The Look of Her


At my mother’s funeral on the day of a solar eclipse, a close friend said, ‘You were lucky to have such a wise woman as your mother.’ I was, naturally, in reflective mood and this comment triggered recollections of times when Mum had been present for me and in different ways. I recognised her lifelong influence on me for the good, even when she was being uncomfortably straight with me. Everything was said with good intents and I was able to respond. She was a natural phenomenon, just as that eclipse.

Born in 1920, she was the product of a generation witness to world war and deprivations, politically active and aspirational. The only daughter, her opportunities were no less accessible than those of her brothers. Having gained her Scottish Highers, a form of baccalaureate, she passed the Post Office exams and entered the profession in 1937.

By the time she met my father, she was a highly regarded colleague, but regulations compelled her to relinquish her workplace on marriage. At thirty-three she brought her skills and wisdom to bear on rearing a daughter and a son.

It’s a lottery, the parents you get given. Educate the woman and you educate the family, they say. Mum was a multi-layered person, rational and non-interfering, fiercely independent and loving. We were wanted. I was told this frequently. We were loved. We were told this often. She instilled confidence and kept promises.

She applied herself to motherhood, separated from her extended family just as we became toddlers and were at our most demanding. But, not one to wallow, she found a church, joined, and, as I discovered, became its treasurer in quick time. She was brilliant at anything mathematical, right up until her death at ninety-five. Busy, engaged, hardworking, popular, that defined Mum.

We grew up and she went back to work in the familiar environment of the Post Office world. She would say ‘Dad and I wanted you to be happy and independent.’ Never one to interfere, she offered solace and good company. Widowhood knocked her back. ‘Sink or swim’ was her response. She was hard to get hold of as she filled her diary with a range of experiences to broaden her mind. She was very broadminded.

Closer than ever in those years, she reminded me to be patient, to take one day at a time and ‘not to get so excited’. Her generation didn’t make a fuss, fought for the NHS, for better lives for the next.

I remember, with a smile on my face now, the cacophony of pots and pans hailing from our childhood kitchen. The work had to be done and the balancing of the housekeeping budget must have tried her sorely. How she needed the cerebral life running the post office to keep her sane.

Mum was a complete person even in her anxieties.  Her dry Paisley wit, her sound advice, her faith, her love for Dad and us two. Her kindness and open-heartedness and her honesty. I knew where I stood with her, no games. I miss her grey-green eyes and the touch of her skin. The unconditional love.

Now she’s gone, I’ve taken on the look of her.

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