05 May 2015

. . . our families contain everything and, late at night, everything makes sense. We pity our mothers, what they had to put up with in bed or in the kitchen, and we hate them or we worship them, but we always cry for them.
Anne Enright, The Gathering 

This being memorial month, 70 years since the end of WW2, we get to watch special features on all channels, in all shapes and forms from the sublime to the ridiculous, every morning in the papers another picture of the president or the chancellor speaking to survivors at various memorial sites (former concentration camps). I watched a couple of documentaries on children and war and I will never even get close to understand what may have been my mother's experience. Frankly, I have no idea. Only snippets, whispered during coffee and cake afternoons with relatives while I sat on someone's lap half asleep. I see her trembling outside the back door, trying to light a cigarette, gagging from the smell of fried meat. I hear her walking through the house at night, crying and muttering, packing a bag of essentials "in case". The larder always full of food, nothing ever thrown away, left-over bread soup. So many mornings with her face hiding behind sunglasses. The sound of a fire siren would send her running for her youngest child, both of them sheltering in the boiler room.
There were tall stories, too. I used to be disgusted about this when I got older, when relatives pointed out that she could not have been there or there at the time or whatever. Well, she was not a good a mother and for me, that was further proof of her failure. But what do I know. What do I know about forgetting and remembering and loss and trauma. For quite some time, she tried to cope, I know that. And yet, with all her arrogance and her high morals and superiority complexes, she was cowering, a frightened animal inside her Chanel suits and fur coats.

Here she is sometime in the early 1950s, at university. I like to think she was happy then. For a while.


  1. a sad story, this. i'm sorry it was like this for you. she's beautiful in that photo.

  2. It's a thorny one. Sometimes we want to know our mothers' stories - and then sometimes we wish we didn't. Most mothers do the best they can, even if that isn't always good enough. I think what matters now is that you are at peace with yourself.

  3. Our mothers may be the greatest mysteries of all.

  4. You've got me thinking about the quote at the top of your post and about the idea of crying for our mothers who tried so hard to cope. So much going on in their lives and in their parent's lives and in their parent's parent's lives and beyond that we will never know about.

  5. I find it sad that I hardly knew my mother at all, the person who gave birth to me, even though I lived with her, cheek by jowl, for the first 21 years of my life. Times were different then, people guarded their secrets and built walls around themselves....Your mother is beautiful in that photo.

  6. It's difficult being a woman in this world in the best of times. I cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like during wartime. Mine was too young to remember the war, but I know now that the postwar years left their mark on her ... and through her, on me.

    Your mother's photo does seem to capture a moment of happiness and beauty.