10 October 2019

It was 20 years this summer, August 4th in fact, that my mother died. I still don't miss her. I still feel relieved. Sometimes I think that maybe now I can remember her more often, from a distance, with something like kindness, understanding, even respect. But I can go days, weeks, months without a single thought of her, even when I walk every day past the one picture of her, here on my wall (she is four years old) and I come across the odd thing or two of hers that I have kept, a cookbook, her binoculars, table linen. There is that box of her good china wrapped in newspaper down in the basement.
What did I expect? I don't know. There is no sense of loss, also no need for forgiveness.
She was beautiful for a while. Energetic, purposeful, interested. Clever, intelligent; in fact, educated is the word she would have used.  Education, learning, reading, investigating, experimenting, testing, she valued all this above else. Always a book in her bag, another one open on her lap, a stack of them on her bedside table. She had no time for people who would not read, who could not remember the books they had read, could not recite at least one poem, never attempted to play at least one musical instrument, had no interest in science, birdwatching, plants, growing and harvesting. She could be harsh in her judgement of the - to her - ignorant masses. The people we were told to not mix with. To look down on.
Our relationship was never easy, marred by mutual disappointment.
Two memories.
Sunday afternoon walks, as a rule, mother, father, three children, along the street through the housing estate and across the main road into the forest or along the fields and back again. In our Sunday best. Parents deep in conversation, my father carrying my brother on his shoulders. I am almost five years old and have discovered words. On a fence post I stop and start to read out loud the sign the local authorities have put up as a warning after a rabid fox had been killed earlier that week. I have no idea what I am reading but I remember the excitement that these are printed words and that I can read them. When I finish, I can hear my mother laughing behind my back. Laughing at me and my stuttering attempts of proper reading. I feel ashamed, foolish and run ahead, my ears now roaring with her laughter, I know I have done something that was not expected and that I made a fool of myself. We all walk home. Nothing is said.
A year later. It is her birthday. I have made her a little book. A graphic novel.  Four pages about a rabbit under a cherry tree picking flowers. Red cherries, blue flowers, long rabbit ears. That kind of thing. It's a bit smudged and crinkled but I run downstairs as soon as I wake up to show her and to be the first to sing the birthday song. And there she is at the bottom of the stairs and I jump into her arms and she laughs and then she puts her hand on my forehead, you are hot, look at me. Oh no. I think you have a fever. I start to cry then and my throat hurts terribly and she sighs and sends me back upstairs.


  1. This is too much like my relationship with my mother, my experiences as a child with her, my feelings now she is dead.
    My mother was my actual third-grade teacher. It was a small school. I had to call her "Mrs. Miller." There was a spelling bee and I hated those. We stood along the walls of the classroom and as we spelled our words, we were allowed to stay in line if we got them right or made to sit down if we got them wrong. I was bored and was reading from a book on a shelf behind me and when my mother (my teacher!) gave me my word it was "soap."
    Plucked from my reading I said, "S-O-P-E, soap."
    My mother never let me forget this. She told the story to my children. Whenever I got anything wrong as I was growing up my mother would say, "S-O-P-E, soap."
    To put me in my place.
    And I remember I started making this crazy artwork when I was very young. I made these paisleys (remember them?) and within them I made more paisleys and colored them with all sorts of designs and my mother would look at them and barely comment. A friend of hers came over once and saw them and studied them and said, "These are really amazing."
    They were never mentioned again.
    It's so hard not to love a mother as mothers should be loved.
    It's even harder to not be loved by a mother as mothers should love a child.
    I understand.

  2. You became a wonderful person in spite of the bad start. Very resilient. Best wishes

  3. The first story made me sad for little you, so excited when you could decipher words. The second made me cringe at the thoughtless hurt parents sometimes inflict (unintentionally) on the children they love. I have some similar memories from my own childhood and, unfortunately, of ways I sometimes was insensitive to my own children. In America there's a myth that we all love each other, don't dare whisper otherwise. Oftentimes relationships between mothers and daughters are a tangled mess, but we have to keep smiling.

  4. I've appreciated the sentiment for years but today I felt the need to check the exact words. What Graham Greene said was: "There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer." No need for me to explain here why I felt the urge.

    But I could expand on it a little. Writers, however Olympian and/or self-regarding, are nibbled by that same worm: to be read. It's one reason why writers concern themselves with style as well as content and why non-writers get into a bit of a muddle about what is set down in front of them. Greene, for instance, is thought to be a cold fish for uttering this observation. You and I might share a differing opinion on that.

    What can writers do to attract readers? Narratives help, one step follows another and the pages get turned. But a narrative may not immediately grab the lapels. How about being a contrarian with a view that disputes what passes for received wisdom? I tried this out by suggesting there was also a pathos to Donald Trump. No one took the bait and to this day I'm mildly aggrieved.

    One may also shock the reader. You see where I'm going and I won't labour the point.

    The fact is both these anecdotes (Too feeble a word?) are well-told in the technical as well as the emotional sense. They're terse. They develop character through the accretion of detail, create a solid sense of location and any moralising is left up to the reader. Bravo.

    But I speculate (as perhaps you intended me to) that the daughter's literary skills may - in no small part - be attributable to the upbringing she received from her mother. There were unpleasantnesses, yes, but they are blissfully recyclable. If true should this possibility be woven into the stories? Or should the reader be left to work things out.

    There is another author's tactic: creative ambiguity. But I'm not entirely sure it was employed here.

  5. oh I can relate. to begin when I was born and the nurse brought me to her for the first time she refused to accept me, a brown haired baby (she and my older sister were/are blond) could not possibly be hers. the nurse was so distressed that she had to call my father to come convince her that I was indeed her baby. she would tell this story later as if it were a joke. my early school reports through third grade always noted that I was needy for attention (I had a younger brother by this time). she would tell you herself she didn't like small children. she liked teenagers as that is how she thought of herself, the perpetual pretty popular teenager. by the time I was a teen our relationship was so strained that I started using the formal 'mother' instead of mama or mom. and things really got worse from there. they would not allow me to be friends with anyone unless they lived in the right neighborhoods or their fathers had the right jobs. after my father died she completely indulged her selfish and self centered tendency and our relationship became combative as I was the only child left to look after her, my sister and brother having moved to other states. when she finally died I did cry a bit but it was not out of grief for her passing but because with her death went any hope, however tiny, of ever having the kind of mother I had always wanted. I don't miss her, I don't ever think about her. she showed up in one of my dreams (a very rare occurrence) not so long ago, expressed some sort of disapproval and I was screaming at her that she was dead! if reincarnation is true and if it's true that we choose the circumstances of our birth to work on our growth as spiritual beings then she and I utterly failed and I imagine next time we are thrown together it will be even worse until one of us figures out what the lesson is supposed to be.

  6. Relationships with moms are such challenging things. I'm not sure why. I was never my mom's favorite child, but she was my one and only mom. I disappointed her in so many ways. It's a relationship that lasts long after the players have grown old and moved on.

  7. I wonder sometimes if I am too soft because I had a loving mother. When she died I felt that the person who loved me most in the world was now gone. I never doubted my importance to her. But life does even the score. I found my "splinter of ice" in other places. Such interesting comments your two anecdotes have generated. Whatever else she withheld, she could not stamp the writer out of you. Perhaps, as Roderick suggests above, she stamped it into you. In any case, there is sadness in this post, weaving underneath everything. Or perhaps like beauty, it is in the eye of the perceiver.

  8. I feel this way about my father. My mother wasn't perfect, but she was good enough. I knew she loved me and believed in me. My father, not so much.

  9. I am thankful I was able to love my mum and I know she loved me. She wasn't perfect, none of us are, but she was a good mum. I still miss her now, almost seven years after her death. My dad however, I still don't miss. He was such a difficult, angry man who wouldn't let anybody near him except my mum. I realize now how vulnerable and scared he was but as a child and even a young woman, I thought it was me. My mum told me after he died that I was his favorite, a thought which never even entered my head growing up.

    I think my children don't think I love them which breaks my heart. I love them deeply but I will not let them manipulate and use me any longer . I'm done being blamed for everything that they don't like about themselves and their lives. It's too painful.

    I'm sorry your mom wasn't there for you, couldn't love you like you needed to be loved, couldn't love herself. So many parents are like this, even myself I fear at times.

  10. That is painful to read, but beautiful. I had complicated relationships with my parents as well, and only hope I did a little better than them with my own kids.