A thousand miles, that's how long they told her the distance was. The space on earth between her and the mother she'd never seen. The authorities had been quick to point out all the disadvantages and risks of making this journey, Of finding out for herself what this woman was like who had given her away at birth and never once, in the next thirty years, tried to find out anything about her first born child.
It had taken Sarah a very long time to get to this point. The point at which she felt ready to face possible rejection for a second time in her life.
Her mother was not initiating this, it was her. The persistent nagging questions that had nibbled away under the surface her whole life, were now becoming more insistent, more intrusive, to the point where Sarah felt she must do something. She must take the initiative and try to see her biological mother , to find out once and for all why she was rejected, if the story she had been told was true and if by some miracle this woman longed to meet her but had not found the courage to try.
Like so many women it was not until Sarah herself had become a mother that her own parents, her bloodline, had really become a burning issue. Before that it was like a familiar little ache, always there, sometimes more noticeable but possible to forget. Since holding Emily in her arms seconds after she had emerged, slippery, warm and hungry, her need to know who had held her in that way became far more urgent.
When the midwife had asked her if there were many redheads in her family she couldn't say and later, when a doctor had tested Emily's eyes and asked if there was a history of shortsightedness in the family, she again felt that disassociation with her inheritance, her forebears.
It was these events in the end that had prompted Sarah to start the search for her biological mother and now, here she was, armed with the information, with a name and an address making it feel real for the first time. She had considered writing first but feared that rejection at the first hurdle might be a possibility she'd rather not risk.
So, here she was, packed and ready to leave for the airport, her husband Mike being his usual supportive encouraging self, having taken time off work to be with Emily. His advice had been realistic; don't expect too much. It's not always like you see on the TV reunion programs. Be prepared for disappointment.
As she felt the plane's wheels leave the ground and saw the landscape below fast dwindling into a patchwork of greens and browns she felt the first twinge of anxiety and slight loss of resolve. She was heading for the south of France a place she had never visited. Her French was limited to GCSE level and she was just depending on the natives having better English in the tourist area to which she was heading.
She had no idea why her mother had ended up here but she hoped very much to find out.
After what seemed to her an age but was actually less than two hours they landed, and in no time Sarah, with no hold luggage to collect, was outside the terminal, embraced by the heat and light that accosted her senses.
In the midst of the turmoil all around her, with everyone seemingly talking at the top of their voices in an intelligible language, she managed to hail a taxi and show the driver the address. He fed it into his sat nav. and they set off at an alarmingly fast pace. Sarah was to get a very quick introduction at first hand to the driving habits of the Marseillaise. Either they were inches behind the car ahead or she could feel the car behind almost bumper to bumper.
With her heart mostly in her mouth, she gripped on to her seat belt and was very relieved when they were forced to slow down as they headed to the centre of town passing the beautiful port and the church perched high above.
As they entered a narrow street with pastel coloured houses the driver pulled up upside a Boulangerie. Sarah was about to try to question the driver when she noticed the number on the wall, it was indeed the right address though she had had no idea it was a shop.
She fumbled in her purse for the correct number of euros, probably grossly over tipping and then she was alone staring through the windows and seeing a woman serving behind the counter. She waited for the customer to emerge and then with a deep breath she entered the dark warm yeast scented interior. As the woman looked up Sarah caught her breath as she saw her daughter Emily in this smiling welcoming face.
In those few seconds that it takes for the mind to register enormous truths Sarah saw that this lady too had recognised something in her face.
'Mon dieu!' She said automatically, 'ce n'est pas vrai!'
'So you know who I am?' said Sarah, not really daring to hope she was going to be well received, or even understood, her hands gripping the counter and her heart thumping in her chest.
'I see who you are but I cannot believe this is happening. I have thought about you so much and for so long but I knew it was just a cross I must bear.'
She looked anxiously behind her.
My husband knows nothing of my past. I could never tell him.
It is hard for you to understand but he is from an old, very close and very proud Marseillaise family.
I can't speak to you here.
Sarah's heart was just flooded with relief. The only thing she needed to hear was that her mother loved and thought of her.
Just then a customer entered the shop.
'Can you meet me somewhere later this evening?' She asked quickly. 'This is the address of my hotel.'
'Yes, of course I'll try but it can't be for long.'
And so it was, that five hours later, Sarah sat in her room with the woman she never really thought she would ever see, side by side on the bed hungrily digesting each other's words.
Her mother had become pregnant by a young boy of whom her parents had not approved and she was forced to let the baby go which nearly tore her apart.
So angry was she with her parents that as soon as she could she had left home to au pair in France never returning and gradually losing contact. She had met her French husband as she bought the bread at his father's shop which had now become theirs. They had not been able to have children which had added to her mother's sadness and she had never once mentioned the baby she had left.
For Sarah to be able to tell her that she now had a granddaughter was for her a miracle beyond belief.
Every now and then one or other would burst into fresh tears of joy and they would have to embrace again.
All too soon Sarah's mother Judy had to leave for fear her husband Lionel would be suspicious.
It was agreed they could meet one more time before Sarah left.
In that second meeting they talked of how they might keep in touch.
Sarah was not going to lose this mother she had never known and against all the odds they would make it work.
She would go home but she would come back with Emily and Mike and they would find a way to become closer to this French family and Emily would get to know her grandmother in her exotic town with her French ways and with so much love to give this child, one she never knew existed and could never have hoped ever to hold in her arms as one day she would.
"Mum," Suzie had said "I've been given all these beautiful Liberty prints, two whole books of samples and everyone different and I thought you could show me how to make a patchwork quilt for Lola. I remember when I was quite young you started one for your mother but I don't think you ever finished it. We could do them together,"Deep snow had fallen during the night and winter's skeleton black trees stood scribbled against a blanket of silvery grey sky. The woman lit the logs in the big brick fireplace and pulled out her latest piece of patchwork. She had used at least sixty carefully chosen different small prints, the colours subtle and the designs exquisite ( her daughter was afters all a textile designer herself. Six of each design made a rosette, all of which were linked together with one unifying colour. Most of the piecing together she had completed at her quilting club, where she went in actual fact to learn French from a lot of chattering women (to say nothing of eating cake and drinking fairly unpleasant caramel tea at the end of each session!). Now it was a race to quilt the patchwork, the wadding and the lining together with a tiny running stitch which more often than not involved stabbing her finger. As she stitched away she remembered three years earlier when Suzie had come over for five glorious weeks with the first granddaughter. Oh how adorable Lola was - all dimples - dimples on her face , dimples on her elbows and dimples at her knees as she kicked her chubby legs in the air. That had been a cold, snowy January, Lola just a few weeks old.The woman had rummaged in various boxes in the attic and eventually found a bag stuffed with oddments of fabric, bits of patchwork half done and pieces merely tacked around paper hexagons.The half-finished quilt had lain abandoned and forgotten for over twenty years.She had pulled out the tangled, crumpled mess of fabric, picked up one of the loose hexagons and let a surprised gasp.
Together they had stitched and quilted and chatted through that cold January spell and Suzie had finished a beautiful cot quilt for Lola and the woman had finished after twenty odd years, the quilt for her own mother. It turned out to be be the present that had pleased her mother more than any other."Just look at this, Suzie. You won't believe it - the very first piece I picked up after all these years, just look at the backing paper and remember It was over twenty years ago with no thought of grandchildren or that we would be living in France.." She had held up the tacked hexagon of fabric and Suzie read written in bold letters on the paper backing, the name 'Lola', the paper having been cut from a French magazine."That is weird, " Suzie had said. "Where would you even have got a French magazine and then to have your first granddaughter's name on the first piece you pick up twenty years later! It's not as if Lola was a common name then. It's a double premonition; sends a shiver down my back! Well you can start me on mine and then you can finish yours. "
As she pushed and pulled the needle through the three layers she remembered aged six, sitting at the old oak table with her own mother learning to sew. She could see herself, head bent in concentration as her chubby fingers tried to hold the two pieces of fabric together and at the same time push the needle through from one side and almost simultaneously pull it out from the other side. There had been moments of frustration and a few tears as she had not been a patient child. Since then she'd stitched away at many quilts using favourite old dresses and shirts to make material memories for her own children, a wedding quilt for her brother and now this the largest so far for her own dear daughter. As she worked the thread through the patchwork, in, out in, out, she thought she and her needle must have trudged at least a thousand miles from that first step into patchwork at the old oak dining table fifty odd years ago, a thousand miles of shared memories to pass on to another generation. She pulled the last tiny knot through and cut the thread - the quilting was finished and she hurriedly folded it and hid it as she heard her husband open the door, an icy blast heralding the arrival of the young family. And yes, her patchwork friends were right - she had not completed the quilt.; just edge needed binding but she had managed to add the names of her two grandchildren.Now three years later the woman reckoned she could just about finish this quilt to celebrate Suzie's two children, before the family arrived for Christmas although her more knowledgable friends at the patchwork club estimated it would take a little longer.Well she would just keep on stitching and stitching, keep on adding plasters to the pricked fingers so determined she was to complete it .