My Mother

Mum was always home when we got in from school, usually wearing an old apron, usually in the kitchen, making something for our tea. Except on Tuesdays and Thursdays when her friend came for afternoon tea and ‘girl time’. The big brown enamel teapot was in the same faded spot on the table; kept warm with a hand-knitted ribbed cosy in garish colours subdued by years of tea stains, and nobody noticed how many biscuits we ate. The two ladies ran the Sunday School, ‘Auntie’ Edna looking after the babies, and Mum, the older children.

None of us children ever had a ‘bought’ jumper for school. Mum would look up from her knitting and tell us we all had monkey arms as the sleeves seemed to go on for ever.

On Wednesday evening she went to dressmaking classes, an occasion which was probably more social than educational as she was an expert seamstress. The first dress I remember her making for me was probably for my fifth birthday. In the fifties all little girls (in Bridport) wore organdie flock dresses with gathered skirts to parties. Mine was the blue of a clear autumn morning sky, with tiny white velvety leaves. That year we were being fairies with sparkler wands and one child caught her dress on fire. Luckily my father was there and able to snuff it out with his hands before anyone was injured.

Our kitchen had a long green-painted wooden unit along one wall, with big deep drawers. The top was always cluttered: old newspapers, assorted string shopping bags, odd gloves and socks waiting for their partners to appear.  The bottom left hand drawer was a testament to my mother’s hoarding instinct. On looking back it seems as if nothing was ever thrown away, perhaps a leftover habit from war rationing. The drawer contained odd pieces of string, toilet roll cylinders, yoghurt cartons, cereal boxes cut up into manageable sizes, and egg cartons, all for the purpose of keeping us occupied on cold wet wintry days.  Both my parents still saved pieces of string and cut up their old cereal boxes till they died. They used the cardboard for writing shopping lists and the string to tie the pieces of cardboard into neat bundles. I must have inherited part of that gene because I often find myself saving the fat elastic bands the post office use to package our mail together.

The other gene I inherited from my mother was an addiction to scrabble. During the four weeks a year of my godparents biannual visits, Mum and Lilian played wall to wall scrabble.

The second kitchen ceiling disaster occurred one day while my mother was cooking dinner. She had something in the pressure cooker when the phone rang so she went to the hall to answer it. She was probably sitting relaxing on the monk’s bench when a terrible explosion interrupted her conversation. Something had gone wrong with the safety valve on the pressure cooker. So once again the ceiling was replaced.

Later I will confess to causing the first disaster…

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