My mum was a communicator.
You knew where you were with her. That could be a good or bad thing. If she was in good humour, she would have you hysterical giggling as she pushed the boundaries with ribald humour. If she was not in a good humour, her use of language could reduce you to tears very powerfully.
Mum loved school but had to leave aged 12 so with words she was largely self-taught.
She clearly remembered learning to read and how she had seen a tin of toffees and mispronounced the brand name as “supper” instead of “super” and how her older brother had laughed at her mistake.
When she went into the mill (very much against her will but there was no money to send her to Grammar School due to the same brother “taking the King’s shilling”), she decided she would take her education into her own hands.
She used to spend her wages on the Reader’s Digest which had a list of words and she used to learn the meanings and commit them to memory.
Later, this lady would mix with people at Cambridge University, at Glyndebourne and amongst the Kensington glitterati. She held her own verbally, never coming across as uneducated. In fact, she was very well equipped to blow holes in other people’s arguments.
Of course, Mum was a Yorkshire woman through and through. So for much of my childhood, she was “Mam” rather than “Mum”. She would tell you not to walk on the “causa edge” in case you fell in the road. She would ask you to close the “pull-ons”. She would refer to “ginnells” a host of other words that are not UK wide. Of course, I did not become aware of this until I left home aged 18.
Mum was certainly an avid reader and loved her Catherine Cookson books, Forever Amber and Gone with the Wind. Basically, it seemed to me that if it involved a girl born in squalor, impregnanted by the local early but saved by a good man, it was right up mum’s street). She had a bookshelf in her bedroom that included a copy of the Thorn Birds. In public, she expressed that the whole idea of the book and film was disgusting so it was odd that she had a copy lol. I never remember her showing interest in non-fiction books particularly.
Mum advised me that I should always read “because it is impossible to be lonely when you have a good book on the go”.
Mum’s words – ones that taught, ones that comforted, ones that made facts fit her particular opinion on a matter, ones that cajoled, ones that wounded, ones that made me wish she could be easier on me and herself.
Mum wrote to me at various points in my life. I remember her telling me that one of Dad’s work contacts had a baby girl “so now he will know how lovely it is to have a little girl”. She gave me a voucher for Bon Marche when I was 40 and sent me specific instructions how to use it practically in words of one syllable. She never had much faith in me that way. She sent me an anniversary card on our first anniversary knowing it would be the last she wrote to me. In her wonderful curly writing (“I was taught by nuns you know”) she referred to the magical quality of our wedding day and how much had already changed. It was very poignant and I have kept it.
Mum was terminally ill for 6 months and we talked during my Friday night visits that I would do so that my Dad could have some respite and go out to choir. Illness and morphine made her gentler. Important words were said on those visits.
“When I said P was a loser, I got it wrong” about Him Indoors followed by “Tell him but only after I have died”.
“I am proud of you because your children are the happiest I have ever known”
“I spent far too much of my life cleaning”
“I am happy to die because I have seen all the places I wanted to see and done all the things I wanted to do”.
And her very last words to me ever…
“I will hand you back to your Dad now”.