|Mum's wedding photo with dad March 1952|
A little while ago mum died. She had vascular dementia and had been exponentially declining over the last few years and especially the last months, weeks and days. We had been prepared for a long time but its different afterwards. I can never ask her about anything anymore - tell me about you and dad after the war? What did you dance to at your wedding? What was that place we went to on holiday in 1976? She can't answer these things anymore - she is gone forever. It sounds odd but memories help you remember and memories that are shared or made together in a sense help someone live on.
Even though my mum was very unwell and could remember little towards the end she could still make and share memories but now she's gone it's different ... she can't make or share memories anymore - I can only play back the memories she made and shared ... I can only remember,
Here is how I remember my mum in the words of my dad "like a whippet" .. she couldn't settle and would always be doing something - cleaning, washing, gardening, walking and walking the dog. In her last weeks the nurses in the ward she was in recognised her as the "the lady who was always out with her dog and would stop and talk to everyone". She used to say that at school she liked sports and often told me the story of how she rode all the way from Dartford to Southend and back with a group of friends on her racing bike just managing to get back to Tilbury in time to get the last ferry across the Thames. I remember that racing bike laying next to dad's charismatic town bike in the shed ... mum's story gave that racer a sort of talismanic presence to me. It's only much later in life when she would have to sit down and even then she would be quite active listening the radio - up to date with the news and with a point of view.
"A worrier" ... another way I remember my mum in the words of my dad. Restless and not being able to settle mum would always be changing her mind - taking things back to the shops, having to redecorate ... dad having to move the furniture around, changing the wallpaper and carpet. Restless, worrying and not being able to settle but once she found what she liked she would settle and stick with it - she knew what she did and didn't like and liked what she knew. She didn't like me experimenting with new routes when driving her somewhere and wasn't one for trying exotic new food much - she would be quote happy with fish and chips anytime, anyplace. As a kid I always remember she liked a drop of Mackeson and in later life a drop (or more) of Baileys. In her earlier years she liked her holidays at Warners holiday camps, in later years the same resort in Malta year after year and she always loved the little seaside town of Minster. Mum would be thinking about a holiday months in advance ... buying little bits and packing them away throughout the year - mum would pack the suitcases for holidays weeks (if not months) in advance. And so with her final trip ... something she had "packed" for more than 15 years ago - she would often tell me about how dad and herself had paid for and booked their funeral and how I should do the same.
Mum had an impulsive, naughty, even rebellious side - you could see a gleam in her eye when she would say "I'm not supposed to but". She would often tell stories of how as a teenager she rode on the back of brother Roy's motorbike - going really fast and reckless through country lanes and saying how much she liked it.
My mum and dad were from a simpler time - there wasn't much money and life was what you made of it rather than what you bought with it. There were a lot of simple pleasures like sitting in the little"greenhouse" dad made at the bottom of the garden - mum and dad spent so many happy hours down there. When they eventually had a car they used to love driving down to the little seaside town of Minister at the weekend with sandwiches and a flask of tea and looking out over the sea together. I have fond memories of mum and dad and the the little seaside town of Minister, its where we took our first proper family holidays - it isn't far away but back in the early 1960s it was the furthest we had ever been - I had no idea where it was ... it was like another land ... a "holiday land", a holiday camp where everything was new, fresh and different. We stayed in little "chalets", we ate in a communal dinner hall where there were waiters, there was a dance hall and dedicated all day everyday stuff for kids - I felt like Charlie in the chocolate factory. We would go walking outside the camp .. pop into the tiny shop just outside, the cafe at the end of the road just before the beach and along the seafront to Sheerness and the penny arcades.
Dad was always a good swimmer - he would go straight in while mum paddled about with us ... feeling the cold - "its best to get your shoulders under" dad would always say to us. Mum had a big fear of letting go in the water - I never thought she would ever be able to swim but later in life - with dad's help she learned to swim and she loved it - she was so proud when she told me that she could swim a length of the pool. Every friday night mum and dad would walk down to Dartford swimming pool and on their way back have a treat of fish and chips from the chippy on east hill - a simple pleasure and they loved it.
Music evokes memories and reaches the parts that others can't - I saw this with mum towards the end when one of the nurses used a music program in her ward. Mum and dad used to like country music and you really could see mum's lights come on when they played music that was from the soundtrack of her life Elvis Presley, Jonny Cash, Glenn Campbell, Bread, Percy Sledge, Roberta Flack.
Mum and dad liked to dance - every Friday or saturday night they would go over to the tiny "Brent School Old boys social club" where they would dance. Sitting around the tiny round ables full of drinks and eyes stinging from the tobacco smoke I can remember my dad getting up putting out his hand and saying to mum "fancy a foxtrot". It seemed to me as a kid that they used to dance to everything - I'm sure I can remember my dad saying "fancy a jive", "fancy a quickstep" ... I think I can even remember "fancy the cha cha cha" :)
How do you remember someone and their life - it has to be a collage not a single image ... a set of video clips not a single frame. I have the stories of mum from before I was born .. being evacuated to the west country during the war, marrying the boy next door, riding on her brothers motorbike and cycling to Southend and back. I have the memories of mum that are part of my whole life until a little while ago.
If I had to save just one memory of mum and dad that would be in the dance hall in at the Warner holiday camp in Minster upon sea - it must have been about 1963 when I was 5 and mum would have been about 30. The band started playing "Moon River" ... mum and dad got up and went on the dance floor and for some reason I followed and waltzed around with them. I remember this so fondly and I love this song and its the song my wife and I danced to at our wedding.