Regular readers will recognise the heading. Last year I decided to pull together a memoir of my time with my mother, post dad. I’ve now finished it and it’s in for editing. This post, like so many, comes with a request. Are there readers out there, memoir writers or others, who’d like to beta read for me? I would be very grateful if there were. Of course, as with all such requests if you want a similar help from me you’ll only have to ask. It’s not a long book but one that will be precious to me. To help you on your way, I’ve set out the introduction to give you a flavour. Many thanks in advance.
I have many memories of my parents, always together, well apart from the walks I undertook with Dad. And then he was gone and we had to cope with an absence; more to the point I had to cope with Mum. I was forty-nine and she… she wouldn’t want me to tell you.
If you had asked me up to that point to describe Mum it would have been clichéd: kind, funny, dutiful, family-orientated. But it would have lacked real depth, without nuance. Too black and white. With Dad, it would have been different. I knew him well, his many facets and foibles by the time he died.
What I didn’t realise – I don’t think either of us did – was that I was – maybe we were – about to undertake yet another education, with the specialist subject being my Mother.
This book is the story of that education. It is not a chronological history; indeed, there’s little logic to it because there was no planning, nothing linear about how it unfolded. It is only in retrospect that I realised the indelible imprint Mum was, belatedly leaving on me. And as I reflected, I came to view other incidents, from an earlier time, in new ways. I’ve included some of those too, towards the end. It helps complete the picture of a woman of her time and of no time. She was unique – but aren’t we all? However, within this picture of a charming, contrary, compassionate, curmudgeonly, caring parent, there is something universal, something from which we can all learn. That, I hope, is how you will find this book.
Necessarily, there is a fair bit about Dad too, and the rest of my family. With Dad, I have tried to round him out by including some of his poetry. A lot of it, I read for the first time after he died; he barred anyone but Mum from seeing it in his lifetime. Mum, however, was so very proud of it and him that this tribute to her would fail if I didn’t do some justice to him and his skills, too. I hope you enjoy them.
My parents were married for some fifty-three years; it should have been longer. I’ve often wondered at the gap between their first date, in the of autumn 1944 and their nuptials in March 1952. The War and Dad’s service in Palestine kept them apart for three of those years but they spent the best part of four years, having corresponded assiduously in his absence in the Middle East, avoiding what I think all their friends and family would have assumed was inevitable.
It is not as if they had some libertarian objection to the institution of marriage. Far from it. Nor was it money, I think. They’re weren’t flush but they both worked and there was always some help from Mum’s mum, my Gran. Reading some letters Dad wrote to Mum while away, in 1947/48, I would say he was very keen to ‘get spliced’. I’m left to conclude that Mum decided the time wasn’t ripe during those four years until, at last, it was. Though the eventual decision to wed would, I’m pretty certain, have been seen by all as prompted by Dad, I’m equally certain that he waited until Mum made it clear he could proceed.
This neatly encapsulates their marriage: on the one hand, Mum made sure no one ever pricked that bubble of masculine authority that Dad needed to feel whole, to be the man he aspired to be; at the same time, they both understood where the power resided, when it came to any crunch and it never needed articulating. A marriage of equals, in many ways, but the casting vote clearly resided with the mysterious feminine.
And then Dad died, in March 2005. I suppose we all expected there to be some changes, now she could, overtly at last, be in charge. The only problem with that was that Mum didn’t want things to change. It is only looking back that I realise what she wanted most was someone to continue to play his role; maybe that way she could pretend, to some degree at least, that he was still there, still the figurehead, acting as her spokesperson in life.
That is why I became apprenticed to my mother. She had a lot to teach me.
For those reading this memoire I must explain that I am reluctant to expose my lovely living family to any more scrutiny than is necessary in order to tell Mum’s and, to an extent, Dad’s story. So, you will meet, variously, the Textiliste, the Lawyer, the Vet, the Archaeologist and others. You will work out who is who soon enough I am certain.