Sunday, 13 May 2007

My mother

  • Was deserted by her own mother when she was nine, and had to live with a drunken violent father who would sometimes take the food from the kitchen cupboards and make her flog it round the neighbours to raise food for his booze.
  • Had to get out of the house first thing in the morning to pick up paint for her father, often wheedling credit from the supplier for him, so he could carry on working. Then she had to take her sister and brother to school, and herself of course. I've seen pictures of her at around that age, taken in school (nobody else would) and she looks exactly like those scruffy street urchins you see in sepia photos illustrating poverty studies. Or those similar urchins I occasionally post from Shorpy to my Tumblr blog.
  • The brother eventually left of his own accord to go and stay with his mother.
  • The fact of being deserted never estranged her from her own mother, really, and in later life they were the best of friends and allies. My grandmother -- my Nana -- came and lived with us in the end.
  • She had a drinker and all-round worthless case of her own as a husband, a seaman for the first 12 years of my life. She raised four boys without his help (but with her mother's) before and after his discharge. My childhood was marked by the sounds of him beating her as I lay next door unable to sleep, and unable to intervene. From then on, you will always fight for people who cannot fight for themselves, no matter how reckless it may be to do so.
  • We were always clean, had whole, unfashionable but sturdy shoes; wore hand-knitted but warm sweaters; had ghastly but tidy haircuts with no little friends nesting therein. We always had enough to eat; very few sweets, hardly ever any fizzy drinks, a piece of fruit in our schoolbags every day. We were never kept off school for any reason.
  • She took a job when the youngest of us went to school, selling fabrics and haberdashery in a shopping centre.
  • Unsatisfied with that, she began nursing training at the age of 40, and qualified first time. She continued to work in nursing until she retired, and doubtless ensured that many a patient left hospital a lot earlier than the doctors had predicted.
  • Since taking the bus took too long and cost too much, she bought a moped at about the age of 45 and travelled to work on it.
  • She later learned to drive, and finally passed after about the eighth attempt. By then she must have been about 55. She has always driven like a little old lady, and always will.
  • Long after my first wife and I had divorced, and she had other children, my mother would babysit for them, and she probably still gives them birthday and Christmas presents. The fact that I'm no longer involved in that arrangement doesn't concern her in the least. She is.
  • She still sends me money from time to time, convinced I might be in need of it (for many years I was). I believe she does the same for my brothers, and for all of our children. The mystery is where the hell it comes from, because logic insists she has only a state pension and a small supplementary occupational pension.
  • You can protest all you like, she'd be mortally offended if you tried not to take it. So you have to spend it on her in other ways. Not that that's easy: a lifetime of deprivation both enforced and self-imposed has turned her into someone who neither needs nor wants a thing.
  • She has buried one grandchild, and the way she's going, she's likely to bury at least one child.
  • If I could have one wish, I would take a piece of my childhood, which despite what I mention above was pretty damn idyllic, and let her have it for a day, just to let her see: "That's what childhood is like".

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers everywhere.