If you’re a British reader then today is Mothering Sunday, when servants once got the day off to go and see their Mum’s, often bringing with them the rich fruit cake with the layer of marzipan in the middle and the topping of marzipan and the 12 balls signifying Jesus and the loyal disciples. Judas, obviously, didn’t get a mention!
These days it’s horribly commercialised, but when my Mum was alive I always made a fuss of her on this weekend. She loathed cut flowers, and I’m one of four living children so she’d have had too many of them even if she didn’t. So, once I was old enough to buy her ‘proper’ presents, I always bought her a plant pot, compost and a fruit bush. They lined her route to her washing line and she’d graze on the ripe fruit on her way to put the washing out or in, exactly as my daughter loves to graze on the pots of fruit now. (And some of those pots are the ones I brought from Mum’s house, and I don’t care how much glue and Gorilla Tape I’ve used on them because they’re not going anywhere.)
In earlier years, we gave her other gifts. I remember the Mothering Sunday when I went up to collect her bunch of daffodils in church because both my sisters had come out with chicken pox. (I’d just come out of quarantine.) I remember the year we all went to a gorgeous National Trust property that I’ve based a fair bit of Swansmere on. She already had the lymphoma that would eventually steal her from us far too early, but she was well enough to enjoy all her children and grandchildren gathering together and playing on those beautifully kept lawns. We had a cream tea in the sunshine and I promised myself then that I’d remember her like that, not as she was as the cancer took more and more of a hold after the bone marrow transplant had failed.
In that last summer, as we lost her by inches, I had to explain to my then young children that we were losing her, and that I had to be at the hospital with her as much as I could be because she was in an isolation room and I needed to be there to make sure she got her meals when they were hot and that the cleaning staff didn’t use the same equipment they did for the other rules because they didn’t understand. One less than cherished memory is of me getting so furious that the cleaner couldn’t or wouldn’t read the sign on her door that I took the mop off her and stormed off to find the sister!
Happier ones include ‘smuggling’ in fish and chips to tempt her to eat, although I’m not sure how much smuggling was involved when I brought chips in my cold bag (also keeps things warm) for the staff as well. She thoroughly enjoyed both the chips and the naughtiness, because she was as much of a rebel as I am. She wanted to be an accountant but had to leave school because there wasn’t the money. She went to BP as a secretary and ended up as a PA to a bigwig. I still have the ‘Tanker Trials’ cartoon she treasured on my living room wall and what my dad always called the seasick picture hangs in my bedroom. The waves still come crashing into shore, which was mum for you, because she wasn’t the calmest of people. But she taught me to honour my dreams and read the first drafts of the early Amy Hammond series and loved them and was so proud of my magazine stories that she’d show them to anyone who stood still long enough.
She was, and is, an amazing mum, and I try to honour her memory, not only by making her amazing bread pudding and beef stew, but by remembering the good times. I still miss her badly on Mothering Sunday, so I’m sending love to all of us who haven’t got their mums any more and trying to make good memories for my own children.
This year, they’ve given me bug and butterfly and bee houses, because you know I said that I had to explain that we were losing her? Well, I used the metaphor of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly to try to explain death without knowing that the early Christians also used it, and we bought one of those kits where caterpillars become butterflies to help them understand. We let the first ones go where she could see them from her hospital bed and on the evening that we lost her I looked out of that window and saw that the buddleia bush in the little courtyard was covered in butterflies.
That really helped me because she’d promised the children that whenever they saw a butterfly it’d mean that she was looking down on us from heaven and smiling, so from then on I made our garden into a habitat for butterflies and all the other insects. Well, as she taught me, there's never any harm in trying to improve the odds in my favour!