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There has been no scratching of busy pen on parchment this week. My mother died recently, and for most of this week I have been clearing out her house.
The sum total of 81 years is stored in my garage. The rest went either to charity shops, or sadly, the dump to be recycled or to go to landfill. It’s not until you take apart someone’s life that you realise quite the person they were – and, depending on your beliefs, still are, but on a different plane.
Mother was artistic and I found many doodles, paintings, poems and ceramic items that she had completed. She was also practical and inventive. Which, I suppose, is another way of saying she was careful with her money. Most of the storage in her tiny house was either home-made, or adapted from something else. So much of her furniture had to be dismantled before we could move it, and when it was moved, it was useless because it relied upon the piece next to it for support.
One of her skills was sewing. She would make blouses, dresses, trousers, curtains, pillow covers – anything. She would browse catalogues for material that she could use for projects. This, together with curtains she had kept over the years, was stored in a wardrobe; a wardrobe all to itself.
Electrics were a particular nightmare. Paying an electrician to install additional sockets is an expensive business. Mother’s answer to the problem was extension leads. She had many running around the rooms, hidden in either in plastic trunking or tucked neatly under the edge of the carpet. If a particular group of plugs, adaptors and leads became too much like a rats’ nest she would create a box to cover it. Out of sight – out of mind. Sometimes a lead was not long enough, and we found more than one where bare wires had been twisted together, and secured with insulating tape.
She never had the internet. One of her biggest complaints was that ‘everything says you have to go to the www to get any information’. I’m not sure what it was she couldn’t find, because there were cupboards stacked with catalogues of everything she could wish for – and the mail, still arriving at the house, shows she was not out of contact.
Unfortunately technology was not her strong point. I found many CD players stored, in boxes or in the loft. There were controllers for TV, DVD and video abandoned in drawers or shelves. She could not make any work for more than a month. She would replace the batteries, or even buy replacement ‘all-in-one’ controllers from the supermarket to get her appliances to work. All to no avail.
And she hoarded. Boy! was she a hoarder. There are hundreds of photos dating back to her grandparents and beyond, and articles I remember from my childhood that were part of my grandfather’s life. There are tools that I haven’t seen for 50 years, trinkets that I bought on my first foreign school trip in the 60’s, and presents I bought her when I was a teenager. Also, as a real tear-jerker, are the love notes and cards written to her by her second husband. A friendship cut short after they had been together for less than five years.
The neighbours regarded her as a ‘crabby old bird’, because she had become insular and suspicious of the world she saw around her. It took a concerted effort for any of them to get inside the barrier she put up, and then the relationship would remain tentative. She hated politicians, especially those in the centre or to the left. The incompetency of socialism and impotence of the liberals annoyed her intensely. Modern conservatives lack backbone and need to ‘get themselves together’ and return to the great days of Thatcherism. ‘Now she was a real leader’, I was often told.
Sadly her independence was her downfall. Her distrust of the medical profession meant that although we suspected she was more poorly than was visible, she would not make an appointment with her doctor. Even as we were loading her in the ambulance she was protesting that she wanted to get back home. Alas, she never did.
She was a child of the war years, of make-do-and-mend, of morals and of proper social behaviour, of hard times raising a son with out a father’s support, of working from 14 to 71, of caring for her ageing parents, and not wanting me to have to do the same for her. Now she is without pain and at peace, hopefully reunited with her parents and beloved husband.
Well, I hope you are happy, mother, because I’ve been working like a Trojan trying to get your house tidy – and you should’ve seen the dust behind that cabinet in the lounge!
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Now I have a newsletter, club magazine and two posters to get sorted, so I might be sometime. I’ll catch up with you all as soon as I’ve caught up with myself.