The Bolters Daughter


“When she pronounced my name however, one of them said,

“Not by any chance the Bolter’s daughter?”  Nancy Mitford – Love in a Cold Climate

I am a Bolter’s daughter – not in the same way as Nancy meant  – my mother has been married to the same man for 60 years this year, however the onset of her Dementia has brought this part of her self to the fore as her impulse control and social filters fade and her true feelings rise to the surface .  She likes to take off, walking quickly and determinedly to somewhere that it seems not even she knows for certain.  Usually though it’s through the tree-lined streets of the estate that they have lived in  since I was seven and out to the main roads, those arteries carrying people purposefully around the city, where she strides along hands in pockets and arm holding the bag slung over her shoulder tight into her side, with whatever treasures she has decided cannot be left for the people in the house who steal them this time.  Sometimes a slipper, the other one hidden carefully behind the sofa, at other times the flowered dressing gown she is so protective of but never wears. Rarely keys or purse or any other form of identification, she does not intend to come back I think.  She makes her getaway when the door is left unlocked, often just as the sun is going down.  The walking calms her she says.

These days she cannot hold in her response to difficult emotions, like a distraught child she repeats “no, no, no, no, no.” when faced with something that seems impossible to accept, like the idea that she might be ill, like the idea that she is home when the house no longer feels safe and secure, like the idea that my dad, is her husband, her real husband.

She is waiting for a version of my dad who is twenty years younger.  Her life was built around his timetable, she waited for him to come home after long days at a physical job with a hot meal and shopping done for his sandwiches the next day.  His agenda was hers, his life surrounded her, she waited, he rewarded the waiting, buying her whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, offering agency, offering autonomy  whenever he felt like it. And she waited for those moments, seized her chances and bolted running free for precious moments until called back to the kitchen, the house, the garden or offered the opportunity to watch the soaps play out in a vacuous play of drama and excitement that never existed for her.

Why is it now that she can say “My life is just work, cooking and cleaning and gardening and I am fed up with it.”

Why only now can she say “I am fed up with men telling me what to do.”

The bolting reminds me of dimly remembered upset and her disappearance, and her being brought back like an escaping pony to a barn.  Sheepish and upset and mutinous.  We children would hide and try to forget it.  Successfully in the main until now.

I have bolted too. Unable to face my emotions, unable to stand up for myself.  The seeds of my relationship with my husband sown in those early years.  I look at my waiting, my building a life around his needs and wants, and him handing moments of autonomy to me like feeding an animal in a cage and I see that there was no changing that. No changing that at all.

I am a Bolters daughter.  My daughters are Bolters too.  Sometime in my family there will be a girl that will not get in that cage regardless of the treasure offered.  She will scream and kick the door down first.  She will not come when the bucket is rattled and no one will rattle a bucket for her.  She will belong to herself first.


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