I visited a small village in Staffordshire one evening last week. The weather was bitterly cold and the SatNav took me round the houses into flooded country lanes. But despite the freezing temperatures, the welcome was warm. I gave my Are You Averill? talk to a group of about fifteen ladies who I thought were a little unresponsive in that they didn’t laugh in the usual places. No giggling at the mention of Polish ears or at an anecdote of a Polish airman whose memoir I had read where the powers that be encouraged the Poles to fraternise with British women during the war in order to improve their English. Yes, well! However, it did occur to me as I was speaking that they were very quiet. No chatting on the back row. Always a good sign.
Afterwards almost all came to see my pictures and exclaim how my younger son resembled my Polish father. One lady examined the photo of my grandmother and decided I had a look of her. She sits stiffly in a chair in a large brimmed hat but the lady could see something of a likeness. When everyone had moved away to collect a cup of tea a lady told me her story. She had adopted her two children, both in their forties now. Her son had been fostered by her and her husband from an early age and at age three they were able to adopt him. Throughout that time they had been in regular contact with the boy’s birth mother and developed a relationship with her. When they eventually adopted the child the mother no longer contacted them. She would have liked to maintain the contact as she thinks her son would have appreciated getting to know his birth mother. But no. He is content not to know. Her daughter is a different case altogether. She was a foundling left on a bus in London. There is no opportunity to ever trace her birth family and the daughter continues to wonder about her origins. The lady had heard Kate Adie speak at a Staffordshire Federation meeting one time and asked me if I had read her book. I haven’t read her book about her adoption, The Kindness of Strangers, but had been moved by her story of the fate of foundlings in Nobody’s Child. I was reading this shortly before I started to write my own account of my search. We have to be content with our lives no matter what life throws at us but I had sympathy with the lady as she was sad her children either didn’t want to or couldn’t discover their origins.