Apprenticed To My Mother #amwriting #cover

As regular readers will know I penned a few stories about my mother which I decided to turn into a memoir – though some will say parts, especially the dialogue are more based on a true story, given no one remembers conversations that well. A number of lovely people read the final version through and gave me some splendid ideas; Esther Chilton has edited it and it’s back in her careful hands for a final tidy up.

Which means we are nearly there…

In celebration, here is a  chapter that, first time around, seemed to go down well. At the end, as is the case with most of the chapters in the book, is a poem of my father’s. He wrote a poem to my mother, each year, on her birthday. This is one example.

Other People’s Funerals

It is increasingly the fashion that when people die after having had a “good innings” their funerals are structured to celebrate a life as much as to mourn their departing. We had attempted that with Dad with reasonable success. Some though hate the whole idea and for those who are becoming aware of their own increasing mortality, funerals can be unpleasant reminders and not so welcome.

With Mum nothing could have been further from the truth. Obviously, she didn’t want her friends to die, but if they did, well, these were opportunities not to be wasted.  She had a quixotic relationship with funerals.

First there was the sharing of the news, and the excuse to reprise both the life now over, as well as the mode of death. This need for detail was neither salacious nor gratuitous. Partly it stored up a comparative knowledge that might aid others – “oh yes Dawn had Prescott’s Biblious Grommet Syndrome but she lasted ten years after the tuna poultices were applied”; partly it allowed for a deepening of the sympathy – “poor Meryl had Crowther’s Redundancy Complications, and could never manage cribbage after the third operation”.

Then there might be a little light speculation on who might go next. “Dennis is peaky”. “Harold has given up Rioja.” “Beryl is on the dabs again”.

And the type of send-off was an important focus of the debate. “She said quiet, though she liked a do if someone else was paying.” “It’ll be canapés and warm white. Never did grasp catering did Phyllis”.

Of course, there was some mileage to be gained in identifying those who wouldn’t be invited. “Dolores is going to her daughter’s that day.” “Really? No invite?” “Not after the crochet imbroglio.”

The songs. “She’ll have hymns, the heathen.” “Apparently, he wanted Kylie but Martine put her foot down after that video embarrassment.”

So, when Joan, a family friend of some sixty years, died after a short bout of pneumonia, we had to go. Dad went to school with Joan’s husband Fred, and they had married a couple of years before Mum and Dad. Sadly, Fred now had dementia, but their sons were organising things and were keen if Mum could make it. ‘Not many of their generation left,’ was the way their eldest son, a Doctor, put it to me. ‘Dad mentions your mum. A lot.’

You wondered why he should remember her specifically. But Mum was keen so I took a day off work and planned to drive her the round trip of one hundred and fifty miles to and from Surrey for the service and wake and then home.

We had a bit of a to do in the car. Mainly because we used hers – “It needs a run” – and I said I’d drive. ‘I’m still capable of driving, you know.’ Hmm, we left that one hanging.

Then there was the radio. ‘It doesn’t work properly. I can’t turn up the volume.’

‘You’re not using the right knob, Mum.’

‘Well that’s a bloody silly place to put it.’

We settled eventually and talked about Fred and Joan and boating holidays in the early 1950s before children. Of Fred and Dad, lean young men, just out of the Forces, showing off by jumping in the Thames and posing for the camera. Of parties. Not exactly sober affairs. Of Fred’s old Ford that took them everywhere but hated the many Surrey hills. Apropos of this, Mum said, ‘Poor man had one shot off.’

It is difficult to know where to come at a statement like that. I was pretty sure she didn’t mean Fred so decided on the who question hoping that the what would be answered too.

The reply came swiftly. ‘George Bale. Big bear of a man. Odd nostrils.’

Were they the “what”? Did he lose a nostril? Having one would be “odd” in several ways.

Mum stared out of her passenger window at the recently cut hay being bundled into those huge ball things that pass for haystacks these days. It was a lovely late summer day. ‘Fred drove the boys to away games (of rugby). He always tried to avoid taking George because of his size. Said it weighed down the car.’

‘Did he have the handlebar moustache? Rode a Triumph motorbike?’

‘Wrong George. That was Stuart. Charming man though he did pat a little too much for my liking. Drank Vermouth, too.’ This last was said in a way I think meant she suspected his orientation, though that contradicted the tendency to pat women. Mum wasn’t someone you patted twice, methinks.

She carried on, warming to her anecdote. ‘They had to take George because he’d injured himself. They were off to the hospital which meant going up Church Hill (this is one of the steepest hills in North Surrey) and the car was struggling. When finally, they crested the top and breathed a collective sigh of relief, Fred looked back at George and said, ‘Just as well you’ve only got one, George, or we’d not have made it.”

I waited. I know my mother. She was deliberately eking this out, waiting for me to ask the what question. She could out-wait St Peter, that woman. I asked.

‘His testicle. Hit by a sniper near Mannheim in 1945. George always said it was as well it was his left one because he was so right handed.’

The funeral was freezing, but we warmed up at the do after. Mum held court, telling nephews and nieces and younger generations about the Fred and Joan she remembered. George’s testicle loomed large as it were. She loved to shock, did Mum. Meanwhile Fred circled the food table greeting Mum with the best smile of the day and a hug of real affection. Mum played along each time, like they hadn’t met in ages.

On the way back, Mum was quiet, contemplative. Finally, she said, ‘Dementia is a dreadful thing, isn’t it? Losing someone you’re close to without really being able to grieve and move on. But oddly the new Fred is lovely. Charming. He’d become something of a curmudgeon latterly. This one is much more like the old Fred, the one we holidayed with. I hope his children can appreciate that at least.’

Let us return to the birthday series of poems.

To Barbara – October 21st, 1987

On your special day, my love, the world is touched with brightness,

As the slow October sun, warm and drowsy as a child,

Floods the garden with rich golden light.

Along the tangled ancient hedge, bees quest and murmur in the ivy flowers,

And butterflies, with quivering wings, grow tipsy on the juice of tumbled apples,

Soft-decaying in the dappled orchard grass.

Late roses, petalled pink and red, beckon from the secret corners which are your delight,

While clematis, unscathed as yet by chilly nights, still clambers skywards,

Gleaming star-like through the shady shrubs.

So, nature smiles Her thanks to you today, remembering your gentleness, and loving care,

And I, who love you very much, smile too, but cannot speak,

Lest foolish tears betray a trembling heart.

And the real purpose of this post? The cover. Here are three possibilities. Let me know in the comments which you prefer. Not that I’ll listen unless you agree with my choice: if you do then that is democracy at work; if not then I will resist the blandishments of mob rule!

Number One

Number Two

Number Three

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published two anthologies of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand and Life in a Flash. More will appear soon, including a memoir of my mother's last years. I will try and continue to blog regularly at about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. 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.
This entry was posted in Books, cover reveal, family, memoires and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

53 Responses to Apprenticed To My Mother #amwriting #cover

  1. trifflepudling says:

    Sniff. They’re all good but I’d go for number 1 as it shows the whole person, not just as they were at one stage in their life. I love the wedding photo (which appears in both 1 and 2). Your dad is wearing the same expression as mine did in his wedding photos – quite stunned that he managed to get married to his lady!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Hi Geoff. This was delightfully told. And then potential covers too? What fun for a hump day. Not only do I like the first one best, I like it a lot. It shows a whole life, plus the colors and positions of the images work really well. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. davidprosser says:

    Number 1 all the way for me Geoff, it seems more rounded than the others somehow.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Number 1 is the best as far as graphics go. Looks more balanced and the colours are easier on the eye [for me].

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I vote for the first cover image as well, for pretty much the same reasons as everyone else. How delightful that the whole collection is coming out! I’ve greatly enjoyed reading all the episodes you’ve posted here on the blog. Congratulations! (and well done!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I like Number 1 best Geoff, it gives more aspects to her life.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I like them best, in the order in which you presented them, with #1 being my personal favorite

    Liked by 1 person

  8. willowdot21 says:

    Loved the chapter of course, live all the book covers but I am drawn to number one! 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  9. hanorah21 says:

    Like everyone else, I really like the first one.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Erika Kind says:

    I vote for number 1, Geoff! I like that little view into her life.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ritu says:

    I was totally drawn to the first one His Geoffleship!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. gordon759 says:

    And I too would definitely go for number 1

    Liked by 1 person

  13. LucciaGray says:

    I like the second one with just one smaller picture. I find the smaller pictures in no1 a little distracting. Lovely idea to write a memoir to/about your mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Charli Mills says:

    I’ve always loved your posts about both your parents, their letters and your dad’s poetry to your mom. From what I’ve read on your blog, this will be a stunning book. I think Irene could respond to your comment about dialog. She’s posting on that very topic at the Ranch on Friday. She writes, “The essence of the dialogue must be true to memory even though the words are not remembered.” I like cover #1 best as it feels like snapshots of a woman’s life. The wedding photo with the title in cover #2 comes across a bit Oedipal. I like the vintage splash of color on cover #3 but it doesn’t have the same “mother” impact as cover #1.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Darlene says:

    They are all great but I prefer no. 2 as the first one is to busy for my liking. I like the wedding picture very much. This was a great excerpt.


  16. Anabel Marsh says:

    Definitely the first one. It’s the will of the people.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. noelleg44 says:

    Lovely memoir, Geoff. I like #1 – it shows more of the life.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Sue Vincent says:

    You know I love these tales, Geoff. As to the cover…the first one says most to me.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. JT Twissel says:

    I loved this post so very much – your mother would have definitely got on with mine. May I reblog? To answer ? I prefer the third cover. Such good titles “Odd Nostrils” “Wrong George” and “George’s Testicles Loomed Large.”

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Love this chapter. The first cover is a winner in my case: a capture of what’s between the covers. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Number One captures, in its tones, the passing of time. When, as an Area Manager, I put an issue up for discussion in large team meetings, then made my decision, I would answer moaners with: “Discussion is not democracy. I listen to what you have to say, but I’m the one with the responsibility for deciding”. But Heaven help you if you don’t choose that one 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Norah says:

    How exciting, Geoff, to know that your book is reaching the final stages. Like most others, I like #1 the most. I wonder if you agree with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. There it is. I was wondering. My vote is for cover # 1.
    Congratulations and good luck.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. I like cover 1 best. It is very interesting with the collage of photographs.

    Liked by 1 person

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