In May this year, it’ll be 52 years since my mother died. That was 2 days after my 16th birthday and my memory of the day is, perhaps understandably, a little hazy. She was the victim of an idiot driver who reversed down a road in a place hidden from oncoming traffic. My father, driving with her as passenger, had to take immediate avoiding action only to see too late that a concrete mixer lorry was speeding down the road toward him. They never had a chance. In the days before seat belts were compulsory, my Mum went through the windscreen as the vehicles collided head on. Dad was thrown through the passenger door and escaped with minor injuries. He was never the same. Mum died instantly.
That happened on the Monday that I’d been to an event where I was being tested as a potential candidate to join the Royal Air Force. I returned home to find the house occupied only by my elder sister and my younger brother. No sign of our parents.
Around teatime, a car identical to my father’s pulled up. Dad got out of the driver’s side. His best friend, Bert, was with him, and I realised it was Bert’s car. He’d insisted my father drive home so that he wouldn’t lose his nerve, as driving was essential to his job as a commercial traveller.
Bert collected my brother, then seven years old, and took him out of earshot as Dad explained to my sister and I that our Mum was dead. It changed all our lives.
So, I lost my Mum when I was a teenager. She’d been my best friend for much of that time. We could talk about anything. She was a caring, loving, and well-loved woman: the floral tributes on the day of her funeral filled one room completely. She was a painter, a gifted artist who’d been denied the chance of making progress in that field by a combination of events outside her control and her own concern to care for her family. I used to love to sit and watch her paint on the odd occasions she had time and opportunity.
When I wrote my first stumbling stories as exercises for school homework, she would listen and make the odd suggestion for improvement, but she always encouraged me. She provided me with a solid foundation in love that also taught me to respect women from an early age; to treat them as equals rather than the second class citizens the then prevalent paternalism made them. But she was also a lover of fun. I recall when I was about 11 or 12, she had drawn designs of flowers on my face using an eyebrow pencil, covering most of my skin with patterns. I was happy to be her canvas. She then recalled we needed bread and sent me off to the baker’s in the town square. I was curious about the odd looks I received as I walked through the streets and the smirks on the faces of the shop girls. Only when I was preparing for bed later did I see the patterns on my face in the mirror and smile at her joke.
I wonder whether I would really have joined the RAF to become a photographer had she lived. I’d have passed more of my exams that May and June and had more reason to stay home. I’d probably have gone instead to art college, which would have been much more suited to my personality.
It was years before I could think of her without tears falling. I still miss her; wish she could have met my wife and my daughter. She’d have made a wonderful mum-in-law and grandmother.
I remember her as a woman of courage, good humour, talent and real kindness. And her steadfast love allowed me to enjoy a childhood that even now I look back on as rather idyllic, in spite of our relative material shortages.
So, on this Mothers’ Day, I dedicate my thoughts to my Mum and give thanks that I had her love, even if only for a short time. Her memory will reside inside me for good and I live a life made better by her care for me when her child. Thanks, Mum. I’ll always love you.