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Tuesday, January 31st

January 31, 2017

Every year on this day since 1989, I’ve written a letter. It doesn’t get posted. There really isn’t anywhere to send it. The letter is to my mother. January 31st was her birthday. She died far too young.

In the letters I tell her about the past year, what I’ve been up to, what’s going on. The hardest letters to write were in the 1990s when I was living with Mike in Vancouver. I wondered what she would have made of him, this smart, funny man who could also be such a big goddamn baby. Would she like him? Or would she wonder (to herself, never to me) what on earth I was doing with this man? Would she be disappointed in me? She once told me she didn’t care what I did, as long as I was happy.

When I was three or four years old, a man named Len appeared in our lives. He was a nice man. He had a car. He took us places. Somewhere in an old photo album there is a picture of him and me feeding the ducks somewhere. I liked Len. Then one day he just disappeared, never to be seen again. I don’t remember what, if anything, Mum told me at the time. Years later, when I was living in my own flat, she came over for dinner one night. It was the first time I ever got a bit tipsy with her. I ended up asking her whatever happened to Len. She told me. He was a widower with grown children and a house. He was fond of me, even more fond of my mother. He asked her to marry him. She thought about it long and hard. He would make a good stepfather. I obviously liked him very much. We could live in comfort in a nice neighbourhood. In the end, she turned him down, decided she just couldn’t do it, because, she said, “He bored me.”

At the time, when she said this, with both laughed. It wasn’t until she went home that evening, now that I was old enough to have a better idea of the struggle she’d had bringing me up on her own, that I realised quite how awe inspiring my mother was. How many women in her position at that time would have had the strength of character to turn down a meal ticket like that? Not many, I’m guessing. My mother, my strong, independent, uncompromising mother decided she’d rather be poor and alone than comfortable and bored. Wow.

I’m going to break with tradition today. Instead of writing a letter to my mother, I’m going to write about my mother.

Kathleen Mary Holmes (known as Kit or Kitty in her family) was the youngest of the seven children of Joe and Jane Holmes. Sixteen years before her arrival on the scene, her brother Joseph (Joe) was born, followed two years later by her brother William (Bill), followed at two year intervals by her sisters Jess and Elizabeth (Bess) and another brother, John (Jack). There was a seven  year interval (which doubtless included miscarriages) before the appearance of her brother Richard (Dick) and two years later Mum. (When a third daughter appeared, my granddad wanted to call her Theresa, so there’d be Jess, Bess and Tess. My grandmother put her foot down.) They were all born in the family home, an East London terraced house within the sound of Bow bells, so they were true, blue Cockneys (like me).

At some point when she was still very young, the family moved to Theydon Bois, an Essex village. Then the Great Depression happened. My granddad decided the family would be better off emigrating to Canada. So, with the exception of Bill (who’d used his elder brother’s birth certificate to join the army and was at that time serving in India), they all set sail. They ended up in Toronto, living in a house somewhere in Cabbagetown. Joe met a girl, got married and set up his own home. Jess went back to England to marry her Theydon Bois fiancé. Bess and Jack got jobs of some sort. Dick and Mum went to school and played. Six years after their arrival in Toronto, my granddad decided he missed decent pubs and his racing pigeons. Leaving Joe with his new wife, the family set sail again, ending up, not back in Theydon, but back in another terraced house in Dersingham Avenue.

There’d been no question of further schooling for my mum after their return. She was old enough to work and work she did as a shop assistant. The war, when it came soon after, as awful as it was, came as a relief. Suddenly there was the option to join the land army – the young women who poured out of cities to assist farmers, whose male help had all enlisted. (Probably glad to get away from their gruelling work on those farms.)

As soon as she turned eighteen and was old enough to enlist in the services, she did. Kit and her sister Bess discovered that, because they had lived in Canada for more than five years, they qualified to serve in the Canadian air force, which paid better than the RAF, so that’s what they joined. Both sisters hated their family nicknames, so they made a pact. Henceforth Bess would be known as Elizabeth and Kit would be known as Kay.


I seem to have run out of time before I have to leave for a doctor’s appointment and a rehearsal. Stay tuned.

For now, I’ll just say “Happy birthday, Mum.”

  1. Irmani permalink

    Really looking forward to hearing more about her. What a resourceful and interesting woman – you can see where you get it from!

  2. Donna permalink

    I’m with Irmani…looking forward to hearing more about your mum. I would have liked her, I’m sure 🙂

  3. krysross permalink

    At long last! And yes, I want to hear more.

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