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Becoming Berit Berit Frydenlund McMillan


Table of Contents 1. Daddy Number 1.................................................... 1 2. Daddy Number 2.................................................... 5 3. Mummy................................................................. 11 4. Story Interlude. .................................................... 13 5. The Darkening Years............................................ 17 6. Visiting Granny. ................................................... 23 7. Daddy Number 3.................................................. 27 8. Husband Number 3. ............................................ 35 9. Emergence............................................................ 39 10. Southport Renewal............................................... 43 11. Time for College. ................................................. 47 12. Hello, World. ........................................................ 51 13. Frydenlund Reunion............................................ 53 14. Lime Street Station.............................................. 57 15. A New Life............................................................ 59 16. Reflections............................................................ 61


1 Daddy Number 1 At a private nursing home in Widnes, Lancashire, in northwest England, on March 5, 1946, my twin brother and I made our way into the world fifteen minutes apart—ladies first, of course. We were the only children born to Biorn and Alma Frydenlund. Our parents named us Berit and John. Since my father was Norwegian, one child was endowed with a Nordic name, the other with a good, solid English handle. I don’t remember my father. The tale goes that we lived in England until we were six months old when the young family sailed to Norway, there to live with our bestemor, “grandmother.” It wasn’t to be a happily-everafter lifetime. The tale also goes that, about two years later, my mother took John and me and disappeared from Norway, returning to England. 1


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My first real memories see me at about four years old. By this time, we lived on the northwest coast of England, in Southport, where John and I were to spend the rest of our childhood. I remember living in a house on Southbank Road that had a hairdressing business in the front part. Next door was the Tabernacle Church. John and I must have been a handful because I recollect that we were in reins (a very common sight in busy cities back then). As we walked down the Eastbank Street Bridge towards home, John and I would silently signal each other as only twins can. Then we would bolt down the hill at breakneck speed. It always took my mother by surprise; she would drop the leather straps of the reins, and off we’d go! It was great fun for us but certainly quite scary for our mother, who was only too aware of the danger of heavy traffic on the main road. Nearby was a sweet shop. I remember going in there using ration coupons. I also recall the end of rationing when we could choose whatever we wanted! Cadbury’s and Fry’s chocolate come to mind, also chocolate Smarties, which were like M&M’S. There began my lifetime love of chocolate. Soon, we were almost five and were ready for school at Linaker Street Infants’ School. I loved my teacher, Ms. Randall, and story time.


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It was during this time that I first remember meeting my maternal grandmother, Dorothy Webb. When she arrived at our house, I had no idea who this imposing person was, and I was terrified of this haughty lady with the slightly too large upper teeth and the severe pageboy hairstyle. On this occasion, she brought me a doll. I seem to remember that she emphasized the great expense she had experienced to procure this beautiful toy. I think she became angry or behaved in a disturbing way because right in front of her, I threw the doll down. There it lay, its face irreparably smashed. Granny’s response to that was swift and damning! This little four-year-old was derided as being out of control, a spoiled ingrate, etc! Really, I was afraid, reacting to her meanness. In retrospect, I think it was a rather brave and apt action! Another memory I have from that time concerns a hospital stay. I had suffered from frequent abscesses in my ears since I was ten months old. These days, I’d probably be diagnosed with allergies, but back in the late ’40s, there was little knowledge of allergies. My hearing was also quite impaired. Anyway, since John and I were twins, we shared the fate of having our tonsils and adenoids removed. One morning, we were told there would be no school for us


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that day. My mother took us to the Promenade Hospital and duly deposited us in the children’s surgical ward where we undressed and were put into bed. We had no idea what was happening, but other children were there, so I guessed we would be fine. The following day, a gurney was wheeled into the ward, and a child was popped on each end and wheeled away. Sometime later, back they came, the patients fast asleep and rather floppy. One of them was John. Pretty soon, it was my turn. I don’t remember being afraid, but we were certainly unprepared. I do remember waking up back in the ward, and I remember the ether mask being lowered over my face in the operating theatre. I have no memory of being visited by my mother. That was how it was; parents were encouraged not to visit—it might upset the children. After we returned home, we ate soft food and sucked on sweet lozenges prescribed by the doctor. By now, I had forgotten my early days and all my Norwegian relatives including my father, whom my mother had apparently divorced. My “daddy” was Robert Cooper, who became my mother’s second husband. In my memory, we were a nuclear family of four: Mummy, Daddy, Berit, and John—or Beritandjohn, as we were collectively called. Our surname was now Cooper.


2 Daddy Number 2 There were happy times during the only years I ever felt part of a family. I remember lovely outings to Southport’s Hesketh Park, Botanic Gardens, the local dunes and beaches, and Peter Pan’s Funfair & Amusements where my daddy would treat other children to rides too. We took a holiday to Cemaes Bay on the island of Anglesey, North Wales. It was to be the only holiday I had until I was sixteen. Once we travelled by car to visit our great-grandparents, whom I instantly adored. Granny and Grandpa Pim lived in Farnworth near Widnes. On other occasions, we went by steam train, which was always great fun. We had to go via Liverpool, passing WWII bomb sites on the way. Hearing the words “bomb damage” meant little to me, but I knew it was something with sad and 5


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serious associations by the tone of people’s voices who commented on the huge piles of rubble. We moved around quite a lot during the years between our ages of five and nine. We changed schools frequently, which was a trial for me as I was quite shy. John made friends more easily. I admired him for that, but I have to admit to some jealousy too. We lived in several towns and in different areas around Southport. Lostock Junction, near Bolton, was our home for a while. John and I enjoyed a freedom that many children don’t have anymore. There was a stream near our house where we’d wade and fish for tiddlers or tadpoles. In the village was a weir spanning the river, beside what may have been a textile mill. One day, some kids dared one another to walk across the weir. Of course, John volunteered, and I stood terrified, glued to the spot, while I watched him walk carefully across successfully. He was king of the village kids for as long as we lived there. Schooling took place at a local private school run by two ladies who I believe were sisters. All the students were in one room, the youngest at the front of the class. I cannot say I was particularly happy there. One day at recess, I hit my brother, got scared, and hid up

Becoming Berit - by Berit Frydenlund McMillan  

Becoming Berit, a memoir, McMillan shows how her childhood self tumbles through an astonishing maze of early experiences. Of her readers, s...

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