History,  Life: bits and pieces

Travels with my Mother VII: The Mystery of Keys

This is the seventh in my occasional series I’m calling Travels with my Mother. If you’ve not read the first in the series, you might wish to have a look at that one as it gives the context behind these posts.

Doreen with her keys, winter 2020

‘Do you know what this is, Mum?’ I handed her a large decorative metal key.
Mum turned it over in her hands, peering at the engraving on it. ‘It’s a 21st key, is it?’
‘Yes, and it was given to you by your dad.’

I showed her the message her father had put on the key:

To Doreen, Love from Dad. March 1950

And there’s another one here, a wooden one. It’s a bit of a mystery.’

I handed her the second key, a light wooden form, covered with signatures of people like an autograph book. She traced the writing with her thumb.
‘Whose was this?’ She didn’t seem to recognise it.

‘That’s the mystery! I thought at first it was Dad’s, because he signed it on the front, here.’

I showed her Dad’s flourish, smiling as I did, because Dad had the most dreadful handwriting and he’d clearly made an effort here.

‘But it can’t have been his, because he turned twenty-one before you’d met. And see here, on the back? These are autographs by your family and friends. Do you think your dad bought this one for you as well? Was it the custom to also give a wooden one for people to sign?

Mum considered this. ‘I don’t know…perhaps.’

I spent more time reading out the names of the people who’d signed her wooden key, all those years ago. Her brother Art and sister Betty, her soon-to-be sister-in-law Norma, and many others whose names I didn’t recognise. The winter sun warmed our shoulders and small blue wrens pecked at the grass in front of Mum’s wheelchair.

Mum seemed content to know that whatever the mystery of the wooden key, it had once meant something to her. And pleased to be reminded that the people who had signed it had wanted to wish a happy life to the young woman she had been in March, 1950.


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