I'VE CALLED IT
Did you have occasions when you wanted to disown your mother? Judging by the nodding heads in the front row I see you did. Well, let me relate an episode that still makes me cringe.
My first memory was of being abandoned, left entirely alone for what seemed like hours, a small toddler sitting on a baby's pot. It was not funny. My incompetent mother had gone out, probably for a matter of minutes but long enough for the enamel chamber pot to make an impression on me. I learned at a tender age not trust Mom’s parenting skills.
The scene was a crowded double-decker bus. We were sitting in the seat behind the driver, whose interior window was open. My tactless mother had suspected that the morning ritual of scrubbing teeth had been overlooked. In a shrill voice she demanded to know had they been cleaned.
The driver laughed.
I answered in the affirmative, speaking in a deep whisper, praying other passengers had not overheard.
'Let me have a look,' Mother said.
More sniggers issued from the driver's cab.
A man called from behind, 'Go on, kid, open wide.'
Believe me, I could have curled up and died.
In strident tones Mother persevered with her persecuting performance, jabbing my arm and instructing me to do as the man said.
A hearty guffaw sailed through the driver's window.
(Your chuckles remind me of those which reeled from seat to seat, upstairs as well as down.)
There was nothing for it, I was compelled to put my teeth on public display.
'I knew it!' Mother cried as she inspected each tooth.
Sinking them in her neck would have been unkind considering they were thick with plaque and decorated with remnants of the barley sugar I crunched at the bus stop. But Mother was quite decent about the indiscretion. She didn't hit me until we alighted from the bus.
A third circumstance concerns the fruit which Mother confined to a cut-glass bowl on the dining room table, in a room overlooking the road. It was for display purposes only. The room was out of bounds but when Mother was out I would sneak in and pinch an apple or a pear, convinced that she would never know. One mad, mouthwatering moment I dared to steal a juicy red apple at a time too close to Mother's home-coming, lifting the fruit just as she passed the window. Caught red-handed! What could I do? Where could I run to? Too late to contemplate suicide, I prepared for a beating. And my appetite for apples was destroyed.
I wonder if all children are as apprehensive of their mothers as I was. Mine scared me. She would wallop me for no reason. I daresay there were motives; if there were it didn't occur to her to disclose them.
I recall the time I came home from school bursting to spend a penny and dashing straight to the outside loo. During the process of unburdening, my ankles graced by navy-blue knickers, my fingers pursuing the elusive toilet roll, the door shot inwards. Without a word Mother reached out and slapped my face, then closed the door and returned to the kitchen. She had been so angry she couldn’t wait to dole out my punishment. I didn't challenge it. I knew when to keep my mouth shut. And until the end of my residence in that house I made sure to slide the bolt on the outside privy door.
Thank goodness parental attitudes have changed. At least I hope they have.
Thank you for listening.