While I was on a writing course in 2013 I wrote this composition as a piece of coursework. At the time I had not written a great deal about adoption and so this was a lovely thing to write about. Today I want to post a happy post because the last few have been painful. Here is the story of a meeting that happened in 2004:
It was sunny outside, on what could have been a lazy August afternoon. I paced across the lounge, again, and then sat heavily on the edge of the sofa.
“It’s three o’clock! Where are they?” I shout at no-one in particular. Dan is in the garden, impatient with my impatience, and I can see out the patio doors that he is carefully deadheading the purple Cosmos, engrossed and, for the moment, not concerned that his wife is losing the plot in the lounge.
“Where are they?” I wail.
The phone in the hall starts to ring. I rush to pick it up and I hear Anja’s voice.
“Hi Roz, you OK?”
I think for a moment; yes, I am still breathing, albeit a little heavily.
“Hi, yes, just here, waiting. Where have you been?”
Anja laughs down the phone “Well, Margaret just had to have her hair done and Ron wanted to come the scenic route, so a little difficulty in the setting off time we had talked about!”
I picture the scenic route from North Yorkshire to Oxfordshire and silently I am thankful that they arrived here today at all. Their friend Anja, enjoying her role as go-between, has been tasked with transporting them to our meeting, and for the several months that passed while the arrangements for today were finalised, she and I have been in regular contact. I am, as ever, grateful for her help and support today.
Out-loud I say “Where are you?”
“We are in a street by the church. I think that pub you suggested we meet in, that’s along here somewhere, isn’t it?”
I am so busy with the details of the practical arrangements that it isn’t until I put the phone down and turn towards the door to the garden that I remember. Then I have to sit down on the stool at the kitchen bench. I am drenched in fear and anticipation and excitement, all mingling in my body; I can feel tingling and my heart pounds, blood gushing round my cells. I find myself stumbling towards the back door where I meet Dan coming in from the garden. He puts his arms round me and meets my eyes with an inquisitive gaze.
“They are here,” I whisper…
So, finally “The Moment” has arrived, and now I find I am not prepared at all; I need to change, again, and go to the toilet, again. Eventually, I appear from upstairs and am pacing once more, this time up and down the hall.
“Come on, let’s go,” Dan says calmly, as always.
The pub I have chosen for the meeting is completely the other end of town from our house. I rue this as we tramp along the busy shopping streets in the blazing sunshine and hazy air of the centre of Witney. I think I am silent but my head buzzes and adrenaline makes colours vivid and my step broader. By now it is 4pm; we are approaching The Green by the parish church where the sunshine has enticed people to collect outside the pub. As Dan and I walk together along the shaded pavement beside this open grassy space I see the tables in the sun are busy. I am searching for faces I have only ever seen in photographs; further ahead of us I spy the group we are to meet. I see a woman’s head whip round in response to a girl’s nod in our direction. Short, newly cut, copper coloured hair on this woman is striking, and is my first and (as I can now say) lasting impression of Margaret.
I am moving towards the group, fixated on Margaret. She is about my height (five and a half foot), and I recognise the stocky build I have been fighting with all my adult life. She is dressed casually in blue jeans, and a jumper the same colour as her hair; I am burning on this hot August day, she is not, being the daughter of an Australian expat, who grew up in the tropics of Papua New Guinea.
As I approach the table I hear Margaret’s laugh, and the three people round the table stand up. She and I lock eyes of cornflower blue, and immediately I am drawn into a short but definite hug. “Long time no see!” I say over her shoulder as we are momentarily held together by the embrace. She laughs again, and I feel my shoulders drop, relaxing a little into the meeting now the ice is broken.
Dan is greeted by the man. “Hi, I’m Ron” he says in his wonderful antipodean accent, and with what I know now is a customary familiar and friendly warmth. They shake hands.
“Champagne! Do you like champagne?” Ron asks me, once the men have settled their welcome. “Margaret, would you like champagne?”
Not really waiting for answers Ron walks purposefully to towards the bar. Anja is watching us as she sits back down, smiling, and I reach for a chair, feeling a little dizzy again. Margaret and I sit and look at each other; this is how mother and daughter meet after 36 years apart following my adoption at 7 weeks old, when Margaret was only 19.
Once champagne is served and Ron re-joins the group, he and Dan strike up a conversation. I stand to take a candid photo of the gathered clan and Ron looks up at me. His eyes open wide, seemingly startled.
“She looks just like our daughter, Jeanette!” Ron exclaims.
He is not my dad (but I do wish he was!), nevertheless he can see the family resemblance. They all agree; I do indeed resemble my half-sister. Up until this point I have merely seen photographs of my three half-siblings sent over the internet from Australia, and they, in turn, have seen a few carefully selected ones of me. I guess it is only in the flesh that the comparisons become striking.
As I look back to this reunion, over eight years ago now, I am unsure really what we talked about but the conversation continued as we all began the impossible task of trying to recover the missing years. I do recall that the next few hours passed in a blur as we drank champagne and got warm and relaxed in that late afternoon August sunshine.
I often look back on the photographs of those precious moments; they are vivid with smiles and bright celebrations. One of my favourites shows me sat next to Margaret, we are both looking happy, laughter not far away, but, just in the corner of the shot, you can see Ron’s hand in hers, comforting, reassuringly steady.
As the years have passed since that first reunion meeting I have found out more about my Australian family and been over to visit them in their New South Wales homes. My younger sister, Linden, and brother, Markham, have both visited me in the UK and been great hosts on the Australian tours. During my first visit to Australia Jeanette invited me to be a bridesmaid at her wedding, even though she had never met me personally. When asked about this she explained that as I was her sister, and mum had met me and liked me then that was good enough for her.
Just after this wedding I was due to travel home, and Margaret and Ron took me to the airport. Goodbyes are tough for me and I was dreading this one. After a long lunch at the airport, spotting planes for Ron and the obligatory glass of champagne for Margaret and me, we were walking to the gates. She veered off and disappeared out of view into a card shop. Ron, impatient with his wife, huffed and paced; I had a plane to catch!
He had walked ahead by the time she appeared. She handed me a small package, laughing, but with tears in her eyes. I looked inquisitively at her, she said “Show Ron, so he knows what all the fuss is about.” I opened the bag; inside was a pretty stone fridge magnet decorated with purple flowers that reminded me of those Cosmos. On it were the words “Always my daughter, now too my friend”. We knew then what the fuss was about.