MY MOTHER’S DAY
Quote of the day: ‘Every day I wake up and think: How on Earth did I become this much like my mother.’
Simon’s busy watching Chelsea FC play so there’s no offering today.
It is Mothers Day in the UK tomorrow. Here’s to all mums everywhere, here and departed, part-time or full-time, biological or inherited, working or stay at home, single or with a partner. They all deserve a shout out.
I really wanted to write about my Mum.
The irony of cremating my mother on Burns Night was not lost on me.
At over 101 years of age, it would be absurd to say my mother’s death was not expected. However, I think we had all been lulled into a false sense of security, and were beginning to believe she would be around forever. The pic above was taken a few days before she died, as she received a present from my daughter.
I have another picture taken the day she died. It is only of her hands, as I wanted to remember them always. I couldn’t bring myself to post it.
It felt too intimate.
Raw and eviscerating.
Four years on and I still cannot believe she is not here.
Her amazing courage, determination, independence, sense of duty and devotion to her family drove her throughout her life, and probably contributed to her longevity.
My mother Barbara was brought into an uncertain world in Hillingdon, Middlesex in the middle of World War 1, on May 12th 1917.
Yes, that’s World War 1. The Great War, Trench warfare and all that.
It was a time when there were few motor cars, air flight was in its infancy, and women had no say in decision making. A very different world from the one we know now.
Her father James was a soldier and saw active service. My mother once told me that when he returned on leave, her mother, his wife Maria Grace, would cut his uniform off him and burn it, being lice infested as he and it was.
A stark contrast between the battlefield and the nursery.
It seems her childhood with older sister Joyce and younger sister Marjorie, was happy and pretty much as you would expect. They were lucky enough to live a reasonably comfortable life and enjoyed the traditional childhood of bygone years. Discipline and traditional Victorian values were instilled into them, but not in an unkind way.
Perhaps, being an older sister, Mummy’s babysitting skills needed a little honing. She was apparently tasked with pushing younger sister Marj in her pram around the lawn. High jinks ensued and gradually gathering speed until they were at full pelt, Marj was catapulted out of the pram and into the hedge.
My mother was not popular!
Mummy once shared a traumatic childhood memory with us. It stayed with her all her days.
That was having her tonsils removed on the family’s kitchen table without anaesthetic. The nightmare of a large man wearing a tall black hat hovering over her that day stayed with her through the rest of her 101 years.
Above photos are dated 1941.
When growing up, she really wanted to become a nurse - or even go on stage - but as the times were then, her father James forbade this and she was sent to secretarial college to learn shorthand and typing. Like a good daughter, she obeyed her father and complied.
Several clerical jobs later, during World War 2, after a five minute interview, she found herself as the only female civilian at Bomber Command HQ in Uxbridge. It was her dream job. She was really in the thick of things and loved the buzz of it all. Plus there were loads of dashing young servicemen around who obviously appreciated her curly dark hair, bright blue eyes and fabulous figure.
What she didn’t like was the uncertainty, but she loved the war spirit. She told me “It was a different world then. Everyone was kind and helped each other. You never knew whose last day it could be.”
During the War, Mummy also enlisted as a local warden for the ARP Fire Service, helping organise neighbours and friends if their houses were bombed. It was a way of channelling her independence and determination to help people.
This didn’t stop her turning to arson and lighting a victory bonfire on VE Day, in the middle of the road she and her family lived in. As the flames burned and she danced around the fire like a wild woman, a car load of medical students pulled up. They too joined in dancing around the fire. Much merriment was had by all. Before they drove on, amidst hugs and laughter, Mummy swapped her garden hoe for a small dagger from them. My family still has this today. I wonder where the hoe is now?
Life was soon to change dramatically and her knight on a white charger was about to arrive.
Mutual friends introduced her to Godfrey, and on September 15th 1943, in the middle of the war, they were married. Captain Kent wore his military uniform. The bride wore a blue suit, made possible for her by kind donations of clothing coupons by friends. She carried pale pink roses.
He was the love of her life.
After my father returned from his posting in India, Captain and Mrs Kent moved to their first, much loved home, Broad Green Farm. Not long afterwards, their first daughter was born in 1948, another girl followed on in 1952 and I brought up the rear long afterwards in 1960. By then, my father was running the family farm and my mother became the archetypal farmers wife.
My sisters and I all share happy memories there of an idyllic childhood, running free through the fields, tennis on the lawn, happy and magical Christmases, golf club visits, ice on the inside of the frozen windows in winter, my fathers loathing of noise and pop music, and my mothers kindness, love and warmth for her family.
If I added lashings of ginger beer and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five to that equation, they were our childhoods in a nutshell.
Her hobbies, when there was time, included gardening, tennis, knitting, needlework and it appears she was a pretty slick golfer too.
In 1971, after my oldest sister had married and left home, my middle sister had left home and begun to train as a nurse, my parents and I moved to the other end of the village, to her beloved Parsonage Farm. A very special place indeed, surrounded as it is, by water on five of its six sides, meaning that it has a spring beneath the 500 year old house and is encircled on all four sides by an entire moat.
Yes, a moat.
Central heating was a priority and my parents snuggled down in their newly renovated warmer home. My father was still working on the farm but was at home more often as the farm buildings were only a few yards away.
Then started a new hobby for both parents - salmon fishing. It became a joint obsession for them. They spent many happy weeks up to their waists on rivers in Scotland but mainly on the River Wye at Tintern. It seems that my mother was a pretty dab hand at fishing too. I would imagine my father was very proud of her indeed.
Grandchildren had begun to arrive and they then had the privilege of their Granny’s love and affection.
The idyllic summers continued with harvest teas in cornfields. Every afternoon, out came the various wicker baskets and they were duly filled with Marmite or Sandwich Spread sandwiches, Penguin biscuits, and Battenberg cake. Plus of course, the obligatory tea or homemade orange squash, to be served in the blue plastic beakers still treasured by those grandchildren today.
Endless patience too, digging worms from the vegetable garden in summer. These met a grim death, being speared by a bent pin and dangled from string and a cane, off the bridge and into the moat, ready to tempt the sticklebacks.
In wintertime, if the weather allowed and your feet were small enough to fit into Mummy’s old size 3 leather ice skates, children and grandchildren spent many happy frost filled days skidding and skating about on the moat. I think her terror of one of us crashing through the ice remained with her always, even though I don’t think anyone ever did.
Her beloved husband passed on suddenly on April 20th 1997.
It was such a shock for us all.
I personally thought she would never learn to live again.
How wrong could I be.
Within a week she was dictating terms to a rather offensive man she had come into contact with, who had wronged one of her children. He never crossed our paths again but if his name was ever mentioned, her eyes would become slitty and her teeth would grind. You could see the utter contempt and loathing seeping from her every pore.
You didn’t mess with my Mum’s family and expect to get out of it unscathed!
By this time Mummy was 80. Despite this, she would be out on the lawn playing football with the boys, cutting her grass and doing her garden, and watching tennis on the TV.
During her later 80’s, a new love came into her life.
She would motion to two photos on the wall. Pointing to a photo of my father she said “That’s my husband”. Pointing to a photo of Roger Federer she said “That’s my boyfriend”.
Perhaps the signed cap Roger Federer sent ‘To Barbara on her 100th birthday’ was even more treasured than the card from Queen Elizabeth.
André Rieu and his colourful musical style came a close run TV second.
Apparently, according to Mummy, the secret to a long life was “lots of boyfriends”, even though she was devoted to my father completely and utterly.
I think she was referring to her days before she met my father, when RAF servicemen were so much a part of her life.
As time moved on, she slowed down, of course she did. Nevertheless her determination and love for her family still gave her purpose and motivation.
More professional care was soon required and a fantastic care agency stepped up to, and beyond the mark. In addition, we as daughters, began the long haul of caring for her too.
We would have done nothing else.
During my oldest sister’s husband‘s final days, Mummy, then in her late 90’s, walked over to their house completely unaided apart from a stick, and arrived unannounced, to see him. The first the family knew of it was when they heard a little voice at the bottom of the stairs calling up “Hello, I think I may need a little help with this last bit to get upstairs”.
Her reasoning was she couldn’t let him go without saying goodbye, and she wouldn’t let the family go through everything without her being there.
This was simply ‘Mummy’.
A few days after Mummy died, my sisters and I found a small piece of scruffy paper in her handwriting asking at her funeral for “bright colours, and a party atmosphere for a life well lived”.
We did exactly that.
I miss her beyond measure but feel relief that her old bones no longer suffer. There’s something not quite right, knowing she has gone but I guess I will become accustomed to it one day. Frighteningly, I only have to look in the mirror to see her staring back at me. Not brilliant when you think she was 101 when she died. But it’s a comfort too.
I hope she is now dancing with Daddy to Moonlight Serenade again.
Happy Mothers Day, Mummy xx