Since it’s Mother’s Day here in the States, we wanted to do a tribute to our ‘dear old mum’. She was a character all right, feisty, funny, unique… Her are just ten of the many attributes we loved about her.
1. Her Lack Of Prejudice
She loved people of all colours, races, ethnicities, backgrounds. She accepted all, not giving a hoot where people came from or what they did for a living or what others said about them. (Although she did secretly want us both to marry Sidney Poitier). She was an army nurse in India during the war, posted to Singapore and Japan just after the surrender. She’d learned enough foreign expressions to be dangerous. She’d walk in Chinese restaurants and say “Please” and “Thank you” in Japanese, oblivious of the great traditional hatred between those two nations. We were always expecting an enraged Chinese cook to burst from the kitchen and attack her with his cleaver. But somehow she won them over.
2. Her Hatred of Housework
She loathed housework so much that she turned the whole thing into a game for us four children. Making beds meant we had to stand opposite each other, yell “One two three” then somersault over the other side before tucking the sheets in. Repeated until the whole bed was made. She’d wash blankets in the bath, plonking us on top to trample them under water. Polishing wood floors consisted of us all having rags tied to our feet and skating around the room to her favourite pop music – Tom Jones or Elvis. And like Peggy in How To Survive Your Sisters she’d put aside unpleasant tasks for the maid, Mary, and then when she could procrastinate no longer she’d play-act at being ‘Mary, the maid’ to get them done.
3. Her Love of Singing
Boy would she sing! Every day, all day. Whenever, wherever, and usually at the top of her voice, which was a great source of embarrassment to all of her children. (Like when we’d pass school friends and she’d be singing some Hawaiian song and waving her arms Hula style). Her voice wasn’t completed tuneless and she knew all the words to all the musicals and made sure we did too. We heard every war song, every music hall number from the 30s and (oddly) all the old negro spirituals and minstrel songs. Many a long Scottish winter night was spent huddled around the fire with song sheets singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and “Way Down Upon De Swanee River”. But she also loved “Elvis the Pelvis,” Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck – just as long as they were shaking and grinding those hips.
4. Her Culinary Skills
She made great chips (French fries) but apart from that… Her steaks were shoe leather. Vegetables overcooked and soggy. Porridge like glue. You could break a tooth on her scones – but then all baked goods were saved for unexpected visitors and given to us when well and truly stale. She’d toast just one side of the bread under the grill and tell us it was “French”. She burned everything, the oven was constantly puffing out black fumes. It wasn’t until we left home we realized fried onions weren’t always black charred cinders. And the war had made her frugal. Green mould on the bread or cheese? “It’s penicillin, darling. It’s good for you.” Clumps of soured milk floating on top of your cup of tea? “Perfectly fine, just give it a stir.” And she had her own way of making us eat things. “But I made it specially for you, darling. I knew it was your favourite.’
5. Her Sense of Humour
There’s a scene in How to Survive your Sisters where a neighbor and friend, heading to the shops, teases Peggy about her lack of gardening skills, suggesting she’ll be lucky to get anything growing in that small dusty patch, and when she walks back, Peggy’s previously bare front yard is a riot of colour – planted with plastic daffodils, roses and tulips, given free in those days with boxes of laundry soap. That friend laughed about it for years. That was Mum. And a true story. She loved to joke, tell funny stories and find any way to brighten people’s day. She could put a comic spin on anything, even adversity and personal disasters. She had quite a hard life in some ways but never looked for sympathy.
6. Her lack of embarrassment
She once stood behind a young male hippy at a bus stop and said in a loud voice, “You know they grow their hair long so they can be pulled up to heaven”. She’d boldly walk past “No Entry”, “Keep Out”, “No Trespassing” signs with us timidly behind convinced we were about to get arrested. She would chat to everybody and anybody. Reveal all our secrets. Tell everyone how her daughters “aren’t interested in boys. They spend all their time up the tree at the bottom of the garden”. Fine when you’re six but not sixteen!
7. Her Love of the Great Outdoors
Life was much too much fun to spend indoors. “Blow the housework,” she’d say, sticking on her hat, grabbing her bag and running up the road with us in tow to the nearest bus stop. (She didn’t learn to drive until we’d long grown up). We’d go off on jaunts, up to the Braid Hills, to the beach at Portobello or her favourite Corstorphine Woods, frequently getting lost because she refused to take the same route back. Once she spotted a rope hanging from a tall tree, grabbed it and swung over a huge bomb crater, forgetting to jump until she was at the highest point. How we laughed when she emerged covered in mud and leaves.
8. Her Love of Animals
She’d go out of her way to rescue animals. Be it a bee or an ant. Spiders would be lifted very carefully under a glass and removed to the garden. She hated cruelty of any description and all the animals that we grew up with, cats, dogs, rabbits, were all from rescue centres. She once went down a shallow disused well to save a dog and we two (maybe 8 and 10 years old) had the almost impossible task of pulling her back out. Another time she walked around for three day with a baby rabbit tucked in her bosom as he had missed his brother and sister rabbits who had found good homes. She encouraged both of us in our love of horses and urged us to go and ask down at the local stables if we could help out. Later, when we were desperate for a horse of our own, she coughed up her hard earned money to help us buy it.
9. Nothing was Off Limits
We knew that whatever we did wrong, we had her forgiveness and her support. She was unshockable. Not that we were really terrible kids, but we were given free rein at a young age to wander wherever, come back whenever. She trusted us and we always knew that we could talk to her about anything. If there was some sort of infighting between friends, she wouldn’t necessarily jump to our defence, but she’d try and make us see the other person’s point of view, while acknowledging our pain or anger. She had a real gift for finding the right balance between interfering and just being there. We always knew she was behind us loving us and backing us in whatever we wanted to do.
10. Her laugh
You could hear it a mile off. A cross between a sealion and a braying donkey. She loved laughing and would find numerous things in daily life hilariously funny. If our friends were around to play, we’d be dreading somebody saying something vaguely amusing as it would set her off. She also loved making people laugh and would think of numerous ways to brighten up all occasions. Many years ago when she was nursing, there was a dying patient, and she’d tell him all her stories about her bicycle called Mathilda. “Oh Mathilda and I went off to Chichester this afternoon”, “Mathilda and I are going on a ride along the sea front”, “I bought Mathilda a new bell yesterday”. The patient, a young soldier, seemed fascinated. So, against all rules and regulations, one day, she put ribbons all over Mathilda and wheeled the bike, all dressed up into the ward to show him. The patient was thrilled. The Matron was not. Even when she was dying herself, with an inoperable brain tumour, she would have the nurses in hysterics with her mad jokes and silly sayings. They all came to her funeral.
Oh how we’d love to hear her laughter once more.
We love you, Mum!
Pam and Lorraine xxxx
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