Mother-of-four Judy Darby still can’t believe that a piece published in the Luton News last month has resulted in her being reunited with the cousins she last saw 60 years ago.
The story was about her memoir, A Bundle of Sticks, which she wrote detailing her mother’s descent into mental illness after she had to have her baby adopted.
Judy, who grew up in Dunstable and then Luton at the end of World War Two, told us: “I simply had to write it to clarify the appalling events of the past for myself and I think it was cathartic.”
Her mother had always been a fragile woman, sometimes given to violent mood swings. These increased when her youngest child had to be given up for adoption because Violet and her husband Aubrey, who already had six children, simply couldn’t afford another mouth to feed.
When their son Roy died in a car crash when he was 16, Violet believed she was being punished for giving away her child and her behaviour became increasingly bizarre.
In a poignant twist of fate, that child was also called Judy and went to Luton High School.
Judy Darby said: “She had no idea who I was and I never said a word.” The two were reunited after adopted Judy searched for her birth family.
But neither were aware that they had three cousins still living in Luton – sisters Pam Walker, Norma Dunn and Marlene Sawyer. They met at Luton Parkway recently and Judy said: “I’d last seen them when I was a small child and couldn’t remember what they looked like.
“But we gelled instantly. We went to a restaurant and talked non-stop for two hours. We laughed a great deal too because they all have a great sense of humour. We had so much to learn from each other, questions which had remained unanswered for so long and were now cleared up.”
Old black and white photographs were passed around and the family likeness was clear to see.
The cousin’s mother, Sylvia, was Violet’s best friend when they were teenagers working at Electrolux in the 1920s. She married Violet’s brother Sydney ‘Titch’ West and they had seven children.
Judy recalled: “Sylvia fell out with my mother when she saw her being cruel to me and my brother Tony and the families drifted apart.”
They’re certainly making up for lost time now – Judy is throwing a big family party when she moves into her new house in Feltham in two months’ time. She said: “We still have so much more to talk about, new friendships to foster and cherish, which will be invaluable at our time of life.
“And it’s all thanks to the Luton News that I now have some wonderful new relatives.”