We don’t have that many watershed moments in our lives, those moments that change everything forever. April 24th 2014 was one of mine. That’s the day that my mother died. She died suddenly and unexpectedly. I wasn’t ready for it. I don’t think she was either. I miss her. I miss her voice, I miss her argumentative nature, I miss her occasional spoonerisms, I miss her wit, but most of all I miss her laughter. My mum taught me much, she taught me tenacity, she taught me the value of hard work, she taught me to fight against those who said I ‘couldn’t’, she taught me to be fierce but also when to back down gracefully (though to be fair we both found that last one a challenge). I see that self same tenacity and work ethic in my own son – overcoming his dyslexia to become an intelligent and able student. We passed it on, mum.
It’s a watershed because I have started to write again, the emotions of the last few weeks needing an outlet. I started to write stories and poems ‘proper’ when I was nine years old. That was mums doing – with little education herself she still spotted my love of, and perhaps a little talent for, writing and language. She encouraged me, took me to see Shakespearean plays, and helped me choose which authors to read based on my emerging tastes. I read, or was read to, every day of my childhood, my room was a bookcase, a bedroom-cum-library. Mum learned with me as I read more and more, and we discussed everything from the great poets to the popular authors of my childhood. We learned together. At ten years old I was published in a local poetry anthology for children. I won a prize for it – it was a gift token – I bought a book. I’ve been buying books ever since, there isn’t a room in our house without a bookcase – we have nine of them I think, some with books double stacked, plus around a dozen boxes of books in the attic. I still read a great deal, and discuss the great poets and authors of our time with my daughter – I learn as she learns. We passed it on, mum.
It is a watershed, because now I have to face the rest of my life with all of those things she was as just memories; we can’t reminisce on those old shared experiences ever again. Mum and I didn’t see each other every week, nor even every month, but her influences were always there. We had our differences, sometimes heated ones, but we shared that unique mother/son bond as well as that unique mother/first born bond. We were special to each other in a way words couldn’t describe, if we fell out we would both be tearful. It’s a watershed, because at fifty years old I finally have to grow up. Mum’s not there to talk to now, not there to counsel, or to debate, argue and disagree with, she’s not there to be the arbiter of family disagreements. I’m the grown up now. I don’t want to grow up. Not yet.
But as I was writing I realised that part of my mums enduring charm and spirit was that she never truly grew up. She could, of course, act grown up when convention dictated. But she never yielded to having to fully grow up. She still did the things that she wanted to do, the way she wanted to do them, no matter if they seemed childish or even a little foolish to others. Thats what made her so creative. On the day that she died she had been teaching herself to paint with water colours. She painted fairies. She loved fairies and truly believed that they existed, which seems quite childlike, and perhaps it is – but that’s the point of refusing to grow up isn’t it? – to still look at things with a childish wonder and to believe in the fantastical – and that captures the essence of my mum, her readiness to see things as a child might.
I have a lot to thank my mum for; for passing on the gifts of tenacity and doggedness, thanks for passing on the gift of literary exploration, but most of all thanks for not growing up, thanks for showing me that you don’t have to grow up in everything. Thanks for believing in fairies. Perhaps if I believe in fairies too this watershed won’t be so bad. I believe in fairies.