When I originally moved to Alaska, 24 years old and with a boyfriend I had no specific long-term plans with, my mother didn’t try to stop me. She wouldn’t have had much of an argument, having left her native England to move across the ocean with my father at roughly the same age, but she had experience enough to warn me.
My mother grew up cold. At least that’s what all her stories lead me to believe. She grew up in England in the 1940s, and her parents heated the house with coal or, more precisely, they heated one room in the house and even then, not very well. She went to Catholic boarding school where nasty nuns popped her pimples and she woke up winter mornings in her dormitory room with the washbasin water frozen solid. The school uniform in the coldest months was an above-the-knee wool skirt that chafed my mother’s thighs. The cold brought on painful swellings in her hands and feet called chilblains, which seem like a relic from another time, like trench foot or romantic train rides.
At 18, and recently graduated from the Sixth Form, my mother was slender with high cheekbones and long blond-streaked hair.