My mother passed away in 2009, and as my family health issues continue I found myself thinking of her again and the part that she played in my upbringing. My mother was a woman of some resolve and tough as old boots, but managed to hide it most of the time – and thus avoid familial conflicts which otherwise might have made the inevitable family get togethers at the very least, edgy affairs. Many times it is clear to me looking back that she bit her tongue and acquiesced, especially in relation to elder members of the family, as frankly she could see it was not worth making a point about it.
Most of the time she was spot on about that.
Mum and Dad were inseparable and they meant the world to one another. My Mum could always get what she wanted out of my Dad but had the most graceful way of doing it. Normally, anything out the ordinary routine would normally be met with a flat ‘no’ from Dad. There would be no argument; but the question would be raised again a bit later, in a slightly different way, at a different type of time. By now the answer would be more of the ‘I’ll think about it’ kind of space. A little later we would progress through subsequent stages of ‘maybe’, ‘yes’ before becoming his idea in the first place. Of course, my Dad was certainly aware of this process and I suspect they both enjoyed the game. After all they were both used to my Mum’s favourite comment on the statement of who was in charge in relation to household – she was clear that this was my Dad. He was the ‘Head of the House’, clearly. However, my Mum was clear that if Dad was the Head, then she was the Neck. And, as she went on, the Neck turns the head whichever way it wants.
Mum was practical and sensible through my childhood (except where fizzy wine was concerned, which in the day was at best a bottle of Lambrusco or if we were lucky, Asti Spumante, on Christmas or on holiday, and thus a rare occurrence – my Mum never really got a handle on alcohol and treated it much as she would lemonade, with rapid and hilarious results). Once they were no longer having to pay for my education and as her health began to fail she took the opportunity to travel a little to see me and to destinations such as the Channel Islands, leaving my Dad to fend for himself (the family joke as to what he ate in those periods being mostly pork pie and cold beans out of the tin was, unfortunately, quite accurate). She was a huge present giver – not big, expensive things, but large numbers of small things, often bought via catalogue after she became housebound. So many things in fact that she managed to forget what she had bought everyone for Christmas and random things would reappear during the year, hidden and forgotten about in draws and cupboards.
She never complained, and yet was the perfect complainant – if anything was ever wrong or needed fixed both Dad and I would hand the phone to her and she would work her magic, with such opening gambits as ‘I’m sure this is my mistake, but…’ which inevitably would end in the desired result.
Mum was a superb judge of character and often made scarily accurate predictions about people she had just met. For this reason, I was delighted when she took to the, as then, Lovely Girlfriend straight away. I think for me that approval was very important but I need not have worried. It came without coaxing and heartfelt.
Through the difficult times that we are living through now, memories of my Mum are the kind of support that I need, as I try to be for my Dad what he was for her, a loving support to end of her life.