You didn’t like people making a fuss of you. So you weren’t a big fan of Mother’s Day.
Before it all became what you disdainfully called Americanised, I do remember me and my sister bringing you breakfast in bed. Dad was in on the annual conspiracy and I’m sure you knew what was happening from the clatter in the kitchen. But you always feigned surprise when Joanne carried in the tray and I, her younger brother, theatrically threw open the curtains to let the morning shine on Kellogg’s Cornflakes, a boiled egg and toast (which left crumbs on the sheet we could feel through our pajamas when we were allowed to snuggle up next to you). Thank you for your indulgent smile that morning and every morning.
You still have it. Dementia may be emptying your mind. But it’s not draining your face. I’m picturing it now. It’s your gift to me this day (because mothers everywhere give far more than they can ever receive).
I’ve just found a notebook in which Sheila May Marshall started writing down her childhood memories. It might be written for my sister and I although not explicitly so. The first entry reads: “Your mother walked eight miles a day to and from school.
“Grandad met me at the ‘busy’ road.”
On the next page she’s written ‘schools’ in capital letters with a squiggly line underneath and listed those she attended from age 5 to 16. Tantalising glimpses of the child I never knew appear next to each.
During the war lessons were often disrupted as she and her classmates were led to the air raid shelters.
At Tollington School for Girls in Muswell Hill she wore a green uniform and was in Royden House – one of four named after notable women. Astor, Allen and Normanton were the others. I must look them up at some point. But for now I’m only interested in the notable woman that became my mother.
But the next page is blank. And the one after. And the one after that…
It’s only when memories are written down that they turn into a history that can be passed on.
Next to the notebook is a contact directory. The oldest entries are in the neatest handwriting. Names I recognise. Tom and Elsie. Madge and Harold. John and Audrey. Uncles and aunties. Tom who worked full time until he was 91. Harold who said heavens and by jingo. Madge who made impossibly sweet tea with evaporated milk that my sister and I fed to her aspidistras when her head was turned. But their names are all crossed out. And next to one of them are the letters R.I.P in a much more spidery hand.
This is the first in an occasional series of posts about dementia prompted by my mum’s diagnosis with the disease.