My dad fell in love with my mum’s freckles.
Apparently they first met on a bus. I’m not sure exactly what year that was but it was in the late 1940s, a little after the end of the second world war. He was shy and intellectual and from a rather eccentric, affluent family. His father was a secret Communist supporter and a chess champion, his mother an aspiring opera singer who dyed her hair. They lived in a big, rambling house with multi-coloured glass panes in the windows. Later the house also became home to my grandmother’s cats, all fourteen of them. The family kept themselves to themselves.
My mum was the opposite. She was gregarious, artistic and her roots were working class. Her dad was a carpenter and then ran a hardware shop. Salt-of-the-earth types.
My dad always liked driving and was good at it – while they were courting (there is no other word that would sound right for those times) he had a motorbike, and they travelled around the coast and down to Cornwall on it with my mum riding pillion. It sounds so free and so exciting. I like to think of them like that, my mum with the wind in her long curly hair, finding poetry in the changing landscape, my dad letting go of his inhibitions, youthful and adventurous. My mum recorded in pencil some of the places they saw on their travels, like this one, drawn on an envelope.
Birling Gap 18.9.53
They were happy at first and it’s a shame it didn’t work out for them in the long term but at least by the time they divorced they’d had my sister, my brother (who was severely brain-damaged during birth and died when he was six) and finally me. As a stroppy young teenager, I hated my dad when I first heard that he’d met another woman. The irony was that, in an attempt to rekindle his adventurous spirit and thus improve their less-than-happy marriage, my mum had bought him a series of gliding lessons as a special birthday present. Must’ve been his 50th. He did indeed rediscover his thrill-seeking side, and learned how to glide, the very thought of which makes me feel giddy. And he met someone on the course. She had freckles as well. He continued with the gliding sessions for some while after, even though it meant travelling down to Gloucestershire some weekends and staying over, plus the cost of the extra lessons. I remember how cheerful he used to be when he got back home, though - so much easier to be around, so reinvigorated. “It’s doing him the world of good,” my mum would say. You know, I never even questioned the long auburn hairs I once noticed on the back of the passenger seat of the car.
Anyway, the relationship with the long auburn-haired woman worked out and after it all came out followed by the painful process of divorce, he moved in with and stayed with her until her death twenty years later. Of course I forgive and understand him now. These things happen. My parents’ marriage hadn’t been good for many years and I used to lie in bed and hear them argue long into the night through the thin wall dividing my bedroom and theirs. It was better when they were apart.
My dad is still around, still living in Gloucestershire in fact, but with his new wife, who doesn’t have freckles or long auburn hair. I don’t have much contact with him, not that there has ever been any acrimony or problem, just that we don’t have a lot to say to each other. I do still love him though in a detached, distant but innate kind of way, and I know I’m very much his daughter in more ways than just biological, if you see what I mean, as there are certain things about him that I recognise in myself. He’s in his 80s now and I don’t know how I’m going to feel when he dies. My mum – well, it’s coming up to the 14th anniversary of her death right now. Not that I want to make a big deal out of these things, it really is just another date on the calendar and the day itself will pass me by without too much thought. Although, there is a certain kind of typical Spring morning that will always be reminiscent of the one on which she died, which was sunny and yellow and completely surreal.
I loved her freckles too.