A few years ago when visiting my family in Denmark, my Grandma gave me a huge bundle of letters, letters that my Mum had written to her parents. They spanned the entire time she lived in the UK, from the early 1960’s to 1987, the year she died. I was incredibly grateful and excited and just amazed really to see these piles of envelopes all containing my Mum’s neat, cursive handwriting, all in Danish. I suddenly had a window into a life that I really didn’t know much about. My sister and I agreed that we would put them away and, one day, when we feel strong enough, we will sit down and read them together.
Having said that, as I was gathering them together, my eye alighted on the postmark on one letter – March 1973, the month and year of my birth. So I pulled the lined paper from the envelope and found it dated 8th March, Middlesex Hospital, Westminster, London. I was breathless to think that the day after I was born, she had written to her mother back in Denmark. After I stopped crying, I smiled and my heart lifted as I felt a sudden connection and closeness to her and to an event that I was obviously at the centre of but can’t recall her ever talking to me about.
The best thing about this letter, apart from the simple everyday, arguably mundane chitty chatty content, was the discovery that my name on the day after my birth was not my name!
Here is a little extract from the letter (badly translated by me I’m afraid).
It is now 27 hours since my baby was born and we are both doing very well…
We still haven’t chosen a name for the little one, but I’m pretty certain it’s going to be Gina, pronounced like ‘J’ in John, basically, ‘Djina’. We will see if she turns out to be as famous as Gina Lollobrigida. We are still thinking, so maybe it will change before we have to go and register the name.
It’s bizarre don’t you think? To try and imagine yourself but with a different name. Well, it’s impossible actually. Would my life have been different had I been Gina? Perhaps as my Mum suggested I might, I would have lived up to my glamorous namesake and become a famous actress/model/socialite! Would I feel different, would I have an alternative sense of ME? I was amazed that I had never known this before.
I suspect Gina was one of her favourites, but perhaps my Dad had not paid it much attention preferring something else. I can understand it now having had these conversations with my partner about our own childrens’ names. Had I been writing to my Mum about my babies, I might well have mentioned several names that never eventually made the cut! You know the conversations where you suggest a name that you love and your partner says it sounds like a dog’s name? Or the name that you have been obsessed with for years that turns out to be your partner’s ex-girlfriend or someone they didn’t like at school.
On reflection, it was probably just a passing moment for my Mum and Dad as they settled eventually on a different name. We all forget things that at the time seem to be so vitally important. But she captured that moment and that thought forever in writing and left it there for me to discover 43 years later
Whatever my name was at the time of her writing this letter, reading her words, in her handwriting and being able to hear her voice through the words in her native language suddenly made me REAL and placed me firmly with her. That sounds strange doesn’t it? It’s hard to explain. Because she is not here, and it’s so long since she’s been here, I find it hard sometimes to accept that she ever was here. And those few years that she was with me are perhaps one of my elaborate daydreams that I indulge myself in from time to time!
That moment after you give birth, where a new mother is on her own with her new baby – the private words, looks, emotions that pass between them and that sadly her baby will never be able to recall, but those moments that create the eternal connection. Suddenly I felt these moments coursing through me like electricity. A part of me woke up, came to life, the realisation that I am still the daughter of a mother, I have been held and kissed and snuggled and had a random name whispered in my ear! I was suddenly transported to that moment with her. Was she looking into my scrunched up, angry face trying out the name, Gina, whispering it to me as she held me? At what point did she decide that it wasn’t right? What changed her mind? Time and memory are fickle things. It doesn’t really matter I guess. It saddened me that I couldn’t call my Mum, splutter and laugh down the phone as I cried, ‘Gina? Really? Why? How?’
Whatever, I have physical proof now that I was there and she was there too! Sounds mad, but it has brought a person back to life, it has placed me in history with a person who I wish I knew in 1973, but sadly didn’t know that I did. Now, thanks to this beautiful sheet of paper, I can imagine the conversation going on in her head, fitting the name to the new soul in front of her, forming the bond that will tie us together for all time.