Wednesday, 23 November 2011


“…till I end my song”

A Love Story (in two parts)



          “But I’m alive, I exist!”

     I am full of conflicting emotions:  anger, confusion, frustration, despair. So much has brought me to this point - Paris - the city of my dreams. And it seems that all my hopes are now going to be dashed to the ground.

     The man sitting at the desk in front of me, thin, grey haired, the epitome of officialdom, looks at me with an inscrutable face.

     I am surprised by my outburst.  I am normally quiet, self effacing and never reveal my true feelings.  But now I am revolting against this anonymity.  Something from deep inside of me is welling up and taking a stand.

     The year is 1959 and I am thirty one years old.  I am standing in the office of Monsieur Deprez, the Deputy Head of Staff at the NATO Headquarters in Paris. He makes a non committal reply and I leave the office with a feeling of hopelessness.

     But evidently my words must have had some effect, for the powers that be in NATO got together and decided that something must be done about the fact of my “existence.”

                                                        *  *  *  *

     I had applied to NATO for a job as a Secretary, and in my letter of application I had explained to the Personnel Officer that I did not have a passport as I had no nationality, and only had a document called an Aliens Certificate.  Nonetheless, I was engaged by NATO, but on arrival in Paris I was told that I would have to obtain an ID card in order to live in France.  The French authorities told me I could not have an ID card without a passport.  I was at an impasse.  What was I to do?   I had given up my flat in London, and moved all my belongings, including my mother, to Paris where I expected to be living.

     I decided to go and see Madame Dreyfus, the Social Welfare Officer for NATO.  Madame Dreyfus was a formidable lady, small and dark, with flashing eyes.  She was Jewish and the direct descendant of the famous Dreyfus, a young Jewish army officer who was falsely accused of treason in the year 1894 and sent to prison. The affair caused a great scandal in France and split public opinion in two. He was finally exonerated in 1906.  

     Fortunately for me, she was on my side. 

          "We have engaged you”, she said, “and it is our responsibility to look after you now."

    She called my French boss, Monsieur Woirin, and said to him:

           “We must help this poor girl”. 

      Monsieur Woirin agreed with her that they must do all they could to see that I acquired a legitimate nationality.

     It was at this point that I was asked to go and see M. Deprez.

Chapter 1

                                                            IN THE BEGINNING

        My story begins on the 14th July, 1928 in Nice, where I was born.  It was 8 o’clock in the morning at the English Clinic in the hills behind Nice when I first saw the light of day.

“A beautiful mother and a beautiful baby,” said the French doctor.  My mother did not think to register my birth at the time, and later, when she did, he told her that she would receive a large fine for not having done so before.  So she did nothing.

 This was to cause us immense problems later on.  She did, however, have me baptized at the American Church of the Holy Spirit on 5th April, 1929.  My father is named as Herbert Stansfield.  So I never had a Birth Certificate, though I do have a certificate of Baptism.

          My arrival was a surprise.  My mother, Florence Nora, was Canadian.  She had arrived in Paris earlier that year to study art at the Sorbonne.  She had come to Paris in order to get away from my father, who was a married man.  He was a Professor of Art at the Toronto Academy of Art, and she had met him whilst studying there.

         When my mother realized she was pregnant, she travelled down to Nice in order to have the birth more discreetly.  She was 39 years old and she was single.

         Up until that time my mother had lived a comfortable life with her parents in a small town named Barrie, on Lake Simcoe in Ontario, Canada.   She was a beautiful woman, very talented and artistic.  She designed and made her own clothes and she designed wedding dresses for her friends.  Although she had had many suitors, she had not married, the reason probably being that she had been very much in love with a married man.  They had nearly eloped together, but in the end felt they could not go through with it.

Both her parents had died in 1921 within a few months of each other, when she was 31. After her parents’ death my mother decided to study theatre design in New York.  She loved her work, she made friends and was living in Greenwich Village, the artists' quarter.  Late one evening, having been out with friends, she was standing on a corner when she was struck down by a taxi which then fled into the night.  She was taken to hospital with a broken hip.  The considerable hospital fees meant that she could no longer afford to stay on in New York and study.  She returned to Barrie and decided to continue studying art in Toronto.

Which was how she met my father.

As I write these words now, many years after my mother’s death, I wonder what went through her mind when she found she was pregnant, She could have had me aborted, there were ways and means, even then. Did she think of it? She was alone and far from home, she was in a strange land, and to be an unmarried mother at that time was to court disgrace.  She would be ostracized from the society she lived in.

Somehow, I think not.  My mother was strong, resourceful and she had an adventurous spirit.  She was also a woman of independent means, so could afford to have and raise a child.  And living in France was very cheap in those days before the war.

She gave me life, and I am grateful to her for that.  However difficult my life may have been, I would rather be alive than have been aborted in my mother’s womb.  That was my mother’s great gift to me.

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