Suz Evasdaughter was born in January 1952, the second child of Arthur, a farmer, and his young wife, Betty.
Growing up with an older brother, also called Arthur, and a younger sibling, Nicky, her early life was idyllic.
‘We lived in a North Yorkshire village and I went scrumping for apples with my older brother in the fields and played skipping with my mam. I was so secure and happy.’
But it was when she was nursing baby Nicky that Suz’s mum, Betty, discovered a lump in her breast. The doctor dismissed it as mastitis and the family moved to Huddersfield so Arthur could get a better job to support the family of five.
‘When Nicky was two, Mam stopped being able to pick me up, or play games. A different doctor confirmed it was cancer, advanced, and she was put on a course of radium and radical surgery. But it was too late.’
Betty went to stay with Suz’s grandma to be cared for, and unable to manage his work and three young children, Suz’s father Arthur sent the kids to a children’s home.
‘My memories of that time were not happy ones. I would get in trouble for wetting myself, and we weren’t allowed any of our own special things. Even all the clothes were communal so I wasn’t allowed a pretty dress my mum had specially given me.’
Betty eventually lost her cancer battle when Suz was six, and when the grieving little girl and her siblings contracted chicken pox they were asked to leave the children’s home.
Months of feeling unsettled followed – Suz went to live with a foster family, while their widowed father managed the boys with the help of relatives. Finally, by 1959, when Suz was seven, she returned to live with her dad and brothers in a new home in Huddersfield.
‘It was supposed to be the dream we would all share as a family,’ explains Suz. ‘I remember looking in all the rooms just in case Mam was hiding somewhere. Mams weren’t supposed to die, I hadn’t understood any of it.’
For several years, Arthur managed to work at a tractor factory, and helped by relatives, he looked after the children. As Suz grew older, being the only girl, she helped with the laundry, shopping and cooking.
‘Of course it was terribly sexist, but I didn’t mind. For those years we were happy. One Christmas sticks in my mind when we all sang Jingle Bells, played Ludo, and ate chocolate. Dad gave me a special doll which I cherished.
We had a strong family bond. The only thing that bothered me back then was being sent to the secondary modern, despite being bright enough for the Grammar like my older brother. Dad was old-fashioned and my future prospects were limited because I was a girl.’
But life changed forever in 1965 when Arthur remarried a very religious lady called Muriel. ‘She immediately insisted we called her “Mum” and quoted the Bible a lot,’ recalls Suz. ‘She instantly began controlling us. We lost Dad overnight.’
On the night of her father and Muriel’s wedding, 13-year-old Suz was told to make herself scarce. Her siblings went to stay with friends, but Suz was left to fend for herself in the rain. Cold and wet on the street, a local man invited her in for a cup of tea. But he forced himself upon her.
‘I didn’t want him, but I needed someone to be kind to me. I wanted to be held. I hated it.’
Her home life became ever more miserable. The teenager was banned from wearing skirts, forced to wear frumpy clothes and had her pop posters ripped from the walls.
Muriel put padlocks on the food cupboards and tore up photos of Betty, saying, ‘You can’t live in the past.’ Shockingly, Suz’s father Arthur – instead of protecting her – sided with his new wife.
Suz was no longer allowed to spend time with her dad alone, and Muriel did her best to split up the children too and deny them a normal sibling relationship.
After a year of marriage, Muriel and Arthur had a baby, Edward, who they spoiled.
‘There were two families in the house. Muriel, Dad and Edward sat on one side of the table, eating nice food, while us three “leftover kids” sat on the other side with workhouse-style gruel like a blob of grey porridge or oxtail slurry.
Muriel justified this saying we had school dinners and were too expensive to feed. We weren’t allowed new shoes and developed foot problems.
‘Now, as an adult, I see how Dad too was responsible for this cruelty,’ admits Suz. ‘But I needed to believe he loved me or I couldn’t have carried on.’
After Muriel punched Suz hard in the face – punishment for using chalk on the neighbour’s paving stone – the teenager vowed to leave home.
Despite being a top student, she took a job as a chambermaid at a Yorkshire hotel aged 15. Earning her board and £5 a week, Suz was relieved to escape Muriel, though it wasn’t an ideal set-up.
‘The hotel owner was a peeping Tom pervert, he made us strip to underwear while he applied scent so we ‘smelled nice’. It was still better than life at home, but I desperately missed my siblings.’
After a year Suz – at this point estranged from her family – left the hotel and found work as a mother’s help, then in a nursery, but by 17 she was determined to better herself and signed up for further education.
‘I studied all hours. At 18, I got into nursing school in Keele. Meeting doctors there spurred me on further. So I carried on studying English literature as well as working. It was like my opinion of myself changed and I believed I was capable.’
Suz never stopped loving her brothers, and after she turned 20, when the youngest Nicky was also an adult and away from Muriel’s control, the three siblings rebuilt their relationship.
‘Nicky and Arthur came to stay at my London bedsit and we had a little party. We drank cocktails and talked all night squeezed onto a double bed. We mended the bond that Muriel had shattered.’
The three siblings remain devoted. And in later life Suz also formed a relationship with her half-brother Edward, and another half-brother, Norman, who she later learned had been Betty’s first child, born out of wedlock and adopted.
In 1977, aged 25, Suz was accepted into the London School of Economics to study philosophy then won a place as a trainee at Ford Motor Company, only one of three women out of 100 graduates, and thrillingly, earned decent money.
After Ford, Suz wanted to use her life experiences to help others. She re-trained as an art therapist, then worked as a school Ofsted inspector boss. Along the way she fell in love with a Swedish man, Frank. The relationship was short-lived but gave Suz her longed-for daughter, Phaedra, in 1988.
‘Despite all my achievements, Muriel’s behaviour still haunted me. I was shocked she didn’t even tell me when my father died in 1990. Writing my life story was part of a healing process, as was becoming a mother myself.
My daughter Phaedra is 31, and a vet, and I’ve been able to help her achieve her ambitions.
‘I am proof that you really can set yourself free of your past.’
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