This story is really for my children and encapsulates the things I know – or have come to understand about my mother, Valerie, who died so young that my own children never had the opportunity to meet her.
Valerie was born in 1926 – in Melbourne, Australia, to a young single woman named Florence Harrowfield. Florence was deeply in love with a man named Robert Jolly – who sired my mother Valerie, but due to the times was fearful that he might lose his career position if it were discovered he had fathered a child out of wedlock. So Robert and Florence made the fateful – and I’m certain difficult – decision to give their young baby to Florence’s sister, Gwenneth Gertrude Harrowfield Steinwart. And so my mother believed Gwen to be her biological mother for the first 19 years of her life.
Along came World War II. In 1944 my young father, a map maker, cartographers they called them, was stationed in Melbourne with a map making unit. Japan was encroaching all the islands of the Pacific and neither the US or Australian governments had any accurate maps of those islands. Needless to say, my father met my mother, became enthralled, asked her to marry him despite his Army’s superior’s wishes, and married her (which later got him demoted from Sargent to private, he once told me.) The wedding was a hurried affair I believe since the Japanese lost control of the Phillipines and all mapping was complete, including mainland Japan for a conceived invasion – which never occurred due to President Truman and the atomic bombs later dropped at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But my father was re-stationed to Manilla to assist the Army Engineers with rebuilding the city’s infrastructure – which had been destroyed by the fleeing Japanese.
So that is why I believe the wedding was a hurried affair – since my father Frederick Joseph was soon to be re-stationed.
The heart of this story comes when my mother attempted to apply for a marriage license. The licensing bureau required her to bring a copy of her birth certificate, something she had never seen during her first 19 years of life. So to be compliant she first went to get a copy of her birth certificate. To her surprise this is when she discovered that her loving mother – Gwenneth – was not actually her mother. Instead her “Aunt’s” name, Florence Harrowfield, was listed as her mother. I’m certain this came as a devastating shock to her.
My understanding is that she went to her mum, Gwen, to inquire about her aunt’s name on her birth certificate. That is when Gwen told her the truth about who her real mother was. The heart-breaking – monumental shock – that came from this must have been completely devastating to my mother, at least in my perspective. My mother never shared this with me, and always presented Gwen as her mum – and as our very loving Nana.
Soon after my mother’s birth Robert Jolly did indeed marry Florence, and although they went on to have six more children they never re-incorporated my mother back into their family. My mother had looked upon them as her aunt and uncle and their children as cousins. And apparently she was well acquainted with them and I have some very precious photographs of them playing together.
Anyway with her wedding and the hurried nature of her voyage to the United States I fear that my mother never had the opportunity to reconcile herself with her actual brothers and sisters. Also, the fact that my father never allowed her to return to Australia – not even upon Gwen’s death in 1970 – I think weighed heavily upon her. Although – and again – she never spoke of these things to me it is in retrospect that I’m putting the pieces together.
My mother, and her assumed mother Gwenneth, are two of the most loving people that I have ever known of. It wasn’t until Norm Steinwart visited our family in Indianapolis during 1993 – along with his daughter Nolene – that I learned this story from my oldest sister Sandy – whom my mother had confided in many years earlier about it. I don’t know the reason it was withheld from me – except to assume that my emotional nature is such that maybe it would have been too much for me to bear. There are reasons that I am a poet and not a professional tackle for the Chicago Bears football organization. And as such, even now, it is something that weighs terminally heavily upon me.
Below are some photos of my mother and her families.