I’m lucky enough to have had the opportunity to see where both my parents were born. Both my parents were born in the southwest of France, Bordeaux to be more specific. I have spent all the summers of my childhood, until fairly recently, in Bordeaux, visiting my family and that is how I came to know the places where they were born so well. My father was born in 1939 in Talence, a “suburb” of the city of Bordeaux. My mother was born in 1943 during a bombing raid in my grandfather’s basement in Begles, another “suburb” of Bordeaux. My great-aunt Georgette lived right next to the house where my father was born, when my father was a less than a year old, my grandfather had to go home to England to join his country’s military effort. He wasn’t a soldier by any means, he was an expert chocolatier for the Belgium chocolate maker Tobler. He went home to England to make bullets in the ammunition making converted factories. But where my grandfather went, my grandmother and my father followed. They weren’t any safer in England than they were in France because when my father was a year and a half, the Germans were bombing Liverpool and my father’s house got bombed with my grandmother and my father inside, they survived because my grandmother threw herself and my father into the chimney and the encasements shielded them from the house falling down all around them.
Next bombing survivors, my grandmother, my mother and my aunt. My mother was born after curfew during a bombing raid in the basement. What makes this story even more exciting is that my aunt, who was 19 at the time, had to go out after curfew to get the midwife for my grandmother, to help her with the birthing of my mother. Bordeaux was one of the major headquarters for the Gestapo and they were very keen on shooting first and asking questions later. My aunt and the midwife took a great risk with their lives skulking through the streets to get back to my grandmother amidst the bombing and the Gestapo patrols. It was chaos that night and that fact actually probably saved them from being caught. It has always been weird to go down into my grandfather’s basement and realize that my mother was born there. Nowadays, the basement is fully finished with beautiful tiles on the floor, floor to ceiling storage units for pantry goods, it’s really nice. However, back when I was growing up, it was a radically different basement. It was old and musty with everything that was broken or old thrown down there for storage. There were cobwebs and rats living down there, it had a dirt floor and I can imagine how awful it must have been to hide down there from the bombs, in labor, waiting with bated breath for your first-born daughter to come back with the midwife, providing they weren’t caught and detained by the Gestapo. Then, giving birth in a horrible place, knowing your husband is out somewhere on the battlefield, your other children are dispersed in the countryside away from the Gestapo and the bombing. It must have been so frightening. My poor grandmothers and my poor parents to have lived through all that so young. Makes you think twice about complaining too much. If my children were asked the same question, they would have two sentences as opposed to a couple of paragraphs. My father was born in one hospital and my mother was born in different one. The end.