Mum started to date my dad around 1942 (She was 16) and apparently my Grand-dad took an instant dislike to the man who would become my father. Grand-dad refused my dad entrance into his house after meeting him just once, so mum was forced to meet her new boyfriend in clandestine ways.
My mum told me that her dad said to her after the single occasion he met him, that he (My dad) was older than he was letting on. The twist to that story was that when my father died in 1993, we had to get a copy of his birth certificate for a reason that slips my mind and it turned out my father was indeed older, 4 years older! He had lied to his wife and everybody else, deceiving everybody and taking the truth to the grave. The thing was, he never came across as a vane man so why he didn’t want anyone to know his age will always remain a mystery.
Anyway, my mother always told everybody that she had married my dad in secret, on Christmas Eve in 1946. (There’s a twist to that story to, but I’ll leave that for another time)
To the outside world my father was a quiet, amiable man but throughout their marriage my mum put up with him being a violent alcoholic (He hit us and abused us when he felt like it) He would often leave us to fend for ourselves for weeks at a time whilst he went off on one of his binges or/and went back to Ireland to see his family and friends. During those times, my mum was left with no money, so she would take us all to the local social security to beg for money. They gave her a pittance to stave off hunger but little else. I remember arriving home from school, walking through the front door and hearing my mum screaming. She was cowering down in the corner of the room with dad hovering over her, holding half a brick in his hand, trying to hit her in the face. I ran over screaming and crying because I was barely 10 and unable to physically protect her. He instantly stopped, pushed me out of the way and made his way upstairs. My mum got up and cuddled me, more concerned that I was terrified than for her own safety. I heard him come downstairs and watched him walk out of the front door carrying his little brown suitcase. We didn’t see him for over six weeks. Although those six weeks were a struggle financially, the atmosphere was calm, safe and relaxed.
However, as the weeks went by my mum was visibly missing him (Myself, my brother and my sister were not) It was the start of winter and we had no fuel of any type to warm the house up. My mum burnt old clothes, shoes and even instructed my brother and I to chop up a few old wooden chairs to warm the living room. He had been gone for about 2 or 3 weeks and we were getting desperate, especially at night when the weather turned colder. My father had an allotment which he spent a lot of time at when he was home and he had built a long, tall fence around his plot, which he was very proud of. Mum told me and my brother to walk along to the allotment (About half a mile away) and dismantle his beloved fence so we could break it up and burn it. This we did with much joy. When he eventually returned home, which was a Saturday night, he casually walked in, sat down in his chair and mum made him a cup of tea. Mum was obviously very pleased to see him, but I can’t remember any evidence of happiness in his expression. He didn’t even acknowledge his children.
When he went to his allotment the next day he came back to the house very quickly and told my mum somebody had stolen his fence. He never found out about it (fence-gate) but we laughed about it for a long time behind his back.
It wasn’t all bad times for my mum. She would always go to the local Thursday flea market without fail in the town centre and scramble around the second hand shoe and clothes stalls, going elbow to elbow with the other women, often playing tug-of-war with an item she was determined to get. I would be standing over the other side of the stall, looking at the battered old toys whilst occasionally watching mum go into battle for clothes. Mum actually enjoyed the mad scramble for unwanted clothes and she made a few good friends who remained her friendly adversaries for many years.
I remember mum buying 2 chickens from a butcher in town at a very cheap price because they were going out of date. When she arrived home she proudly told us about the bargain she had bought until she opened the bag and was met by a rancid smell that quickly filled the kitchen. After a few choice expletives, mum wrapped the chickens up in 2 carrier bags and took them with her back into town. On the way into town a couple of stray dogs wouldn’t leave her alone, obviously smelling the rancid chickens. When she had walked for 10 minutes, 3 or 4 other stray dogs had joined in the procession, so at a convenient opportunity, mum threw the bag full of chickens over a brick wall into someone’s yard and all of the dogs went after it, leaving my mum to look around her (Has anybody seen me) and walk on into town to complain about the chickens (Minus the proof)
I will never understand why my mum stuck by a husband who made her life a misery. She was always there when he wanted her and was always there for us. Her old fashioned values, grit and determination to carry on regardless never left her. She was a proud woman who found it impossible to show the world how difficult her life was.
Mum learnt to be a cantankerous old so-and-so, but I wouldn’t have had her any other way.
Thank you mum, for being my mum.