I think about what my mother wears
framed on my sideboard in sepia
finished in silk satin.
Her sweetheart neckline and smile
pinned by a lens and last-minute alterations.
She grips her airman’s arm, their smiles frozen.
They forget his silk —
remnants of a crew. Only confetti flies now,
their dreams as borrowed her dress and
his de-mob suit.
My parents married in 1948 in the historical flush of post war weddings. On the day of their engagement, in 1947, just before he proposed, my mother asked him ‘where’s your uniform then?’ It was one of her more unsubtle moments, but we can forgive her because she was only nineteen and I have no doubt that they were in love, like all the post war couples. Like them I suspect my parents wanted to get back to normal. From a female perspective I was shocked when a history professor told me that ‘all people wanted to do post-war was get back to normal.’ And I was surprised by this. Then I underestimated the effects of traumas such as the Blitz of 1942, Combat in Bomber command and incarceration as a POW. I remember mum telling me that dad was full of antics when he was first de mobbed. There is a story of him astride a one of the lions in Trafalgar Square on VJ night. I can remember being puzzled but as mum pointed out, ‘You can’t incarcerate young men for years at a time and not expect them to let off steam.’. However, I was to discover his story was far more complex.
An Easter Wedding.
There is a photograph of my mother arriving at Llansamlet church. She beams down at the camera. Behind her a young girl, partly hidden by my mother, gazes at her silk brocade dress. Is she a relative or an onlooker? The latter is more likely as weddings in Llansamlet, judging by the photographs we have, were a community past time. A Saturday chance to get out and gaze at or criticize the peoples best finery and ‘doings’. Whoever this young girl is – she looks about twelve or thirteen – her hair is parted on the left side and held back by a comb or a slide. My aunt could in time identify her, but I am unequal to reaching back and grasping at names and faces to find a match. The girl’s coat looks like a thin tweed but the trees in the background of the photograph are bare. Stripped ready for spring. The weather is sunny and dry and unseasonably warm. My mother’s veil is held back by a coronet of artificial silk (I hope) flowers and her face is framed by black pin-curls, caught in the back in a roll on her neck – I think. My mother continues to smile at the camera so that seventy-one years later, her face is remains lit by sunlight. Flecks of silk in a feather pattern absorb the light showing the pattern of her dress while the leg of mutton sleeves are stiff. The sleeves are pointed and buttoned with a row of tiny silk button. My grandmother‘s amethyst pendant hangs slightly awry in the bustle and flurry of getting to the church, and the sweetheart neckline that frames it is just slightly too large for my mother. Perhaps she lost weight. It could be because the dress is borrowed. My mother is slender in the dress which clings to her form. My grandfather, who has the same look and gait as my brother, holds her train and veil in his hand – perhaps to protect it from the damp gravel outside the church. But his body is turned protectively towards my mother on his left. He smiles, peering through his spectacles at the church steps they have to negotiate. Three house keys dangle from his pocket.
In the group photographs my father and mother stand on the church steps, a primitive kind of photoshopping so that neither is dwarfed by the best man, John Gould, and Maureen who is one of the bridesmaids. Esther, dad’s youngest sister looks shy. She looks like my grandmother. Her head tilts downwards and her dark eyed gaze is shy. Glenys dad’s other sister resembles Gloria Gaynor. Perhaps it is this coupledwith her age that makes her smile confident. The bridal couple smiles. But no matter how much I gaze at the photograph these are parents that I do not recognize. My mother will not be twenty-one for another month. she leans into my father slightly who is holding pair of grey gloves between his hands while she clasps his arm. His fringe flopscaught in the sunshine and the breeze that sweeps my mother’s bridal gown sideways in a solo bridal shot. The camera was not fully straight, as the frame of the photograph tilts leftward. Perhaps they are all leaning towards my father glad to have him home safe. Previously, the only emotion I glimpsed were happiness and joy. But on a closer look at dad there are signs of strain. He smiles but the smile is shy, and he looks slighter. His face is heart shaped and his dimples are clearly defined. Holding his gloves closes him and mum off in a bridal loop of their own making. They all look impossibly young in the warm sunlight but there is a look of vulnerability in the two men pitched as they were into combat. I don’t know what happened to John Gould – he was dad’s best man and best friend growing up. I think they were in the RAF together. Dad also had a close friend called Smithy. I don’t know what happened to him or how they were best friends either. There is still so much I don’t know about my father that I can do is fill in the narrative gaps with fantasies that are close to the truth as I can make them.