Marjorie Too Afraid to Cry: A Home Child Experience by Patricia Skidmore
Patricia Skidmore’s book, Marjorie Too Afraid to Cry: A Home Child Experience was published by Dundurn Press this month. A talented writer, Patricia draws the reader into her mother Marjorie’s life and into her own life. Through Marjorie’s story the reader sees the devastating effect that exile has on children. Few will be able to attend one of Patricia’s readings so she has kindly offered us the following two excerpts from her book. As you sip your tea/coffee, imagine this author’s voice as she reads.
The following is from the opening of Chapter 1, Butterflies Prevail
Emotions hung heavy, like late fall fruit dangling precariously in a forgotten orchard. Faces open, fearful, waiting; cheeks glistening with the ancient tears of pain held for years. For some, this pain was the only connection to their past.
Sixty-five or so men and women had been brought to London — back to their land of birth. They had waited a long time for this moment — their moment. Dressed in their town clothes, they mixed and mingled, nervously sharing bits of their stories. I, too, was there, having accompanied my mother to England.
“I was five, but my papers said I was three, and they changed my name. It made it hard to find my way back, you know.” One woman offered me this bit of information.
“Yes, I can only imagine.” I wanted to provide more, but what could I give? Besides, the woman had already moved away. It was an apology she was looking for, not my attention.
“They sent me to Australia and my brother to Canada. That wasn’t right you know, to split us up like that.” The man wore his uneasiness like a shield. “I had no one,” he muttered as he too walked away.
“I know. It happened too many times,” I replied after him.
I walked by an elderly man, cradling a framed photograph, his face lined with a record of a life long-lived. “It’s me mum,” he told me, pushing back a tear. “It took me twenty years to find her, and I only saw her just the once before she passed. Just the once.”
I found it difficult to know what to say. Others talked to me, but only in passing while they paced about. Wandering, waiting, wondering. Would they finally find what they were looking for? The room seemed crowded, but this group represented just a tiny portion of the whole number of children and families affected by Britain’s 350-year policy of migrating children to the colonies. Even though I knew better, I still found it difficult to believe that, at fifty-nine, I was older than some.
I kept my eye on my mother. Marjorie looked regal in her burgundy brocade jacket. Patient. She had been waiting for seventy-three of her eighty-three years for this moment. Nervous, stomach full of butterflies. Of this present group, it was just her and one other Canadian child migrant, along with three offspring and two spouses, invited to represent the more than 110,000 or so child migrants who had been shipped to Canada between 1833 and 1948.
This excerpt is from Chapter 10, Leaving Liverpool. This comes after Marjorie witnesses a mother’s unsuccessful attempt to prevent her daughter from leaving.
Marjorie reached the boat deck, but, instead of finding her group, walked towards the bow, put her suitcase down, and stood as if glued at the railing. The little girl’s mother yelled out her daughter’s name one last time, then a strange quietness enveloped her. Marjorie kept her eyes on the dock, fascinated by the slumped figure. There were people everywhere, waving on the docks, climbing the plank, pushing carts, but to Marjorie there were only two — herself and the woman whose grief seemed to match her own.
Marjorie sat on her suitcase, and stayed by the railing for a long time, just watching. The last of the travellers arrived and seamen hauled the gangplank aboard, but the mother didn’t move. Men on the dock untied the huge lines, while others pulled the ropes aboard, dripping with water, and coiled them neatly on the deck. Marjorie stayed, spellbound by the mother’s misery.
Did her own mum miss her? She had not seen or heard from her since she left Whitley Bay. Did her mum know what was happening? No! How could she know? She would not have sent them away if she knew they were going to take them to Canada. Still, it was Joyce and Audrey that she needed the most right now. She was used to being away from her mum. It was not fair that they allowed Joyce to stay to stay in England. But they said that Audrey would come to Canada one day. Joyce would probably get to go back home. As quickly as they surfaced, she forced her memories out of her mind. She had to. It was fast becoming her survival mechanism. She had to forget. Remembering hurt too much. Marjorie stood up and leaned over the railing and imagined her tears dripping into the water. Maybe they would reach the beach at Whitley Bay.
Visit Patricia Skidmore’s website at patriciaskidmore.com
Carolyn Wilker at Storygal has given The Promise of Home the Liebster Award because she loves that we’re telling the stories of child immigrants. Carolyn wrote about Joe Tomes a while ago. If you missed that humorous little story, you can read it here.