In Which We Write Our First Letters

Introducing some starring roles from these letters:

Dean – my younger brother by three years

James – my even younger brother by ten years – he was an ‘accident’ but a wonderful one 😉

Nanny Annie – Mum’s Mum who at this time was sadly showing early signs of dementia

Grandad Fred – Mum’s Dad (he passed to spirit in July 1989, just after our wedding – I feel so lucky to have had both Grandparents there for our special day and to have shared a dance with my Grandad (the Anniversary Waltz) – he had been so ill, but at our wedding was absolutely full of life)

Pat – Mum’s work colleague and good friend

Aunt Peg – (never call her Aunt, she’ll get annoyed, but what a character!)

The Woolstones – the family we stayed with when we first arrived in Vancouver

Some points to note: Mum and Dad had been looking at a property in Yorkshire with a view to moving there and opening a bed and breakfast, which had been a dream of theirs for a few years now.  I think us moving away spurred them on and subsequently, they were putting their house up for sale.  

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Mum actually started her letter the night we left their house, Thursday 8th February 1990, and starts by acknowledging the goodbye card I wrote to them.

It has just occurred to me that this is the first time Mum’s letters and my letters have met in person, as they were always in separate places.  For me, this is a wonderfully significant moment which is hard to explain but it filled my heart with such emotion – Mum and daughter back together again!

These letters are so short compared to later ones, but I suppose at the time, we were desperate for communication from each other, thus wanted to post them off as soon as possible!

The first time our letters have met x

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And so … on with the letters … on with the memories x

Mum

 

Thursday 8th February 1990

Our Darling Joanne and Dearest Vince,

I will begin this letter with your letter to us.  I can’t begin to tell you how we felt when we read it, but then you probably have a good idea.  It is the most beautiful thing we have ever read and only you could have put it together.  You’ve put so much thought and love into it; we will treasure it forever.

Friday 9th February

I was not looking forward to going to work, but Dad told me to be brave, I could not look at my watch all morning.  Pat took me for a drink after work – cheered me up a little.  James is going to Dean’s for the weekend, so that will be good for both of them.  When Dad came back from work, we had a nice long talk about your lovely new life.  Dad’s got a lovely way of making everything sound alright.

Saturday 10th February

Went to Dartford, very boring without you to shop with. Saw Aunt Peg and had a long chat with her.  She is very pleased with the fridge/freezer you donated to her and thinks she’s very posh now.  Dad’s working all weekend, so when I came home from Dartford, I felt very lazy, so watched TV all afternoon till he came home.  We were just washing up from tea when the phone rang, Dad said it might be Joanne and Vince.  My heart jumped.  It was wonderful to hear your voice, you were so clear, it seemed you were not that far away from us, a sort of sad but happy feeling.  Was so pleased that Smokey was alright, bless his heart.  Watched Dave Allen on TV later and he made us laugh, wish he was on every night!

Sunday 11th February

Boring Sunday again.  Just cleaned brass on front door and now it is raining hard!  Used my new vacuum cleaner this morning, the suction was so strong, it picked up the tiles in the back hall.  I rang Nan.  She said she is alright just gets a bit sad when she thinks of both of you.  Dad had just had a funny turn as he can’t finish his crossword ha ha ha!

Monday 12th February

This is going to be a busy week for you both, getting things sorted out.  Vince might even be starting work this morning.  How big a breakfast is he eating?  Is Smokey eating alright?  What sort of cat food is it?  Hope it’s not bear meat!  Felt a bit better at work today but have to turn the radio off when something sad comes on.  Did a crown prep on the boss Mr Torry today and Angie kept making silly faces at me round the door to make me laugh, but I kept my cool.  Went to see Nan with Dad this afternoon, we told her that you rang on Saturday and she said, ‘where is she now then?’ We are keeping up your good work, we went to the bottle bank and Dad had a smashing time!  Watched a Survival Special on TV this evening about Scarlet Salmon breeding grounds in British Columbia.

Tuesday 13th February 1990

Went to see Rhona and Ted this afternoon.  Told Rhona you had been trying to ring her before you left for Canada.  She said that was very sweet of you to think of her and to give you both her love.   Mrs. Hilary, from Briar Dene, rang this evening and said she had not forgotten about us and would like us to have the Yorkshire cottage.  She said it’s snowing there now, and it looks very pretty.  She also said she has told everyone that I would like to contribute to the craft fair.  I thought ‘oh gawd’!

Wednesday 14th February 1990

I had the day off work today because it is Valentine’s Day and Dad took me to Rye for lunch, but we walked first from the harbour right to the end of the bird sanctuary and it was raining.   But we had our waterproofs on, so we quite enjoyed it.  Apart from our noses dripping, getting wet and cold on valentine’s day, that’s what I call true love.  Some bad news on TV tonight, interest rates to go up by 1%, so that’s going to make selling even harder, we can’t win, can we?  A little message from Dad now:

Hi Jo, who sent me a Valentine card, does Vince know?  It was a very nice surprise, good job you didn’t disguise your writing or Mum would be on my ear-hole saying, ‘who’s this other woman sending you a card?’  I had to buy a pound of homemade fudge in Rye to keep all the girls at the dentist quiet for taking Mum out for the day.  Good job Vince wasn’t here, he would probably have eaten half of it Haha!

Thursday 15th February 1990

One whole week gone by since we said goodbye.  It’s gone so fast.  Christmas is going to come very quick at this rate.  Good.  Went to see Aunt Peg today, she was pleased to see us.  Showed her the letter you gave to us, she said how beautiful it was.  I love showing it to certain people, because we are very proud of it.  She also said not to worry about you because you will both do well.  It was so good to hear your voice again Wednesday night and know everything is going well.  Can’t wait for your first letter to explain it all in detail.

Jo

 

Dear Mum & Dad & James,

10th February 1990

I miss you both (all) so much already.  I only hope it gets easier!  At least we’re going to be busy, so my mind will be occupied.  It was good to hear your voices on the phone today.  Although I cried, it’s nice to know that I can talk to you that easily when I want to.  It is exciting to see Vancouver again though.  The air is so fresh, and it’s been snowing, so everything looks really pretty.  I will take some pictures before the snow melts and send them to you.  I’ll also send you a photo of The Woolstones, so you know what they all look like.  The flight over on Wardair was very impressive.  We had china plates and proper cutlery and a lovely meal.  We had a mixed salad to start and then I had chicken Florentine and Vince had steak and then they bring round a sweet trolley, just like in a restaurant!  The film was Turner and Hooch, which was quite funny, and all on a proper TV screen with decent headphones!  When we arrived, everyone here was really pleased to see us.  Smokey is settling in well.  We are sleeping in the basement and there is a really big area for him to wander around in.  Today, Heather and George [Woolstone] drove us around to look at some open houses.  They were very impressive, but a bit beyond our price range.  We had lunch in Deep Cove (remember us telling you about it?).  They keep us well fed here and it’s warm.  We help ourselves to breakfast and lunch, they have one of those large American fridges which is filled to the brim with absolutely everything!

Vince and Carolynn in the snow!!! Plymouth Drive, North Vancouver

Our first Canadian home (the basement of The Woolstones’ house)

Sunday 11th February 1990

Today was probably the longest Sunday I can remember.  The time seems to go much more slowly here.  Because they have English guests, Heather and George decided to do a proper roast dinner, but can you believe it, they don’t know how to make roast potatoes.  So, I cooked them, and I think they were impressed!  Vince and I went out for a couple walks today and looked at some more open houses, they’re still a bit above our price range, but they were so wonderful.  I think we’ll have to move a little bit further out to start with, but that should be okay.

A typical dinner at The Woolstones, lots of friends!!

Monday 12th February 1990

Went to open a bank account, they gave us cheques, cheque card and cash card number on the spot.  It was amazing.  We also applied for our social insurance number so we can now look for jobs.  We had a quick look in the job centre today but saw nothing much.  Vince called the refrigeration engineer that Heather had found who was very helpful and will contact Vince in a few days.  Went to Lonsdale Quay and to Vancouver City Centre today which was fun.  It seems strange to see it again, but on the other hand it seemed perfectly normal.  The mountains looked lovely today.  It snowed in the night a little bit, so they have white peaks and you can even see the ski run clearly on Grouse Mountain. On the way back on the bus, there were lots of people with skis who had just been skiing for the day (can you believe that?!)

Tuesday 13th February 1990

Went into Lonsdale (Lower North Vancouver) to Rent-A-Wreck, a car-hire company that hires older cars, so it’s cheaper!  But they wouldn’t let us rent one until we have a credit card for a deposit!  Never mind – the weatherman says there’s more snow on the way, so maybe it’s just as well.  Tonight, we’re going to look at someone’s basement with a view to us renting it.  It’s self-contained, furnished and it’s in a good position.  The people are friends of Heather and George, so we’ll probably get it at a good price.  In any event, we’re welcome to stay where we are for a couple of weeks.

Well, I had better save some news for the next letter although I want to just keep writing as it makes me feel so close to you all.

First letter signature x

 

Well, I hope our first correspondences have piqued your interest and that you will enjoy reading future letters/blogs.  Until next time …

Love, Jo x

In Which We Leave The Country

We were booked to fly to Vancouver on 9th February, which was a Friday.  The previous day our bungalow in Swanley had been packed up by an overseas removal company and our belongings disappeared into boxes and packaging before our very eyes.  It was all so surreal.  The guys who were doing the packing stopped for so many tea breaks, I thought it would never get done, but they were obviously good at their job and indeed the packing was completed to schedule. It was funny really, one of them would say “well, I think it’s time for another cup of tea, Jo”!!  They saved space by stacking chairs, one upside down on top of the other, then using the space between the legs to stack boxes, a trick that we used in later years when moving ourselves.  I kept asking them to please be careful with this ornament, those glasses etc., but as far as I can remember, everything arrived at the other end in one piece.

Team from Trinifold Management, fantastic place to work.

I’d left my job, working in a music management company two weeks before departure for Vancouver (see photo of work friends from Trinifold, including my old boss, Bill Curbishley, Manager of The Who, just one of the artists/bands he looked after then). The days and hours that followed thereafter, were filled with visits to family and friends or people popping in to give us cards and gifts.  We had so many meals out and a continuous flow of people round for drinks. We rose early in the morning and never went to bed before midnight.  It was a whirlwind of emotions. There were many tearful goodbyes. I think we actually saw everyone we knew; no-one was left out.  I remember my best friend, Karen, who lived just a couple of roads away, coming round to give me a beautiful gold bracelet on the day our bungalow was being packed away.  I wore this with love on my travels.

I remember silly things like wearing the same pair of earrings every day because all my others were packed, and that the backs kept stabbing me every time someone hugged me. I had permanent red marks on my neck for a long time! Things like the stress of having to book our cat, Smokey, onto the same flight as us, and how he needed to have a special carrier box, with certain dimensions plus the correct health and travel documents for the journey.

Farewell Meal at Bull and Vic Restaurant with Canadian Cake. Left to right in bottom pic: George, Vince, Cynthia, Mum, Me, James, Dad.

A few days before departure, Mum and Dad took us for a beautiful meal at the Victoria and Bull Hotel in Dartford, ironically a place that we had never been to, even though it was on our doorstep, but it was posh and they wanted to take us somewhere special.  It was just close family, Mum, Dad, my brother James, Vince’s Mum Cynthia and her partner, George.  I cannot remember for the life of me what I had to eat that night.  I do remember that the restaurant made us a wonderful cake with red and white icing and the Canadian flag.  They also presented us with a Canadian one dollar bill for luck.  It still sits on our fridge today.I have always meant to get it framed!  Maybe now is the time to actually do that.

Our Canadian Dollar Bill from Bull and Victoria Restaurant

Thank you card.

I didn’t want to stay at Mum and Dad’s house the night before departure because saying farewell was going to be hard enough as it was. I left a card with them, saying thank you for absolutely everything in my whole life, and told them not to read it until I had gone.  Because the card had a little bunch of flowers on the front, I sprayed it with my perfume.  All these years, it has been kept in a glass display cabinet, until recently, when Dad brought it down for me.  Can you believe it, it still smells of perfume!  It is so hard to describe the feelings of saying goodbye and at this point, we did not know how long it would be until we saw each other again.  Mum and I were a mess, but we managed to laugh at ourselves through the tears.  These photos are precious, but not pretty!!  A lot of red eyes and sad faces.  Finally, as it came time to leave (prolonging it was making it worse), my Dad, bless him said to me “Go on, bugger off!” which made us all laugh.  As we drove away, I looked back and my Mum was at the end of the garden path, waving and waving until we were out of sight.  My heart broke.

Tears of Goodbye

We spent our last night in England at Cynthia’s (Vince’s Mum) house. We let Smokey out so he could have a sniff around and some freedom before his flight.  That night, he howled and howled, and we didn’t sleep at all.  He was echoing our stress and upset I think, and bless him, he didn’t know what was going on.  Once again, there was an emotional goodbye with Cynthia.  Vince is the youngest of six of her children.

We did not want family to take us to the airport as it would be far too difficult, and I may not have ever walked through the departure gate!  And so, early on the day of departure, our friends Ron and Chris, picked us up and came with us to the airport.  We thought this was a better plan as it wouldn’t be so upsetting (we were wrong, ha ha).

We checked Smokey Cat in and said goodbye to him while he was howling.  We felt so bad and so helpless; how could we explain to him that we would meet him at the other end and that he was going to be fine?  He would be on the same flight as us, but in the hold section of the plane.  We had a full English breakfast and coffee with Ron and Chris and for a while everything seemed normal, like we were just going on holiday.  However, when we came to say goodbye to them, they both cried just as hard as we did!  Their daughter and family had moved to Vancouver some years previously, so I suppose it brought back memories for them.  We hadn’t thought of that!!

When the plane took off, it really hit me, THIS IS IT!!  New adventure, new life … it’s really happening.  The flight had a stopover in Calgary; however, we were delayed because the weather conditions there were heavy snow, being so close to the Rocky Mountains.  I kept thinking about Smokey in the hold: was it cold down there, was he OK? At least once we took off it was only an hour to Vancouver.

Finally, we arrived.

We collected Smokey and it seemed to take an eternity for him to be brought out to us.  When he finally came through, the poor cat was frantic, his eyes were wild – he wasn’t even responding to our voices.  His poor little nose was rubbed dry from him trying to see through the wires of the box and he had not been given any water.  Poor baby.

We had a friend, Carolynn, who we’d met when we holidayed in Vancouver a couple of years earlier, and who we’d kept in touch with. She kindly came to meet us, and we were going to stay in her family’s basement. It was a real comfort to know that Carolynn and her family were there for us, and that we could stay until we found somewhere permanent to live.  The basement was warm and comfortable, I remember thinking that it was exactly like all the basements you see in American movies, complete with wood-panelled walls, old brown sofas and a TV.  Smokey Cat was soon exploring his new space and quickly settled in, which was a huge relief I can tell you.  At the time, he was our baby and we treated him as such!

Smokey before leaving with his dancing flower. He loved that thing!

On the night of arrival, we rang Mum and Dad.   It was exceedingly wonderful to hear their voices and they sounded so close.  We kept the call to about 10 minutes as we really weren’t sure how much long distance calls cost at the time.  Again, I cried even more tears on hanging up the phone, but at least they knew we had arrived safely.

The following day, the letter-writing and the adventures began …

In which it all began

When I emigrated to Vancouver with my husband, Vince, in February 1990, I felt both excited to be having this new adventure, but at the same time, I felt almost bereaved.  I was so close to my family, and Mum and I had a special bond.  She was my best friend.  We promised we would write every day, and we did, literally chatting on paper and we kept this up for the almost ten years I was there.  The letters started out short, but eventually, we were writing pages and pages to each other and would post them off every ten days or so.  I think the longest is 53 pages long!! We wrote exactly as if we were having a conversation over a cuppa and it was a HUGE comfort.  Needless to say, I have heaps of these incredible letters and memories, along with photos, newspaper clippings and greeting cards for literally any little reason!  Vince used to say my Mum kept Hallmark in business!!  My visits to England, and Mum and Dad’s visits to Vancouver, were so exciting and I cherished every single second, but each time we parted, it was agony.  I would of course, settle back into routine, but my family were always missing.

I have wanted for years, since Mum passed away in 1998, to do something with these letters.  My dream has always been to turn them into a book, but the volume of letters is overwhelming and to be honest, the thought of revisiting all the emotions has held me back.  It’s the most wonderful reminder of how much Mum and I loved each other and how easy our relationship was, even at such a long distance.  And so, I have decided to start from the beginning with a blog to share my journey with excerpts from the letters. I hope it will be a comfort to those people who live across the world from their families, and also to help those who have lost someone they love.  And hopefully along the way I will, at some point, be able to assemble everything into a book.

Living abroad became harder: firstly, when I had my daughter, Emma, in 1993 and wanted to share every second with Mum and Dad.  Then, secondly, when Mum became ill and passed away in February 1998.  She was 53 years young and had survived six years from breast cancer, which secondarily went to her bones, then her liver.  We moved back to England in June 1999 with our two children, Emma and Ryan.  Emma was five and Ryan was just 8 months.  I found out I was pregnant with Ryan just after Mum died, so was unable to tell her.  A life for a life, everyone said.  Edie was born in England in 2000.  It’s so sad for me that Mum never met Ryan or Edie, or my brother’s two daughters, or saw the children growing up, but it is my belief that she watches over us in spirit.  Mum was the strongest person I know.

Don’t get me wrong though, I do not regret our time in Vancouver, we have the most wonderful memories and made lifetime friends, and at least we can say we did it, instead of always wondering ‘what if’.  The letters and photos will reflect this as I progress with the story.

My lovely Dad is still here, and we see him often.  I will be drawing on his memories and raiding his house for more photos and memories to accompany this blog!  I have two brothers, one close to home, and one who is still in Vancouver who moved there shortly after us.  He is married to a lovely Canadian lady and is happy with his life there.

Reading these letters has reminded me of the small but important things in life.  Mum loved the sun, she loved her garden, she loved her job as a Dental Nurse, she loved my Dad and she loved her family.   In the book of remembrance at the crematorium, it reads:

 

Mavis Ann Figg

Who lived for those she loved

And those she loved

Will love her forever

 

I have called the blog simply:  Love, Mum x