© Copyright 2020 by Valerie
non-fiction account by
my late mother, Sarah Byron, was dictated to me. It
the story of her life and sexual awakening in the early 1900’s
and her meeting, marriage and divorce with my father.
Now that I am in the
twilight of my years, I look back upon my youth with the eyes of
experience and understanding. But back in those early days in
London, the natural experiences of life were traumatic to the young
and sensitive girl I was then. Today, sex is loudly
everywhere one looks – television, movies, books – and is
accepted as the norm. In the early 1900’s we were
unsophisticated and uneducated in the matters of the heart. There
were only two men in my life – my husband, Lawrence, and the
love of my life, Alan. This is the story of my first love . .
I was born on August 7,
1911, the sixth of seven children, living with my parents in London’s
East End – an area called ‘Whitechapel.’ My
parents struggled to provide adequate housing and food for their
seven offspring, born between 1900 and 1912. These were the
times of revolution in Russia, with the exodus of persecuted Jews to
the ghettos of London and America.
My parents opened a kosher
restaurant in the East End of London, catering to the immigrant
community. We lived in rooms upstairs, although my nursery
located in a corner of the restaurant dining room, where successions
of faces and forms, murmuring in a dozen or more foreign tongues,
would bend over my pram to admire the beautiful blonde child that I
I can recall almost every
phase of my childhood. A dreamer, I fantasized about each
tale character I read about. I was a princess stolen from my
real parents’ palace and left on the doorstep of these working
class peasants. No indeed, these were not my real parents or
family. . . I was royalty! Later, I dreamed of the Knights of
the Round Table, who were going to rescue me from my fate. I
was ‘Joseph,’ scorned by his brothers, my own dreams
I remember an incident that
helped shape my attitude towards sex at a very early age. I
couldn’t have been more than six years old when a customer in
the restaurant started taking me with him to his work. Nate
a thin, weasel faced “barrow boy” – a man who sold
fruit in the famous Petticoat Lane, just two blocks away. I
would sit by his side as he sold the seasonal fruit from his
pushcart, watching the colorful crowd as they milled around the
various stalls. I often wonder now how my parents allowed me
be away from home all those hours.
One day, rain driving the
peddlers off the streets, Nate took me along to the nearby stables
where he kept his barrow. He started to tell me the story of
Adam and Eve and somehow I felt uneasily threatened at what he was
implying. Sickened, yet rooted in fearful fascination, he
invited me to hold his ‘thing’ – which I associated
with what my older brothers used for urinating into the white ceramic
chamber pots which were stowed under their beds.
Mercifully, I was saved by
the entry of another young man, Jack, a customer in our restaurant
who used the same stables for his wares. I’m sure he knew
at once what was happening. He said little, except to murmur
“Come along, Sadie, your mother has been asking for you.”
I was filled with fright
and shame. Jack bent down to face me at my level.
spoke gently. “Your mother was worried about you.
She didn’t know where you were, and asked me to bring you
Jack, I’m so glad you found me,” I responded with
relief. I could not bring myself to speak about that moment,
feeling such fear and guilt. Nate had bid a hasty retreat,
leaving me alone with my savior.
you shouldn’t go with anyone again without asking your mother
or father first,” he advised.
From that moment on I
avoided Nate, although it seemed to me he gave me a knowing smirk
each time he came in for a meal. The guilt stayed with me for
many years but fortunately he was called up into the Army soon after,
so I didn’t have to face him or fear an encounter again.
While I left school at
fifteen, I took on my share of work in the restaurant. We had
added a modernized unit in the front section, installing an
American-style soda fountain and ice cream parlor, which were popular
with the younger set. It would be used as a meeting place
the movies, night school classes or before returning home from
dances. My girlfriends belonged to social clubs, one of which
was founded by the local grammar school boys who had graduated to
university, but wanted a place to meet up for reunions. They
extended the meeting room to their girlfriends, and we had a place
for recreation, including a gymnasium and facilities for discussions,
debates and weekly dances.
My girlfriends would have
parties in their homes. On evenings when their parents would be out
until midnight, they would practice the Charleston, blues, black
bottom and tango. Inevitably, there would be the game of
“Postman’s Knock,” with much giggling and post
mortems by the girls afterwards.
I could rarely participate
as I had to work in the ice cream parlor at nights, our busiest
times. Sometimes I was able to sneak out, leaving my older
brother to cope alone. He was very good natured, up to a
point. I could not take too much advantage and, in any case,
ingrained fear of bodily contact deterred me. I did not
want to indulge in indiscriminate embraces, much preferring
discussions with the boys about their work and their ambitions in
life. Most were from poor, immigrant families but had high
goals, aiming to graduate from university to become teachers, lawyers
One young man, not of our
crowd, would frequent our ice cream parlor in the evenings.
would sometimes engage me in conversation, and tell me about the
glamorous dance clubs popular in the West End of London. He
asked me if I had ever been to a tea dance at the Kit Kat Club, and
of course I had heard of it. My sisters, ten and eleven years
my senior, were dance crazy, as were most of the post-war
They had spoken of those exclusive clubs, which were far removed from
He spoke of the soft
lights, the music, the dancers in their filmy gowns, and the
graceful, gliding, whirling figures on the dance floor. My
imagination took flight at the very idea of it, never dreaming that I
would ever be invited to such a magical place. He asked
I would like to see these places with him, but I hesitated. I
had no grown-up clothes! I had never been out on a date with
man, just my girlfriends, to local dances put on by our schoolboy
My friends coaxed me to
accept an invitation to go to a movie showing in the West End, and
when I protested that I had no suitable outfit, they inspected my
sister’s extensive wardrobe to find something I could wear.
They conspired to keep
watch as I slipped out the back door of the restaurant to meet this
‘sophisticated’ admirer, Ted. I had told him I
would have to go straight home after the movie, not giving the real
reason, which was that I had to be back before my sisters returned
from their offices in the City, and found that I had borrowed their
Feeling like Cinderella, my
heart pounding fast, Ted and I boarded the bus at the end of my
street, bound for Piccadilly Circus. I really can’t
recall much of the ride, but before I knew it we were entering the
cinema and finding our seats. In moments, his arm went around
my waist and my body went rigid with fear as his fingers strayed
towards my tiny, budding breasts. I could hardly breathe and
just stared rigidly at the screen, having no idea what the movie was
about, just conscious of his hands on my body. He held my
hand and, after awhile, I felt something warm and moist placed in
it. Looking down, I saw it was that awful ‘thing’.
All the horror and guilt I
had suppressed for so long engulfed me. I thought I was going
to faint. What sort of girl did he think I was? Had
encouraged him in any way? Jerking his penis out of my hand
disgust, I leapt from my seat and rushed out of the dark cinema,
sobbing. I was filled with anguish. Why did he have
this? I had liked him so much. Now I could never
There were footsteps
hurrying after me, and he stepped to my side. It was starting
to rain and he had my umbrella.
is the matter?” He seemed genuinely bewildered at my
I could barely speak –
my voice trembled. “Please give me my umbrella, and go
He started to protest, and
I turned on him fiercely, unable to look at his face. “If
you don’t give me my umbrella, and if you don’t go away,
I’ll call a policeman.”
Still he persisted in
asking me what was wrong. I was desperate. “If you
don’t leave me this instant, I’ll tell my brother.
He’ll kill you!”
This worked. He
handed me the umbrella and I stumbled away to find a bus, hurrying
back home and shaking with uncontrollable trembling. I
up the stairs of the private side entrance to our living quarters
above the restaurant, took off my borrowed finery, and paced my
bedroom in small circles. When my sisters came into our
bedroom they were concerned at my state of shock. I couldn’t
confide in them, of course. I told them merely that I felt
When my friends came to see
me the following day, I told them about my awful experience.
They were suitably sympathetic but we never referred to it
I withdrew into myself.
Soon after, I started to
show the effects of the shock and trauma I had endured. I
not lift food to my mouth, dropped utensils, missed my footing and
balance, and could not control a facial tic.
My mother took me to our
family doctor who dosed me with an evil tasting iron
Of course I could not explain what had really happened.
Finally, we went to attend the out-patient clinic at the West End
Hospital for Nervous Diseases. I had “chorea” a
form of St. Vitas Dance. The young doctor at the clinic must
have had some idea that I was hiding something and wanted to admit me
as an in-patient so he could question me without my mother being
present. But the sight of other patients frightened me even
more and I refused to agree. Bed rest, absolute quiet and a
change of scenery were prescribed and I was sent off to the seaside.
After a month spent in the
balmy, pine-wooded city of Bournemouth, in the south of England, with
parents of a girlfriend, I started to regain my equilibrium and all
the symptoms vanished. I felt that Sylvia, my sixteen year
friend, who had a reputation as a flirt, did more to free me of guilt
than any psychiatrist. With her calm, prosaic reception of my
story, she fully understood how disappointed I was to find the first
young man I trusted had such poor judgment, and was so insensitive to
On my return home, I looked
well, rosy cheeked and restored mentally and physically. I
noticed a new member of the club who joined our crowd after the
dances as we gathered for light suppers and ice cream sodas in the
soda fountain section of our restaurant.
I heard the boys discussing
the new ‘dark horse’ – Lawrence. He was
elected secretary as he had many ideas for improving the finances and
activities of the club. He was reputed to be a loner, made no
friends, nor did he mingle with the others on the dance
He did not attempt to engage any of the girls in conversation, but
did join them in trips to my restaurant. With all the teasing
and flirting that I would witness, I was intrigued by this silent,
withdrawn young man with the brilliant, azure blue eyes.
Later, my best friend, Ada,
a vivacious and outgoing young woman, asked me how well I knew
Lawrence. I responded that he had encountered me one day as I
was leaving the restaurant to go to a movie, and had asked to join
me. I told her that I had gone on an occasional walk with him
after the restaurant had closed at night, and we had become
She asked me if he had kissed me and, when I showed amazement at her
question, she said “I have a reason.”
She proceeded to tell me of
an incident at her home. He had accepted an invitation to
to dance, and while he was with her, friends dropped by.
evening ended with games, “Postman’s Knock” being
one of them.
She was aware that Lawrence
had looked uncomfortable, and had excused himself, leaving
One of the girls had confided to Ada that she felt he was
When he had gone outside the room, supposedly to kiss her, he had
said “I don’t suppose you really want me to kiss you, do
you?” What could she say to that?
Ada said she asked him on
the next occasion what had he meant? Did he dislike the
Why did he ask such a question? He told her that he felt a
was an intimate pledge and should not be given
That he could not kiss a stranger, for whom he felt no affection.
Of course that increased my
interest in him, and I secretly felt him to be a challenge. I
had felt safe with him. We had talked of “ships and shoes
and sealing wax, and cabbages and kings.” He explained
the stars, the planets, the galaxies, the meaning of light years,
philosophy, his passion for mathematics and chess. He made
science seem fascinating, full of mystery and romance. I
admired him, and his mind and philosophy. He had principles
a reverence for pure love. Despite the suspicious distrust
manifested by the members of the club, he and I became accepted as
He had four years of
college before him, but we were young and we accepted each other as
partners for life. When he graduated from University in 1932,
the Depression was even worse for him. Building was at a
standstill and there were no jobs available.
I finally prevailed upon my
parents to use their influence with a cousin who was a financier,
promoting new inventions, and Lawrence was offered a job as a
technician – the product was a photo process imitating inlaid
wood. We were then able to marry, on a salary of five pounds
week. My family was unhappy with my choice as my new husband
had no endearing qualities. He would not acknowledge a
greeting, or engage in any conversation with members of my
A poor start for a marriage!
After a year, and the birth
of our son, Alan, in 1934, Lawrence quit the job, saying he was tired
of being used, and his work was not compensated as promised.
There was no unemployment compensation and we had no savings.
We could not pay the rent.
My brother had started a
lighting and electrical accessories business in the north of England,
and needed a manager to take charge of the sales while he traveled to
When we moved to
Manchester, we were offered an apartment in the house my brother had
bought. It was a solid, roomy, three-story
brother, Morrie, and his new wife Rose, occupied the first floor and
we were to take the ground floor. My parents, who had lost
restaurant for non-payment of taxes, were to occupy the top floor.
Although Lawrence proved to
be of great help and value to my brother’s business, we really
had no chance in our marriage. The propinquity of family,
of privacy and my increasing feeling of inadequacy ate at the fabric
of our marriage.
was the wonder, the romance, the beauty and joy of union between two
bodies?” I secretly mourned. Yet, knowing no other
experience, I had no measure of comparison, except books. I
thought this was how it really was with married people, and had to
accept it. The ritual was unchanging – perhaps once or
twice a month he showed a desire for me, but without any foreplay or
display of tenderness. When he was satisfied, he turned away
In the years that followed,
we were able to move to our new, beautiful home in a pretty
neighborhood, among compatible neighbors, and I was reasonably
happy. My life was dedicated to making my husband’s life
comfortable, my home attractive, and his acceptance of the new
friends we made.
It was when first I
questioned his integrity that he became vulnerable to the first
temptations he encountered by the scheming, unprincipled, greedy
young woman, Barbara. She had been introduced to Lawrence by
friend and neighbor, Bonnie, whose husband had become Lawrence’s
partner in the war time arms factory he acquired. He began an
affair with Barbara during my pregnancy with our daughter in early
1942, ten years after our marriage. By the time Valerie was
born on July 4, 1942, Barbara was pregnant and demanding he leave me.
I knew something was wrong
by his demeanor. When he was home, he would pace the floors,
refusing to speak, putting up an invisible wall. At the first
opportunity, he would be out the door, sometimes not return for
days. I begged him to tell me the truth, telling him I loved
him and wanted our marriage to work. His eyes were distant,
although he often cried, telling me that when he was with “her”
he would think of me…..but when he was with me, he longed for
It was then that my
disillusionment was complete. My idol had feet of
had endowed him all the qualities of idealism trusting that he would
be sensitive to my needs, physically and emotionally. He had
taken all the love, adoration and admiration I had in me to give –
and was unable to give selflessly in return.
I had been starved,
disappointed, yet had refused to acknowledge this, even to
Afraid to talk about my feelings of inadequacy in our sexual
relationship, for fear of being indelicate or carnal, I suppressed my
frustrations, chiding myself. He left a few weeks after the
birth of Valerie, leaving me with two young children and no way to
In the years following our
parting, I would rationalize to myself, when loneliness or despair
engulfed me. Suppose it were possible for him to
Did I really want to resume an unfulfilled life? The memory
the betrayal would always be there, so did I really want to endure
again the pain of that constant cancer eating at my heart?
Albeit now excised, there were still the scars which constantly
ached, and an empty space to remind me.
For a long time I refused
to meet eligible men my friends tried to introduce. I shrank
from them in disgust. My friends were hurt and
“Why don’t you at least try? You may grow to like
But I knew better.
This would not happen, especially when at first meeting no spark was
lit. And so it was that I resigned myself to a life alone,
bringing up my children as best I could, without the prospect of
love. I would not put myself through that kind of pain again,
vowed, and I would not burden my children with another man who would
not treasure them.
Despite my adamant
conviction that love was not meant for me, my life was about to
change in a way I never imagined. On a train ride to London,
some three years later, I met a man who stirred my imagination, and
whom I recognized with a sense of déjà vu. With
every hour I spent with him, a bond was forged that would link us
forever. No matter what the outcome, for better or worse, I
would work out my destiny with my one true love.
continued. . . Click here
"THE MAN ON THE TRAIN" by Sarah Byron, Valerie's mother.
biography and story list
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