Monday, January 21, 2013

Mum again


The day before my mother’s funeral in early December 2009, I bought a new pair of socks. I am not quite sure why I did this, except that it seemed wise to look my best, and these socks were snappy. I am wearing them now. They have broad horizontal black and purple stripes, which seemed somehow appropriate, with the added touch of bright fuchsia heels and toes, which, of course, are invisible when wearing shoes, but a rather liminal hint towards the kind of cheerfulness that I am sure Mum would have bravely urged upon her grieving sons, but without necessarily displaying it. The socks are wearing out, alas, for the heels and toes are fraying, and I am no darner—Mum was. This gives me a little pang for three reasons, because (a) I suppose it is yet another indication of the widening distance in time that continues to open up between us and her; (b) I still miss her very much indeed, and (c) I am ashamed to say that when Mum darned my socks, a labor of love that held, I am sure, absolutely no appeal to her—and, to be fair, I never once requested the intervention—I was rather inclined not to wear the sock in question quite so much as before. Still, I have kept one such pair, which I never wear but cannot now bring myself to discard. How strangely these little emotional tics reveal themselves post hoc, and how I wish I had said, you know, do please, please save yourself the bother. This, I am sure, would have vexed her. Helen was a firm believer in mending. No garment, implement, or appliance was thrown out if it could be repaired, and the extension of the usefulness of anything at all Mum regarded as a minor victory in the dogged battle for domestic economy, and a point therefore of mostly secret satisfaction. The dishwasher, however, defeated her. At some point in the late 1980s or early 1990s the dishwasher gave up the ghost. She was, in any case, disinclined to use it, preferring instead a scarifying procedure involving boiling water from an ageing electric kettle, a soap-saver, a rather grimy dish-mop, and an ancient chipped enamel grey mixing bowl (to save water, because the kitchen sink was larger than she felt necessary for doing the washing up). Detergent was anathema; she used just soap and scalding water. Nothing too terrible seems to have happened as a result. The oily grey lukewarm washing-up water afterwards went onto the garden. For larger gatherings she did permit herself the luxury of the dishwasher, but when it died she went back to the old method and she never bothered to go through the upheaval of replacing it. I am sure she thought that would be an unnecessary extravagance. Most other labor-saving devices were regarded with similar skepticism. However, there was one exception. After Dad died, and after much consideration, Mum spied at one of the motor shows in the Royal Exhibition Building a gleaming white Citroën C4 (or a model very similar) rotating on a podium. Somewhat unexpectedly she liked the look of it, and, with Simon’s enthusiastic encouragement, at length decided to buy one. It took many months of patient waiting before this new-model vehicle was eventually delivered, and she loved it until the very end of her life. I am sure those distinctive chevrons on the bonnet reminded her of Dad in his heyday, for he was for decades a committed Citroën-ista. Through those last ten years Nick, the nice young man at her local Citroën dealershipCars of Francebecame something of a rock and a stay, and Mum trusted him completely with every aspect of the maintenance of her buoyant little car, which, like the prototype, was snowy white. In many respects, I think, she probably trusted his advice rather more willingly than she ever sought it from us, her younger sons, not for any particular reason other than that her attitude towards us as adults was never entirely untethered from her overriding concern for the slightly vulnerable child. I am now in a cold sweat wondering, hoping, that one of the others got in touch with the dependable Nick of Cars of France after Mum died. I expect he would have appreciated the gesture.

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