Wednesday, October 12, 2011


When I was eight and living in England, I discovered a wonderful series of children's books written by Lucy M. Boston about children of a family living in an expansive old castle called Green Knowe, originally built at the time of the Conquest. I devoured these books, but remained enchanted above all by the very first one, The Children of Green Knowe. It chronicles one Christmas holiday, when a little boy of seven is shuffled off to his unknown Great-grandmother Oldknow, who lives in the castle. The boy, Tolly, is an only child, his mother dead; he has been living at boarding school, abandoned for all intents and purposes by his father, who has remarried and lives somewhere off in the Empire with the stepmother. Tolly knows little about his mother's family, and it is this lineage he discovers when he goes to visit Green Knowe.

I cannot tell you how many times I have read The Children of Green Knowe. But not once in the past 11 years, and not once since I faced all of my own adoption demons or really contemplated my losses. Wow. I have absolutely no idea how I read the book so many times as a child without sobbing uncontrollably. I have no memories at all of my own feelings as I read this book 100+ times. Which is very strange. I was talking to my husband about this, and his answer: "I am sure that you numbed yourself up. You were young. You had no hope then of finding your family. It was all a fantasy for you, so maybe you lived through Tolly?" Maybe.

'Come along in,' said Mr Boggis. 'I'll show you in. I'd like to see Mrs Oldknow's face when she sees you.'....
'So you've come back! she said, smiling, as he came forward, and he found himself leaning against her shoulder as if he knew her quite well.
'Why do you say "come back"?' he asked, not at all shy.
'I wondered whose face it would be of all the faces I knew, she said. 'They always come back. You are like another Toseland, your grandfather. What a good thing you have the right name, because I should always be calling you Tolly anyway. I used to call him Tolly.' 

Did I fantasize about going back, being recognized? I wish I could remember, but it's all blocked out.

I do remember walking through stately home after stately home with my parents, looking at portraits and the collections of likenesses and seeing how important bloodlines were, and feeling that I was a changeling. I could have been anyone, anything. Were these my people? Maybe. Maybe not. There was no way to know. I did lots of fantastic thinking, lots of pretending, lots of searching for likenesses, lots of dreaming about the heroics of Van Dyck's Cavaliers. Perhaps that's when I developed my interest in portraiture that's endured to this day. Interesting thought.

As a footnote: I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself related through C, albeit distantly, to another one of my favorite English children's authors, Edith Nesbit. It was an incredibly wonderful gift to find I share her bloodline. She is the inspiration for one of the chapters of my dissertation. ;-)

Now off to work to help some new individuals enter into the world and start their own journeys.


Anonymous said...

Wonderfully written, as always, Kara. I love your insightful retrospect and ability to see old things in new ways.


Von said...

Marvellous Kara!You might be amused to know I discovered a few years ago, those who were my forebears and who's name I carry.They lived in Somerset and can be traced to 1770.It explains why I can't bear low ceilings, now a family joke.

ms. marginalia said...

Von, I bet that I saw portraits of your ancestors in Somerset! How wonderful. I would love to hear more about your family sometime. Love the low ceiling comment. ;-)

Thank you for the compliment, M. I just cannot believe how the message of these books hit me like a punch to the gut. They make me cry with the simple beauty of belonging NOW, but then? I just don't know.