She was the best of mothers and we loved her dearly. But she would be the first to say she wasn’t perfect. She thought it was wrong to think too highly of yourself and that was something she instilled in us as we grew up (sometimes more forcefully than we might have liked). My sister, Lucille, well remembers what she said to her when my sister was anxious about people looking at her on a particular social occasion “Who’s going to be looking at you? There are far more interesting and important people to look at!”
She could be scary – especially when riled. We might be able to twist our dad round our fingers, but we knew Mum wasn’t to be messed with. She had no truck with excuses if the list of chores she’d left us to do hadn’t been done. Our family was definitely a Matriarchy. What she said was the rule – no matter how illogical! Woe betide us if we broke those rules – or even try to argue the logic.
Tigers defend their own though. No one dared mess with her children unless they wanted the lash of her tongue – and that could be a stinging lashing, let me assure you. I still delight in the memory of her making mincemeat of my Maths teacher at a parents’ evening. He was left in no doubt that it was his teaching that was at fault and not my inability to learn. And the teacher who told her my brother was ‘ineducable’ – he had a speech defect as child and struggled to learn to read – well, the poor woman was left trembling after Mum had finished with her. There was one time, over 30 years ago, when an elderly gent in this church, tore a strip off me for the dreadful behaviour of my two-year-old Samantha. Mum saw me and Sammy crying, flew down the path, overtook him just as he reached his car. Oh boy, he regretted his words. He could hardly drive his car for shaking.
Who will have our backs now – the way she did?
Who will give us the sort of support that had her sitting up all night, sewing costumes for pantomimes, shows, rose queen pageants? Who will make us the latest fashions – hot pants, maxi dresses, penny-round shirts, so that we’d always be well dressed and that no one could look down on us? Who will decipher the sketches made on the back of bus tickets of something we needed making – the top like that, the skirt like that? And who will forget to take the pins out of the seams of our home-made clothers?
Who will root through every drawer, every cupboard, every handbag to scrape together the money needed for a school trip we so desperately wanted to go on? And who’ll go without new dresses or a holiday herself, so that her precious children, could go skiing in the Cairngorms, or kayaking in Wales, or on an exchange trip to France?
Mum believed in us fiercely. “You can be anything you want to be – if you set your heart on it” My sister, Ali, would never have gone for it and took on her dancing school, if not for mum’s belief in her. She sewed, raised funds, acted as ‘unpaid secretary’, taking calls, placing orders and doing everything she could to make sure it worked out. And who clapped the loudest when Sandra marched with the QAs as a nurse in the Army? Who cheered the most when I was in plays, or applauded the longest when I graduated? Who bought us walking boots and swelled with pride when Lou and I walked 100k? Mum could do ‘proud’ like no one else.
Who will cheer us on now?
She wasn’t the greatest of cooks. We all have wonderful memories of warm muffins on Sunday afternoons and steaming hotpots. But there were also Yorkshire puddings that resembled rubber that even the birds refused. Liver you could line your boots with. Gravy that had to be sliced not poured. She loved reading, much preferred it to housework – seldom was she seen without a book in her hand; but Mum holding a mop or a sweeping brush or even a duster is not an image any of us can recall.
At one time or another, we’ve all ended up back home. No matter how old we were, or what had happened to bring us back, her door was open to us and the children we towed along with us. Before we’d hung our coat up, she’d have our kids enrolled in school, was taking them to Brownies, Cubs, Sunday School and Holiday clubs – all smoothly done, with a huge smile on her face – caring for them as we got ourselves back on our feet. She embraced the children of our partners and they became her grandchildren overnight; treated them the same as those of her own blood.
She was an intelligent woman, no doubt about that. She also had a mule-like stubbornness that defied all logic at times. Try as I might to convince her of French and Italian pronunciations, she still insisted that it was a Kwich Lorraine, a seeabata loaf and that those green things were manjaytoots! And garlic – well that was a thing of the devil. As was pasta – olives – chilli – curry – and yoghurt. And she could never politely and quietly refuse these things – “Oh no no no!” with a face contorted with disgust, was her reply, as if we were offering her snails to eat!
But she also cared fiercely. She had time for people – enjoyed listening to their stories. She was the one on our estate when we were kids who everyone came to for advice and comfort. She has always been the one to ‘go-to’.
She was well able to voice her opinion. And she was rarely wrong – in her opinion. She could be demanding. Who else will leave a voice message “Beverley, it’s your mother. Remember me? Ring if you can find my number that you’ve obviously lost!” or “John! The “E’s’ gone off my laptop again and nothing’s coming in or going out. You’ll have to come and sort it – I’ve got to send prayers round tonight”
And let anyone dare distribute wedding flowers before she had given instructions! Believe me, her stick could become a javelin if crossed in such a way! Lucille’s partner will vouch for that.
Mum also loved fiercely. First, above all, she loved God and really did serve him with her heart and soul and for all of her days. She loved in a way that was unwavering and deeply loyal. She married her teenage sweetheart, my lovely dad, and he was always the only man for her. He suffered her temper, her nagging (which she termed ‘encouragement for improvement’), her strange logic and demands for certain traditions to be upheld – which led to him being thrown out the back door every NYE, kept out there till the bells had finished and let back in carrying coal, whisky, sugar and a sixpence. He died 34 years ago and she still had his pyjamas and pillow in her own bed.
It is her love that we shall miss the most. The strength of it. The force of it. The way the whole family revolved around it and were held together by it. Love which compelled her to save all year and take all her grown-up children out for a meal on HER birthday. Love which dictated she keep a drawer full of chocolate for the little ones who visited. Love that urged her to spend time on every holiday or day out looking for something the children could do at Messy Church or Rock Solid or for a flower arrangement. It was her love that fiercely shone when, only minutes after being given her terminal diagnosis, was galvanised into list-making – all the children she hadn’t bought Christmas gifts for had to be sorted. That same love had her sitting by her hospital bed writing cards to each of her children and grandchildren – painstakingly checking the list that Alison must follow to insert money into each one. When her fierceness began to ebb away, it was an honour and a privilege for my younger sisters and me to serve her by caring for as she was dying.
Today, while the pain of her death is still so raw – it feels as if her love has taken a leave of absence and that where we once revolved round her, we now revolve round an empty space. A gaping wound. It hurts and there are times we feel like howling.
But actually, I don’t believe that her love has gone. It was God-given and I think it lives on in all of us – that somehow, through being together it will be pooled and recreated; replenished and revived and passed on to our children’s children and beyond. It was too strong, too fierce to be quenched. The light of our Mum’s fierce love was far too bright to be put out.