“Write about the man who kissed your mother” … You’re kidding me, right?
I mean – all of us kids know Dad kissed Mum – but that isn’t the brief, is it? Or would you really give a starter so simplistic! I could write for days about Dad, that’s no challenge.
So if it’s to be a challenge, then it’s Jimmy we’re talkin’ about. Who is he? Well I can’t recall how to spell his surname, but it was sort of Polish, Liewyschk or something like that. (Hell, it’s thirty-five years since I saw his photograph for the last time. It was as we were clearing Mum’s house after her funeral had been and gone and we’d scattered her ashes.)
I’d first spotted his sepia toned photograph at about age nine or so. Jimmy’s name was signed on the back of it. He was in a U.S. uniform, wearing one of those flat caps on the side of his head. Handsome, too.
My elder sister and I asked who’s the man in the photo, Mum? She ordered us to put it back inside her jewellery box where we’d found it. She never talked about him – never.
As we worked on sorting her bits ‘n’ pieces after she’d died, we came to the jewellery box. And there was Jimmy’s photo – still. I was the only one who wanted to keep it. My brother and sisters talked me into throwing it out as meaningless.
On the second day of de-cluttering, the junk from the day before having already gone to the burner, we found Mum & Dad’s Wedding Certificate. It showed that our eldest sister had been nearly two, and Mum was five months pregnant with me, when they’d married.
Big sister was highly upset. Was Dad really her father? And how could Mum have packed me out of town in secrecy when I had been pregnant and unmarried at age nineteen; my brother and both sisters now thought Mum had been hypocritical and harsh. I felt the same too.
Later, I remembered how when we’d been younger, I’d noticed that Jimmy had a chin dimple like big sister. When I showed her, she’d rubbished the idea.
I started noticing jigsaw puzzle pieces of information from the time.
Mum had been a teacher, trained in Wellington and Ardmore Teachers’ Colleges.
She’d told us how young teaching students were invited to attend dances held to entertain American soldiers in NZ for R & R.
And I knew that an unmarried pregnant teacher was allocated to isolated rural schools to finish their bonded service.
Had Mum been sent pregnant to the Waikato area where Dad was working as a farm worker, later as a share-milker? Or was she in Waikato when she met Dad and became pregnant?
Nowadays, how I wish I’d insisted on keeping Jimmy’s photo. I’d like to do a trace for him, and satisfy or wipe away my suspicion about why Mum kept his photograph all those years.