When I was at school I had a friend whose parents came to England from another country after the war. I don’t know anything about them, but I’ll call them the Bērziņš family… it’s a name which I think means birch tree, and my friend was willowy and slim like a birch tree. I’ll call my friend Liga because that sounds a pretty name, and she was a pretty girl, ash blond hair, thoughtful pale blue eyes, a slim face with rosy cheeks; she wasn’t very smiley, I don’t remember her laughing and fooling around like I did, but she never seemed unhappy and had plenty of friends, she just didn’t smile a great deal. She had a younger sister who I’ll call Kristīne, I don’t remember her very clearly except she too was blond but with golden rather than silvery hair and she was much more extrovert, and even though she was younger we noticed her, always with a big grin on her face.
Liga and Kristīne had a sister who was several years younger, and if Inese came to our school it was probably after I left. Their parents came from a country which had suffered badly during the war, but I don’t know what their history was, Liga never spoke about it, and we didn’t ask. Her parents were married in this country but whether they met here, or whether they came her together I don’t know. I wonder now, with having worked with children and adults who have come to this country for various reasons, whose first language is not English, if they spoke their own language at home. When the children were at home with their parents did they talk in their own language? Did they have family and friends from their country that they associated with? There are no other people with their father’s name who were born or married, or indeed died in England, although there are a number of people with their mother’s name, but none living where Liga and her family lived when she was at school with me.
I have no idea what work their parents did, but I imagine them on a farm, somehow Liga and her sister had a look of country girls, and I mean that in a nice way – clear complexions and eyes, calm and gentle and with a hidden strength. So I imagine the family on a farm… but I’m probably completely wrong! Liga had a very penetrating look, she would stare steadily, concentrating on what you were saying to her which wasn’t typically English. She was a very clever girl, the school we attended was a grammar school with a selective entrance.
When I left the school to move to the west country, we did not keep in touch; there was no internet or text messaging, only hand-written letters or land-line phone calls… and we didn’t have a phone.
I married late, and so did Liga, I was fortunate enough to have two lovely children, but I don’t think she had children. I don’t think either of her sisters married but of course they may have partners who they are living happily with… but in my imagination, on their imaginary farm, I see the family living together until their father died about ten years ago. Their mother must be very elderly now, probably in her 80’s. I hope the family is well and happy, andI hope their lives are as content as mine is, and I wonder if they ever think of their home country, and speak the tongue of their childhood?