The memories that are used to create this short story were related to me by Birgitta at various times during our marriage. You all know how she loved to tell stories. Part of my husbandly duties was to sit quiet and listen. I too loved her stories and luckily, as it turns out, I heard them enough times to remember much of the detail. So many times over the past year I have been so glad I did.They are fragmented and possibly contaminated by time but hopefully will allow you yet another view of this special woman, then a young lady, as she grew over the years into a wife and mother. As you will see, it was these experiences that made her who she was.
On her birthday in 1958 Birgitta set sale for England on a Ferry from Sweden. It was not an auspicious start of a new life. She was seasick throughout the voyage. She was destined for the little town of Guildford in Surrey on the River Wey only 26 miles outside of London. She had been hired as an Au Pair to care for the Porter Families only child Fiona who was 18 months old. Mr. Porter was a small business owner and ran a very successful TV business. The Porters were upper middle class. More upper than middle.
Birgitta had 7 years of English in Sweden. Like most language studies it lacked the one thing she would need most. Practice in the spoken language. She knew the mechanics of English better than anyone I have met. I was amazed at times over the years when a question of proper English came up: She would pause, appear to think then say that’s right it is on page 15 of my Green Grammar. I called her on this several times but she would get the book and show me. How she could remember the page was a mystery. But she was right 90% of the time. I still have the book. I still have the memories. She several times told me that, in the beginning, she was terrified but had to speak. Speech came to her rapidly and soon she was conversing like a native. She never really got rid of that British accent. It was buried there amongst the Swedish accent we found so charming.
She was amazed when for the first time in her life she was given her own room. She had a bed, a bureau, her own TV (Well he sold them) At home in Sweden they did not yet have a TV. The thing which impressed her most was she had her own dressing table with three mirrors. “I thought I had gone to heaven” she told me. It was winter and the room had no heat and was in the attic under a slanted roof.
“But’, she said: “it was all mine”.
This has recently taken on a new significance for me as my granddaughter (Jade, Age 13) made over her bedroom and the one thing she bought with her own money was a dressing table. Is there a dressing table gene? See Jade I told you she was watching over you. She will influence you for the rest of your life. Lucky you!!!!
Birgitta’s job was to dress and feed Fiona and take her for walks in the carriage. (Pram) When given the choice of where to walk she always chose the town rather than the park. It was there on one of the walks she made a new friend. Gunvor Fredrickson another Au Pair from Sweden. Gun later became my first wife but that’s another part of our family story you will hear later. They became great buddies and remained so over the years. On days off they went to London together and enjoyed learning how the English life differed from theirs in Sweden. They both liked the differences and profited greatly from the lessons learned.
It was winter and the Porter household was typically English. Heat was luxury. The house was heated by fireplaces and the kitchen stove. The Porters went to bed early and around 10PM a man came in and stoked the fireplaces with coal to last the night. In the morning Birgitta had to get out of bed, dress in the freezing cold, run down stairs without making any noise and add coal to the fire to get it going so the house was warm when the family rose. A choir she did not like but since it was the only thing she found wrong she accepted it willingly.
Birgitta was always well dressed. Her mother Boyan was a seamstress. She had always made Birgitta’s clothes. There was little money to purchase such luxuries in the Thorsson household. When she had announced she was going to England to work her mother searched the latest fashion and outfitted Birgitta in a complete new wardrobe. Mr. Porter loved the opera. Mrs. Porter did not. So Birgitta was invited to join Mr. Porter to each performance. I can just see him now with this young beauty half his age on his arm entering the opera. She dressed to the 10’s. I wonder what his friends thought. So it turned out that Birgitta got a taste of the high life. She liked it and pursued it for the rest of her life.
The river Wey runs through the center of the town. It has powered a water wheel since 1659. It was here Birgitta often walked little Fiona. She came to love the walks and the flowing water. She once told me that in early May, 1959 she took off the shoes and sat on the bank with her feet in the water. We have come the full circle. It is 56 years this month since she did that. It is here, in the slow moving waters, I shall reverently place a small portion of her ashes. Ashes that will flow though the country meadows and eventually make their way into the Thames and the North Sea maybe someday to kiss the shores of her beloved Scandinavia.
See: “Walk this Wey” for the story of the river in Guildford.
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Here is the spot where Birgitta was placed.
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