Sarah Wilkinson: Memories Light the Corners of my Mind

Sarah Wilkinson: Memories Light the Corners of my Mind

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I stopped the car outside 154 St. George’s Road, Hull, and got out. I looked up at the modest red brick house. I stood for a long time staring up at the windows, trying to imagine the sounds, sights and smells of this house when little Amy Johnson was running around it in the early 1900s.

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The plaque on the wall reads: ‘Pioneer Aviator Amy Johnson (1903-1941) was born here 1st July 1903.’

Amy was born here to parents Will and Ciss, and in the following years would also have three siblings, Irene, Molly and Betty.

I tried to imagine you as a child, full of mischief and adventure, preferring ‘boyish’ games and taking risks. At first I couldn’t see it. But then it hit me: I was stood outside your house. I didn’t need to imagine it or pretend it happened; once, you were here.

 I pictured you standing right there next to me on the pavement. I closed my eyes until I could put together an image of you from my mind. You were, of course, dressed in your flying clothes and aged in your late twenties – as you are in most of the famous pictures. I opened my eyes and I turned to look at you. I took hold of your hand. Together we stood and looked at your very first house, we thought of your parents and the love they had for you and your sisters.

We walked through the streets until we reached Boulevard – the location of your second home, and then to 557 Anlaby Road, which once upon a time was your first school Eversleigh House. It had all changed beyond recognition, and I saw you look around to check the address on the street sign to make sure you were in the right place. The streets were lined with cars, people and shops. I gently reminded you that we had to keep going if we wanted to see it all – the world doesn’t stop forever – and we continued our journey. 

 From Anlaby road we walked to Alliance Avenue, another street you lived in. Recognition flashed across your face but you wanted to keep walking, to press on to the next place. And so we continued, silently wandering through property-laden streets until we reached Park Avenue. We stopped outside number 85.

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The plaque reads: ‘Amy Johnson, airwoman lived here 1918 – 1927’.

 You were drawn back here to Park Avenue because this is the last house you lived in with your family after the First World War, while England recovered and people tried to get back to normal, or at least their new version of normal. Your memories from here I am sure were mixed – you often wanted to escape from Hull but here held comfort and the security of your siblings, your Mother, and your Father.

We sat down on the grass in the front garden of the house. Time was waiting for us, not forever, but just for right now. Right now we were just two young women, sitting on the grass and reminiscing. When it was time to leave here you stood, your eyes fixed on the upstairs window of the house and you smiled. Tears were falling down your cheeks as you began to laugh, lost in memories of the times you spent here. 

 We didn’t have much longer, but there was so much more I wanted to show you. We moved quickly, right into the heart of the city. As we walked I know you were thinking of your family, your friends, and all the wonderful times from your young life. But I could see that so much here reminded you too of Hans. Your memories were bittersweet, tainted with the times you’d prefer to forget.

On we walked, I wanted to show you how much Hull loves you! We didn’t have time to see it all, but I pointed out the museums all around the city that hold your story or artefacts among their collections. We took some time to stop at the Hull History Centre, where your letters are held. I showed you all of the books dedicated to you. Hull is so proud of you. Not just Hull. The world is so proud of you.

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I left you for a little while with your letters. It must have felt odd, sitting reading your own words using a microfilm reader in a modern, state of the art building. I wondered then how much you remembered actually writing. We didn’t have time to read them all. When I came to tell you that we had to go, you were sitting with your head in your hands, sobbing at the words and feelings you had familiarised yourself with once again. You didn’t want to leave, but also knew that you couldn’t read some of the letters – some memories have remained too painful all these years. I took your hand and led you away from this part of your past, our hearts full of sadness. Yours remembering the love you had for Hans, the good times, and the hardest.

 Time had almost run out but I couldn’t let you leave this way, full of sadness. I had so much more I wanted to show you. We ran several streets until we were standing outside the Prospect Shopping Centre. It was an unreadable moment as I saw you recognise your statue. There you were, looking at this depiction of yourself right there in the middle of the street for everyone to see. The words ‘may her fame live on’ at the bottom of the text. I’m not sure what you were thinking, but you laughed and looked around the street as though you couldn’t believe your eyes.

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All too quickly it was time to go. There was no more time. I couldn’t find the words to tell you what I wanted to say, but I don’t think I needed to. You smiled at me through your tears and we held on to each other’s hands. The only words we could both find were ‘thank you’ – you thanking me for showing you that the world will always love you – that you will always be here with us. Me thanking you for letting me into your world, for showing me that anything is possible, and that no matter how far away I think you are, you’re always there. 

I didn’t get to show you everything I wanted you to see. I drove out of town and sat by the side of the river, right by the Humber Bridge – an amazing feat of engineering. You’d have loved it. I looked out into the water and I thought of the life you had. It was short; but it was so very full.

I looked up at the giant, looming structure of the Humber Bridge. Right in the middle someone was walking. She stopped, leaned on the barrier and looked out into the water. She raised her arm and waved. I stood to try and get a better look at the familiar figure. But as my eyes came back to the middle of the bridge she was gone. 

Thank you Amy. You are forever in our hearts. As I write to you, laugh with you, cry with you and cry for you, amaze at your achievements and marvel at your spirit, you are not just a historical figure. You are here, with us, as we celebrate your life. You are living, Amy. And may your spirit live on forever.