I Found My Mother With This London Tube Map From 1977
illustration of vintage london showing major landmarks, double decker bus, and a couple walking in the autumn rain together

The summer after my mother died, I went through her closet. I was 16 years old, and alongside my father and brother, I had to help clear out her things and decide what to keep. Mourning and being a teenager is an odd combination; so isolating, but also, strangely freeing. I felt as though all the rules had been broken.

In the swirling newness of my grief, I still found myself fascinated by my mum’s version of womanhood. I tried on her red lipstick and her brightly colored court shoes from the 1980s, reveling in their adult-like feeling. I loved her saris, but I feared them too; I hadn’t grown up wearing the yards of delicate material, as she had.

But most of all, I loved the long-forgotten items from before my birth, when my mother was still new to our city. In a cream leather shoulder bag, I found a soft, worn pamphlet containing a London Tube map from 1977. It was familiar to me, but also strangely different, like a house with a person missing. Compared to a modern map, the layout was pleasingly uncluttered; the saturated colors jump out, and the capital letters naming all the subway stations feel like shouting in a digital age. It had a rough-hewn, artisanal quality that almost made it look handmade.
In truth, the map was as mass-produced as any other. But it was immediately precious to me, for it was a remnant of a defining moment in my mother’s life. In 1975, she had just left behind her native city of Kolkata, India, and was getting to know the contours of London.

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  1. I arrived in England in 68 with the USAF. I was 20 years old. I can tell you your mom would have experienced some magical times in London. My first trip was Nov 68. Me and some friends went there for turning on of the Christmas lights. I spent 17 years there with the Air Force. In 82 I took my wife and two young daughters there for the Christmas Lights too. The Chestnut roasting over open fires, as well as those vendors selling Hot Cross Buns, Father Christmas roaming from person to person made our experience wonderful. So many stories, so many fond memories. Your mom had those memories too. Bless Her.

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