Yesterday at midday I stood in front of the house where my mother was born. Through a large gate at the side I recognised the gabled roofs of the stables and barns of her grandfather's haulage firm. I tried to see my mother there, the way she balanced on a stone as a two year old.
Today it's all overgrown weeds, a couple of cars here and there, and in the main building, an empty shop front with for rent signs. I have vague memories of visiting the town as a child but never this building. It was sold long before I was born.
My mother was happy here. I know that. In the stories she told us about her grandfather, he was a dashing hero lifting her up onto his horse and setting off in a wild gallop through the estate.
I know there are other stories, too. Of too much drink and rowdy scenes and of course, the war. Always the war.
On the motorway, I was trying to explain all this to R who was having fun driving without speed limits. I think it came across all sentimental and hollywoodish anyway. Just then we drove under a bridge where someone had written in big white letters: Somebody loves you
(- how do they do this, hanging down from the railings in the darkest nights with a spray can writing upside down?).
Before we left I was up in the attic looking through the toxic box my sister passed on to me after my mother's death. I throw out some of it whenever I sift through. Last time, I threw away all the legal stuff, the threats and insults my parents exchanged over years via their lawyers, court orders to pay more, to hand back this or that, all water under the bridge. One day, the box will be just an innocent collection of faded photographs of people no one will remember.
And as it usually happens, I dipped into a couple of other boxes to find my balance again and I found a letter from my mother-in-law, which she had sent to me when my six months old baby girl had meningitis. It is one of the world's most beautiful letters and looking at the smudged ink where my tears had dropped onto the paper thirty odd years ago I had to cry again.
My own mother had not yet met her granddaughter and when a few weeks later, we arrived after that long hot drive across France and I held S out to her, she recoiled and quickly stepped backwards.
I will never understand it all.