There was an article in the paper recently which seemed kind of neat.
Essentially various people were asked to look at a photograph of their mother before she became their mother and comment on what that picture made them think – about the woman as she was, the woman she might have become. It works for any relative but somehow, since your birth mother has the biggest physical connection to you (until, as a woman, you become a mother yourself) choosing your mother seems appropriate.
This would be sometime in the late 1940s or early 50s. I’d guess before she married in 1952. There’s a lot here with which I am familiar.
Appearances first. She despaired of her unruly hair whose curls she fought with and lost to constantly. The dark colouring faded soon enough and I think she always dyed it when I was alive. At this time that brunette’s sheen suited her. She never made much of her face – ‘too round’ – but he liked her nose – ‘Roman’ – and the fact she had a strong chin.
My mother was a strong woman both physically and in terms of resilience. ‘Bloody minded’ seems apt looking at this picture. It’s as if she’s telling the camera man to ‘bloody well get on with it’. As a child growing up in her careful shadow she was a full bodied presence – nothing brittle or dainty about her – but here there is an unexpected elfin quality.
That sense of solidity, permanence – or possible a lack of transience – is best exemplified by her left thumb. It was a double thumb – two bones and two nails in one thumb. Sort of grotesque but fascinating. She loathed it back then, so she said but it came, in a way, to define her as my mother, to characterise her lack of care for the fripperies of personal appearance and an avowed determination to be herself, to stand out with whatever she had been given. She didn’t set out to be different – she was perfectly happy conforming – but equally if she didn’t agree with the common view she would stand four square against it.
She told us she was shy and it was only having to fight the corner for the Archaeologist and me that made her overcome her shyness. However to me there’s a glint here, something in the haughty angle of her chin that makes me think the strong minded, principled, sod them if they don’t like it woman I knew lurked in this young woman.
Mum wore trousers. She wore the trousers. Back then they give her a rebellious feel. Like the joke is on the men. She’s sexy – odd thing to say, maybe, but this woman isn’t my mother after all, not yet – and teasing. Makes me pretty sure my father is on the other side of the lens.
She might be a little gauche at times with the opposite sex and, for some, be intimidating. Bringing up her two younger brothers – she left school at 12 to nurse her dying father and look after the boys while he mother went out to work – meant she had to deal with bumptious lads and may well have carried that through to her late adolescence and young womanhood. I expect she was a bit of a handful, certainly there’s a tom boy still in here, suppressed perhaps, forced it a corner but not yet lost to femininity.
She would never give best to a man, this woman. And would disdain any woman that did, despise them maybe. Petite but not prepared to compromise on whose is the strongest sex. You’d have fun with this young woman, have a few drinks and laughs, share a cheroot maybe, do donuts on a motorbike but she’s unlikely to take you and everything about you too seriously. Losing her father when she was 14 was enough to tell her all she needed to know about living for the day, the moment. Her zest was for the now.
My mother and father first dated in 1944. They split to do their training (Mum the AVS and Dad the paratroop regiment) and Dad then spent 2 years in what was Palestine, returning in 1948. It took another 4 years for them to marry. Why that delay? This feisty, independent, determined young woman didn’t want ties, emotional or marital. There was a world out there, beyond my father’s no doubt puppy dog devotion. Travel, exploring other existences, yes I can imagine that.
But I suspect that’s not what rooted her to England and London. Not my father, not at the start. No, it was her mother, a woman who’d lost her beloved husband and brought up the family and fought for them, determined they’d have the best life she could manage for them. My gran wasn’t easy, wasn’t sweet, wasn’t especially forgiving. She was a tough old bird – my dad used that expression often enough – and wanted her brood to spread their wings and fly, find their own way. Maybe that’s why they did, but in Mum’s case never far from gran. And as it happened, never far from dad.
What do you see here? Where might this woman have ended up? What about your own mother?