By Michal Reiben
One evening as I’m laying on my bed, reading, the phone on my bed-side table rings. I pick up the receiver, “Hello.”
“Anna?” inquires a woman’s voice.
“Yes,” I reply nervously, for a strange voice usually signifies some sort of nuisance-call.
“I’m your sister Imogen,” explains the lady at the other end of the line.
“Is this some sort of practical joke?” I ask.
“Honestly, it’s not, I’m Mae’s daughter, your mother Mae.”
“My mother, where is she?” I ask, for a moment I’m optimistic that I might finally meet my birth-mother.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you she died two years ago of breast cancer.”
I feel engulfed by grief for the mother I can’t remember. Also, I feel cheated for I’ve missed being able to meet her by only two years!
After swallowing my disappointment I say, “That’s so sad, it must have been awful for her,”
“Yes, it was rather….but why don’t you ask me some questions, because I don’t know where to begin to tell you things?” urges Imogen.
“Do you have siblings?”
“I’ve got a younger sister Jodi”’
“Did our mother have any family, brothers or sisters?”
“They were eleven children in all…listen I’ll write to you and give you lots more information,” says Imogen.
“Yes, of course”
“I’d just like to ask you one more thing before we hang up: do you have any children?”
“Yes, I’ve got two teenage boys.”
“Oh, that’s lovely; Mum would have loved to have known she had grandchildren…Bye,” says Imogen and rings off.
As I replace the earpiece into its cradle my head begins to swirl in a mist and I think I might faint so I rest my head down on my pillow. I am going through conflicting sensations of surprise, shock, sadness, but mainly happiness as if a beam of light is shining into my soul, all at the same time. I feel as if I’ve been waiting for that phone call all my entire life! On the one hand, I am grateful for at long last receiving news about my birth mother, but on the other hand, I am bitterly disappointed she is dead.
Also, it’s amazing to me that my mother had had ten siblings. In the past, I had never managed to glean any information about my mother from either my father or my grandparents. They had simply claimed,”‘she’s an evil woman from the North, who abandoned you as a baby.”
As a child, I had been lonely. Now I feel peeved I’d been deprived of so many aunts, uncles, cousins.
The room around me seems strangely bright and circular as if its corners have disappeared. Each time I try to lift my head, it begins to spin.
I lay on my bed motionless for a long time, smiling contentedly to myself. I feel so grateful. I want to share my wonderful news with a friend, or even my sons, yet I know no-one will understand the importance of that phone-call to me.
In the coming days, I wait in anxious anticipation for Imogen’s letter to arrive, I’m constantly afraid she might have changed her mind. I needn’t have worried, two weeks later I am overjoyed when a letter finally arrives.
London, February 1987
This is a somewhat bizarre letter to write. I was aware I had an older sister but I never dreamt I’d be able to find you. I’m not quite certain where to begin? Perhaps I should tell you a little bit about our Mum and later you can ask me about anything I may have left out. Mum was born in Barnsley; her parents died when she was six years old, at which point she was taken in by an aunt and raised in York. After she and your father split up, she went on to marry Teddy Shepherd. I was born soon after, and six years later my sister Jodi came along.
Mum worked as a secretary. In the evenings she took piano lessons, for it had always been a dream of hers. Sometimes she’d play and accompany my father, who had a fine singing voice. Every Friday she’d cook a family meal, which consisted of chicken and Yorkshire pudding.
I only discovered I had an older sister when I was eleven years old. I found a picture of you hidden under the clothes in one of Mum’s drawers. When I asked her who the girl in the picture was, she told me about your existence. As long as she was alive she wouldn’t let me search for you; she said you lived with your father and she didn’t want to disrupt your life. After her death, I went through her papers many times searching for a clue as to your whereabouts. However, it wasn’t until the other day that I came across a scrap of paper on which your name, address, and telephone number were written. When I called the number, the present occupants of your London house informed me that you had moved to Israel, but luckily they were able to give me your father’s telephone number over there.
I am a vocalist. I would love to have a photograph of you and your family. Please send me one and I will organize photographs to send to you.
I hope I have assured you that this isn’t a hoax!
Please write soon.
Much love, your sister Imogen.
Upon traveling over to Israel to visit me. I am delighted to discover my sister is not only pretty and blond but also sweet-natured. In appearance, we look like sisters, and I am thrilled that at long last I resemble someone else.
Although my mother is no longer alive, I’m curious to know what sort of woman she’d been and what kind of life she’d led. Had she been the awful mother and person my family had painted her to be? And crucially, why had she abandoned me as a baby? Through the pieces of information gathered from Imogen, as well as from other members of my mother’s family, I am more or less able to slowly reassemble the story of her life. I discover she’d been a good mother to me, and that she’d truly loved me. Her only ‘crime’ had been to occasionally leave me alone at home in the evenings when she’d gone out dancing, during the time my father had been enlisted and serving overseas. This had made my father angry, he’d abducted me when on leave and taken me to live with his parents. Each piece of information is enormously interesting to me. With every new detail I learn about my mother and her family, I feel as if I am sprouting another little root. Every human being needs to know their roots, where they originate from. As a result of this knowledge, I’ve become a much happier, sturdier person. Growing up without a mother, I’d been lost. I now feel blessed for I’ve been able to find my sense of closure.
Imogen says, “If our mother is watching us from heaven, she’ll be thrilled to see we’ve found each other!”
I answer, “Yes I’m sure she is!”