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Don’s story: Part Two

  • Posted on December 17, 2014

I ended the first part of Don’s story about to board a plane for a three-week trip to the UK. Because we did not know how the first meeting would go, we decided to have a little holiday first. We did this because we were a little apprehensive about the visit and and afraid that, if the meeting didn’t go well, we’d spend the last two and a half weeks of our trip feeling somewhat deflated. By this time Donald and Joan had swapped phone numbers so as we travelled through Ireland, Scotland and the north of England catching up with old friends and family they were in constant touch with each other and the the excitement was mounting slowly.

We decided to stay with very dear friends in York and visit Donald’s mother from there it would be about an hours drive to a little village just outside Sheffield. We knew that if things did not go well and we needed some moral support, we would get it from Margaret and Jim.

The big day arrived. We had all decided that the first meeting would be for a day only and that if things went well, we would return to England the following year so the plan was that Donald would drive down by himself to meet Joan on his own. I would catch a train down to Barnsley, where Donald would meet me with his mother at about lunch time.

Donald left early in the morning, at 6.30am to ensure that if the traffic was bad, he would not be late. It was obvious from the start that this meeting was going to be on Joan’s terms. She was in charge and she was not going to give an inch! The day was going to be run like a top secret operation, clouded in secrecy and far from prying eyes. Joan was living with her terminally ill sister and was pertried that she would find out about the meeting, fearing that bringing back this dificult past might make things harder at home.
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Donald’s first instruction was to wait at a bus stop on the outskirts of the village; he was not allowed to get anywhere close to the house. Joan had arranged for somebody to look after her sister, on the pretext that she was going shopping in Sheffield for the day.

As always, Donald was early and spent an anxious twenty minutes sitting in the car looking at everybody approaching the bus stop through his rear view mirror. He wondered if he wanted any one of the ladies going past to be his mother.

Spot on time, there was a knock on the passenger window and Joan got into the car, no warm hugs or kisses, just a typical Yorkshire hello and a muted how are you and a demand to start driving away as quickly as possible. Joan chose a little village a good couple of miles away to stop for coffee and breakfast. During the drive Donald wanted to ask questions and really wanted to find out everything about his past as quickly as possible. Joan was more interested in commenting on his driving, pointing out the scenery and talking about the weather.

On arrival at the first stop Joan said that before getting out of the car she wanted to say a few things. She started by saying that the whole day was going to be her treat and that she would not accept anything from anybody else, tough Yorkshire pride. This was followed by the presentation of an envelope containing four hundred and fifty pounds with an explanation that it was a belated wedding present since she had not been at our wedding.. Donald was also presented with a beautiful cut glass vase, which was a family heirloom, with strict instructions that he “bloody well, better look after it”. As the day progressed it became apparent that Joan was both knowledgeable on and a great collector of antiques.

Finally they got out of the car and sat down for a coffee and a chat. Donald was very keen to find out what the boundaries on questions were and went straight for the jugular early on and asked Joan what she could tell him about his father. Not a good question as the answer came back, “he never knew about you and you will never know about him, but don’t worry he is dead anyway.” To this day, she still does not know that we found Donald’s father and that he was with him the day he died, but we will get into that chapter sometime in the future.

After coffee they headed for Barnsley to collect me. Besides more scenery and weather chat Donald did find out that Joan had been engaged and had followed her fiancé to Scotland only to find out that he had another woman. Joan returned to Sheffield, had a one night fling, followed nine months later by Donald’s birth in a home for unmarried mothers in the Lake District where she had been sent in disgrace by her family, not easy for a woman in her late forties.

The rest of the day flew past, but Donald did say afterwards that Joan was a lot more relaxed after they had picked me up and that she could talk about more normal things and not their situation. We went on a tour of Bakewell, antique and book shops and a garden centre, but with Joan always remaining in charge. Then it was time to take Joan home with the same procedure being followed, nowhere near the house same bus stop and no soppy sentimental farewells, only promises from both of them to stay in touch, with an agreement that we would see her again the next year. It was a strange drive back to York with Donald questioning wether he had done the right thing and was it really worth all the stress and worry.

In the next chapter I will tell you about further visits to the UK and how the relationship slowly broke down, which led to our search for his father and how the British Adoption Department came into play.

Heather McAlister is a genealogist and an Archival Platform correspondent based in Clanwilliam.

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