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A photograph of my mother

Bookends theme’ is a song by Simon and Garfunkel. When I first heard it I was surprised that it was so short; I was used to songs that lasted for around 3 minutes and although all the old rules were rapidly changing I still hadn’t expected the song to last for little more than one minute. But when I listened to the words I realised that no more time was needed:

Time it was, and what a time it was, it was a time of innocence, a time of confidences. Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph … Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.

Years have passed since I first heard the words of the song.  Since then both my parents have died. I found it easy to speak at my father’s funeral. But it was far more difficult when I came to say ‘goodbye’ to my mother. She was born in Teplitz – a town which is now in the Czech Republic. Her father was English but her mother was part Polish, part Austrian. Her first language was German and she lived happily near to the beautiful river Elbe for the first 15 years of her life. Then, in the late summer of 1939 she and her family took a holiday in Denmark. Whilst on holiday war between Britain and Germany was declared and the family was unable to return to their home in the Sudetenland. They became refugees. They lost everything. They found refuge in England.

But the story did not have a happy ending. Of course, because my mother spoke German she suffered at the hands of her new schoolmates in England. I don’t think she ever recovered from this. She was doubly traumatised: First she was torn away from her family home; and second, she had to try and conceal her identity lest she be bullied and ostracised by her peers in London.

She very rarely spoke of her childhood or her life history. And partly because of this I felt that I never really knew her. In time I came to think of my mother as a strange character lifted from the pages of Alice in Wonderland. Then, a year after her unhappy death, I retrieved some old photographs: amongst them were those of my mother – some of her in her childhood – and then as a young woman – and then again as a young mother.

Now, ‘I have a photograph’ from which I can re-construct a different picture of her. The photograph was taken in the early 1920s. I think it a beautiful picture and I think she looks delightful.

Mama Teplitz Czechoslovakia

Mama – as a young girl – in Teplitz, Czechoslovakia

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