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Literature

The life of a Yorkshire widow: What Happens Next?

03 Apr 2024 | Written by Marina O'Shea

In her latest installment of ‘The life of a Yorkshire widow’, Jan Dunbar’s protagonist shares what happens next after opening the box she found in the shed…


You’ll recall, I’m sure, the recent discovery that my late husband fathered a child with another woman during our marriage. Now you see, when I put it like that, it doesn’t sound quite so bad and if current television programmes and newspapers are to be believed, these days it’s an everyday occurrence. But back in 1980 it most assuredly wasn’t. And certainly not in my marriage. Now my problem is, what in heaven’s name shall I do about it?

The answer I think is nothing, at least for the moment. I’m not about to start searching for a man who is in no way related to me, despite the fact that he might have children and I might technically be a grandmother. What would it achieve? I might possibly find a family who’ll be pleased to have a ….. well, what? What would I actually be? I can’t yet find a positive side to all this but the negative part of me thinks my interference might tear a family apart. The law of unintended consequences, so to speak. For all I know, John’s 43 year old son might not know the circumstances of his birth, even with John’s name on his birth certificate.

In the end, I phoned my sister and asked would she come over for lunch as there was something I wanted to run by her. She must have realised straight away that something was up; it’s normally her asking me for advice and although we do get together for lunch quite often, it’s always in a café or restaurant, never at my house or hers. She’s very perceptive, my sister and she arrived in short order with cake, whisky and a very bemused expression. I’d barely closed the front door before I blurted out “Our Margaret, I’ve just found out John’s got a son!” She looked at me as if I’d gone completely doo-lally which was understandable in the circumstances. I did try to keep my composure; I’m not one for histrionics but I realised I was gabbling ninety to the dozen. After a few deep breaths, we sat down and I showed her the birth certificate, the letters and the photographs of John Junior.

‘Well b*gger me!’ was her first reaction. Her second reaction was to open the whisky bottle and pour two large glasses. As she pushed one towards me, she asked how long I’d known and I told her not long, explaining about the box in the shed. After reading some of the letters, Margaret asked whether I was going to try to find this son of John’s – she called him a byblow, which I didn’t take kindly to, though why I should defend my husband’s memory defies me just at the moment. I told her I thought it better to let sleeping dogs lie. After all, the lad must have seen John’s name on his birth certificate so he’d known all his life who his father was but hadn’t yet come looking for him. Margaret told me there’d been a resurgence of folks investigating their family histories and creating a family tree, some no doubt creating merry hell along the way. She asked me what I would do if this man came looking and I said I’d deal with it if and when it happened but, for the moment I wasn’t going to go at this like a bull at a gate.

We talked about it every which way but sideways all through lunch – leftover pasta bake, if you’re interested. Margaret thought I should contact the man and I thought I shouldn’t. She said she hoped I wasn’t worried about damaging John’s reputation as a gentleman as he didn’t deserve such consideration. I told her I’d been married to him for forty-odd years and while I couldn’t yet find it in me to forgive him, I also couldn’t find it in me to hate him.

Over tea and cake, we agreed to differ and I told her I was thinking of going away for a bit of a break. All this upset had knocked me off kilter and I needed to get away to think about things. What I actually wanted was a month on a cruise and I almost – but not quite – let slip that Jack’s life insurance had left me very comfortably off. Now that would have been a real eye-opener!

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