Apprenticed to my mother – downsizing part 3


Mum and Dad’s 50th, surrounded by family and with sons bookending them

My sister in law is not formidable. She’s kind, caring, of a gentle disposition. She’s a bit bonkers too but then so are a number of my family and those to whom we are attracted. Personally I think non-stereotypical behaviours, which after all is what madness mostly is, add to the gaiety of nations – well, they make charades more fun.

So having appraised the Archaeologist of my lost battle on the pre-move downsizing front (he took it with the expected resignation) he informed my SIL. She didn’t say much but the next weekend we all arrived early to continue helping with the packing.

‘I’ll start on the food then.’ SIL headed for the kitchen.

We all knew a fair proportion of mum’s cupboards held every spice and packet and tin and jar imaginable. Most would not be needed in the couple of weeks until the move day. I went upstairs to empty the airing cupboard (I found some lavender drying in the back, hidden by a Matterhorn of towels, which I’m pretty certain was ten years old). The Archaeologist and mum made for the garage to begin the task of deciding if any of the wood she had saved down the years could be burnt on a planned bonfire – neither of us had much hope but as it turned out even mum recognised her days at the lathe were numbered).


Ah, how often is this an image of mum I remember, this time with her granddaughter

Thus it was a couple of hours before we returned to the kitchen for a tea and cake break (apricot and date, with an exceptional cardamon cream – I keep a diary, that’s how I know!)

I suppose I was expecting a number of filled boxes but there were a couple. Instead on one counter-top were a series of tins and jars and packets separated into sections. Mum’s frown was one of suspicion.

Stepping back for a moment, I should add that, for many years the Archaeologist and I had known Mum wanted a daughter. There were things she felt she could have done with a daughter that we boys failed to provide, of that there is no doubt. Circumstances meant mum and dad stopped expanding the Le Pard dynasty at me but the lack of a woman on to whom she could pass her many skills (I know, that’s a bit sexist but indulge her please; in her sphere of influence she was demonstrably the stronger of the species so she didn’t waste her energises on proving the already self evident) left something of a void, one which she was delighted to fill with her daughters in law, both of whom are crafty women (yes, I do mean that in every sense). But there was one trait she understood better than we mere quintessences of dust and that was her DILs didn’t accept the same BS from her that her sons did. And therein lay the problem we were now confronting.

‘Ok Barbs. I’ve set out the items you have to throw away, just so you can decide if you want to replace them. Then there are those which you should dump and those which you could keep but it would be better if they went too. I’ve packed the rest.’ There was this tone in my SIL’s voice that, to me, didn’t suggest she was commencing negotiations. More ‘just sign here’.

Mum didn’t even approach the items. ‘They’re all fine.’

SIL was prepared. She picked up a label-less metal lump that may have been a tin once but now resembled the sort of clinker you might find at the bottom of a steel smelter. ‘This had ‘mangoes’ written on it in marker pen. It was pressed against the hot water pipe at the back of the cupboard. I think the contents have been cooking for some time.’

Mum shrugged but didn’t fight. ‘What’s wrong with that one?’ She pointed at the tin next to it.

‘It has a ‘use by date’ of August 04. That’s three years past.’

‘Phooey. They put those on so gullible fools buy new when they don’t need to.’

‘Barbs. You can hear the contents bubbling inside.’

‘We had tins I bought in the war which I used to feed these two boys ten years later and it didn’t affect them.’

SIL looked from me to my brother and her expression suggested she found that statement debatable. However she merely dropped the can into a black bag she was holding and waited for mum.

Mum pursed her lips. ‘I’ll dig it out after you’ve gone.’

‘We’ll take it with us.’

By now, mum was alongside SIL starign at the three sections of commestibles. She picked up a jar, inspecting the label. ‘This hasn’t passed its date.’

SIL looked at it. ‘That is because you’ve ย had it since before they introduced sell by and use by dates.’ She looked at the Archaeologist and me. ‘I looked it up on my phone. This brand ceased before then.’

The debate rumbled on for a while, but with each victory, mum’s shoulders sagged. We men watched, both marvelling and saddened. Mum must have noticed the less than positive body language of the marginalised. With an edge to her voice, that brooked no argument she turned on us. ‘Well, you two are very quiet. What do you think?’

I looked at him; he looked at me. I knew we were both of the same mind, as we had been since we could both speak. We might be, in aggregate over 100, but somethings do not change. He was the one brave enough to articulate the thought.

‘Can we go outside and see what happens when we open the mangoes?’

After all, scientific research has always taken precedence over all else.


Sometime in the late 1940s I’d guess…

As for dad’s poem, this time it’s from a birthday card, in 1986. You may not have heard that dad wrote mum poem on each of her birthdays and demanded she showed no one which she didn’t until the day after he died when she gave them all to me. At the time of this poem, Mum was 61 and they’d been married 34 years.

To Barbs

On other people’s birthdays it isn’t really hard

To write lots of jolly verses to put inside their card

The idea is to make ’em smile and I often find that I’m

Already giggling over some atrocious rhyme.


But that’s for other people, members of the crowd

Bawdy, silly doggerel meant for reading out loud

And though I must admit I love the laughter when it starts

It’s all just flippant fun from my mind and not my heart.


But writing in your card, my love, on this your special day

Is a very different matter ‘cos the things I want to say

Are all pent up inside me and they’re sometimes mixed with tears

For I love you very much and I have through all the years.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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31 Responses to Apprenticed to my mother – downsizing part 3

  1. Ritu says:

    The daughter in law(dil) /mother in law (mil) battle… I know it well. As a dil to a mother of 2 sons !!! Luckily we have a great relationship and I try to be the daughter she never had ๐Ÿ˜Š
    And your dad’s poem really touched me ๐Ÿ˜

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anabel Marsh says:

    Maximum points to SIL then! But what DID happen when you opened the mangoes?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Yep, I was wondering about those mangoes as well ??? I wish I couldn’t relate to all of this. We stripped the cabinets while the MIL was not around…she had squandered food for decades, refusing to discard anything. We trashed it all…mostly cans, dried goods, pasta, etc. As for the DIL/MIL relationship…I could write a book..maybe I will . โ˜บThanks, Geoff. It’s easier to smile about this stuff in retrospect.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Helen Jones says:

    I do love these posts, Geoff, as I think I’ve said before. This one did make me laugh – I’m expecting to find out about the mangoes in the next instalment ๐Ÿ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

  5. trifflepudling says:

    Poem: Sob ….

    Liked by 1 person

  6. davidprosser says:

    I believe your Dad was a man who knew well the effect words can have when used properly. Like weapons, straight for the heart. Your SIL showed some gumption that day Geoff, it should go down in family history…..The Day Someone else had a turn at winning.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love the SiL. A wonderful story. The poem has me looking for a hanky. S.w.e.e.t.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I have similar conversations with my daughters about use by dates ๐Ÿ™‚ I feel a connection to your mother! The photo of your young parents show such a savvy, confident couple – it’s very beautiful, as is the poem. It’s no wonder your ma ruled with such a firm hand, she was so secure in her man, so loved and adored it seems – Queen of her realm. I love this!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Allie P. says:

    My hubby’s grandmother was a bit of a hoarder (understatement). We found 10 can openers when we were cleaning out her things. Not that she particularly collected can openers or anything, she simply would forget where she hid it away and decided it was easier to buy a new one than go through and declutter the rest of the kitchen. Your SIL is a brave woman.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. jan says:

    LOL, My mother didn’t believe in Used By Date either. Lovely poem!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. willowdot21 says:

    For the love of Mum!for the love of a wife. Lovely as always .xx

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I. too, am tormented by the mangoes

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve been loving the downsizing posts. It reminds me so much of my maternal grandmother, who had come of age during the 1930s during the Great Depression in the U.S. No one could ever persuade her to get rid of anything. Even if something was worn out or broken, she was convinced that there had to be another use for it, if only she held onto it long enough. It was so hard for her once she had to move to a small senior apartment when her health deteriorated, and most of her treasures were either thrown away or auctioned off. I must say that her children were not as sensitive about her feelings as your family was.

    Liked by 1 person

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