On the third of November, 1944, Judith Bridget, my sister was born. She was a beautiful baby with gorgeous auburn curls and translucent skin. I was eighteen months old and quite pleased to have a new baby sister. When I was about three and she was eighteen months old, our daddy left us and our parents got divorced
I don’t remember being particularly sad and all through my teens and twenties I said it didn’t affect me much. Looking back I can see that I was affected in the way I reacted to the men in my life, always trying to please and not ‘upset the apple cart’. Luckily for me none of the men I went out with realised this or, if they did, they didn’t take advantage of it to any extent. (Looking back I realise how lucky I was as I was very innocent, too)
Judy, on the other hand, seems to have been badly affected by the marital split. Her personality was very different from mine; she was a tomboy who enjoyed rough and tumble games with the neighbourhood boys while I played dolls with the neatly dressed little girls down the street. She was very good at winding me up, making me cry. When I made paper dolls, she would find them and tear them up; when I was slightly older and wrote in my diary, she would find where I had hidden it and read it, then write something rude. She got poor results at school because she found it boring and wouldn’t pay attention, preferring to daydream. She didn’t really learn to read until she was about thirteen and our mother found her a book she was interested in – it was called Freddy the Detective. After that she wouldn’t stop reading and she started to do better at school as a result.
When she was eleven, as I have told before, we went to Reno so that Patty could divorce Bill. Our father, who lived in California with his new family, drove to Reno with his wife, Lee, and took the two of us back to California with him. We drove over the Sierra Nevadas and saw mountains and beautiful rugged scenery. In Carmel, where they lived, we saw the ocean for the first time ever and took a car ride down a long road that was above the sea. We spent a lovely week or so with our ‘other family’, getting to know our two new siblings, Lindsay and Una, talked with our grandfather and spent time with our father.
Judy had idolised ‘Daddy’ since she was about seven so she was ecstatic to be able to spend some time with him. I quite enjoyed spending time with my step-mum who taught me how to sew dolls’ clothes and was a stay at-home wife and mother. The time flew past and at the end of the week our dad took us to the airport and put us on a plane back to Reno. (My first ride in an airplane wasn’t scary at all!). We arrived back to find our our mother had bleached her hair, didn’t like it and had had it dyed…the resulting colour was ‘apricot’ which was a shock!
Years went by. We saw our father intermittently, once or twice in Ohio, then in London. Occasionally we received a letter from Daddy and, less occasionally, we wrote back. When we moved to England it seemed an awfully long way from California but, within three or four years, Daddy and his family, by now with two more little boys, moved to this side of the Atlantic to live in Ireland. We saw Daddy slightly more frequently. Judy went with him and the others to some sort of country week-end where she learned about hare-coursing (glad I didn’t go!). Judy came back from her time away with a real crush on our dad.
Then I got pregnant, which I’ve told you about before. Judy was, at first horrified, then very angry at me. But, when ‘Veronica’ was born, she was so happy that the baby was a girl. She and Patty both got very drunk and phoned everyone we knew actually singing, “We’ve got a baby girl. We’ve got a baby girl!”, which annoyed me a week or so later as there was no one I could tell the news to. She became the most loving auntie that you can imagine. At the time she had a boyfriend whom we called Zac. He was from Iraq and studying business at the same college as Judy. He adored ‘Veronica’ as well. Jennie’s boyfriend, Nick, was also a good ‘uncle’, so Veronica was surrounded by a loving family and was a very happy baby.
As Judy went through her teens and into her twenties, she had boyfriends about the same age as she was but she always seemed to fancy older men at the same time. She became very secretive, she drank more than was good for her and eventually, she had some sort of nervous breakdown. This was to be a sort of pattern in her life. For months, even years, her life seemed to be on an even keel then things just seemed to fall apart for her.
Now, I’ll fast-forward a bit to the time after we had both finished college. Judy became a probation officer. The job description, via Google, is, “A probation officer is someone who works with and monitors offenders to prevent them from committing new crimes. They carry through with anything the court assigns to them, the most common being to supervise offenders and to investigate the offender’s history (personal and criminal) prior to sentencing.”
Judy’s job was very demanding. I think she had quite a large case-load and it began to take its toll. If you remember, ‘Veronica’ and I had the large bedroom at the top of Market Cross Cottage. Judy had one of the two bedrooms on the first floor. One night I woke up to find Judy frantically searching through the bookshelves in my bedroom. I got up and asked her what she was looking for and then realised she was actually asleep. Nevertheless, she told me she had to find Wendy’s file! She had to find the file, it was most important that she found the file. After a little while I was able to get her back to her bed but I was quite worried about her sleep-walking.
Not long afterwards, she moved to a bedsit in Rochester, much nearer to her work in Chatham. The woman who owned the house where she lived was very kind and Judy seemed to enjoy living there. Around September of 1981, Judy asked if I would help her clear out the bedsit of one of her ‘clients’ as he had gone to court that morning and had been sentenced to several months in prison. When we went into the room, I found one of the saddest things I had ever seen. The ‘client’ had left his pipe and tobacco pouch on his bed where he would be able to pick them up that evening – he really hadn’t expected to ‘be sent down’. We packed up his meagre belongings – including many tins of frankfurters which he had in his store cupboard – and took them to the probation office for when he came out.
Within weeks Judy had become very outwardly depressed and was unable to go to work or even get out of bed. Judy’s boss rang to find out where she was, thinking she might have come home. I think I went to her ‘digs’ and found her sitting on the floor, crying. I talked her into coming home with me. Things are a bit hazy about what happened next but I don’t think she went back to work. (It was during this time that I met Julian and was in the first flush of love). It would have been around October that Dad and Lee came to see what was going on, all the way from California. It was arranged that Judy would go back to the US with them, which made her happier than she had been for ages. She stayed with them for several months then went to Ohio for Christmas. Just after she arrived back in California after spending Christmas with our grandmother Ethel and her family, our dad died. Judy was heart-broken but so happy that she had had those few months getting to know him.
Judy went back to Zanesville where she lived with Ethel and her husband, Bill and several other family members who came and went. Then Patty decided to go to Ohio for a prolonged visit. They both enjoyed a round of social gatherings, Patty renewing old-friendships and Judy getting to know all sorts of new people.
In 1983 Judy married Charlie who was in his 80’s (she was 39). She was very happy with Charlie. They used to go out on his boat, fishing. Judy learned to ride a motorbike, learned to drive, and looked after Charlie and their cat. Around 1987 Charlie died and Judy found herself alone and with no income. She tried to find a job but no one in Zanesville had ever heard of the London School of Economics and refused to accept her British educational qualifications. She tried all sorts of jobs selling some sort of vacuum cleaner but she realised that the sales patter she was meant to use in order to sell that particular machine was a scam and that the repayment terms meant that some people would never be able to pay off what they owed, so she left that company the day she started.
Judy came home for a visit in 1989. She was very thin but reassured us that she had been ill but was now on the mend. She went home after a couple of weeks, found an apartment in Columbus, Ohio and started looking for work. She must have been interviewed by a potential employer as they asked her to have a health check, including an x-ray. When she went to the doctor for the results he told her that she had a malignant tumour in her neck/jaw and that there was nothing that could be done. She would die within nine months. She went home, drank a bottle of whiskey and fell into a deep sleep from which she didn’t want to wake.
She woke up some hours later with a terrible buzzing in her head and, realising she was still alive, phoned for an ambulance. She ended up in a psychiatric hospital where she refused to tell the doctors why she had tried to kill herself. They phoned us in England and told us what had happened. We, of course, had no idea why, either. A month or so later, when the hospital deemed she was well enough (she’d played along, pretending to find the therapy, the art, the writing they did with her, helpful!) she came back to England.
She didn’t look much different than she had a few months earlier – still very thin and pale – but, now she had a lump on her neck which she said was just a gland, not to worry. We did worry, of course, but we still didn’t realise.
One evening Julian and I decided to take Judy and Patty out to an Indian restaurant. Judy had always loved Indian food so we thought it would be a real treat. We were sitting at the table when suddenly Judy burst into tears but refused to tell us why. (Later I discovered that she had been in terrible pain.) We finished our meal quickly so that we could take her home. After we got to Patty’s cottage she asked me to come with her to the bathroom. She sat down and said, “I have cancer.”
Judy had been frightened of cancer since she first heard the word. She had gone through medical dictionaries finding all sorts of terrible illnesses and thinking she had them, so when she told me, I thought she was being melodramatic! “Don’t be silly,” I probably said but she assured me and told me of the x-ray and the diagnosis. Then she told me not to tell my mother! How could I not? But, I said I wouldn’t and kept my promise until, finally, Judy told her some days later.
That was in May, 1990. I was teaching part time but took Judy to hospitals and doctors when I was able. She saw the local GP who gave her pain killers strong enough to dull the pain somewhat but, in the meantime, the lump on her neck grew bigger and by August or September she was no longer able to eat solid food.
My mother looked after Judy but she was unable to make the illness or the pain go away and that gave her the excuse to drink. In fact, I should imagine Judy had a bit of alcohol in her food drinks, knowing Judy. She didn’t want to die and was very scared about what would happen. Macmillan nurses came and friends dropped by to help, but eventually Judy found it impossible to get out of bed and didn’t want to see anyone but family and the nurse. She spent time writing about what she was experiencing – I have the papers somewhere but it is difficult, even now, to read them.
She died just two or three days before her forty-sixth birthday.
Several weeks later, after the funeral, Patty received a letter addressed to Judy from a hospital in Ohio asking for the payment of $50,000 for some treatment she had had. Patty sent back a copy of Judy’s death certificate and a letter saying they would have to send their bill to Judy, c/o The Garden of Remembrance, Vinters Park Crematorium, Maidstone, Kent and offering to send them Judy’s entire estate of $1.24 and 6 pence in English money. She never heard another word from them.
More pictures of Judy
(The title refers to Judy’s real birthday. When she started school, the cut-off date for entering the first grade was the first of November. The school agreed that Judy’s official birthday could be the 1st so she could start school a year early.)