30 June 2011

Understanding my Mom

I love to hear about other people’s families. It is so agreeable to read about the love, the compassion, shared worries and excitement and, most of all, the pride. Mine was so different.

My Dad was my best friend and I still miss him. He was wonderful caring father with a dry sense of humour. He was quiet, caring and generous with his sound advice. A perfect gentleman.

Mom was one of eight children born to poor parents in a deprived area of the city and she hated it. She left home at 18 to train in the nursing profession. That’s where she met and married Dad who was working at the same hospital as a carpenter and joiner. Dad came from a better class of family, the eldest of six. He followed in his father’s trade and was well thought of by his employers. While he was in regular touch with his parents and siblings, Mom rarely went back to see hers. The only time I saw the maternal grandparents, aunts and uncles was when Dad took me; Mom was so ashamed of her family she would never go with us.

It wasn’t until I was a fully fledged adult that I began partially to understand my Mom, in my early years I was too bogged down by the daily injustices she meted out. I said partially but the word is used loosely because her personality and behaviour was so out of the ordinary as to be incomprehensible. She would flare up at the least thing, especially if she couldn’t have her own way or if someone didn’t do as requested or expected. My Dad and I walked on eggshells most of the time.

My parents argued incessantly. I still remember occasions when Dad would walk me to the corner of the road to talk to the local beat bobby. I didn’t know what they discussed but Dad seemed calmer afterwards. It was only later I learned he did it to get me out of the danger zone. I got in the way during one of the rows, tried to intervene – you know how it is. Mom was in such a temper she threw the carving knife at me. Happily it missed and hit an enamel bowl that was propped up in the sink. It went straight through. Just think I might not be alive now to tell the tale.

It’s funny how certain incidents remain in the mind like videos. I recall coming from school one day, practically running with legs crossed because of an urgent need to urinate. Fortunately our house had an outside toilet so all I had to do was run up the side entry, through the gate, up the yard, and into the loo. The door was secured by a latch, no bolt. So I was sitting there, navy blue knickers round my ankles, enjoying the relief of passing water when suddenly the door shot open and my mother slapped me hard across the face. She couldn’t wait to punish me for whatever it was I had done before leaving for school. I’m still none the wiser. I never dared ask.

Mom was a good looking woman, proud of her appearance and extremely figure conscious. She kept her weight down by going on a diet of Carters Little Liver Pills and Epsom Salts. Weird or what?

She loved men, and I don’t use that word loosely. During the war she worked as a bus conductress and rumour had it that before she started her duty she could be found in the garage on the upper deck of a bus with some man or other. She was later known as the local nymphomaniac who performed with any man, anywhere, any time. At home Dad moved into the spare bedroom; I later learned from his sisters that he had been advised to do so by his doctor who said Mom’s sexual desires would kill him sooner or later. In fact, Dad died of heart failure (yesterday was the anniversary of his death) when he was a mere 54 years of age so perhaps the doctor was right.

To gain attention Mom repeatedly overdosed on painkillers or whatever tablets were available. Each time she was whipped into hospital to have her stomach pumped. I was present during one of those pumping operations and I can assure you that it’s not a pretty sight. I fail to understand how anyone would want to go through that more than once.

Mom was a nurse and she knew how much poison to take without killing herself. She was crafty too. She would take an overdose, then ring someone to say what she’d done. That way the ambulance would get to her quickly. I’ve known her overdose during one of her famous house parties simply because someone didn’t play a particular record she wanted. I guess it was designed to make folk feel guilty but don’t you think overdosing was taking it a bit too far?

In the end it reached the point when Dad would say ‘Oh no, not again’ followed by ‘Let’s hope she’s done it this time.’ Even after he died she continued to overdose until eventually the hospital threatened that if it happened one more time she would be admitted for mental treatment. That threat was enough to send Mom scurrying overseas.

After Dad’s funeral my aunt and I fixed her up with a week’s coach tour of Devon and Cornwall primarily to keep her occupied and in company. A selection of world tour passengers happened to be on the same coach and that was how she met my future stepfather. Within no time she upped sticks and went to Australia to be with him. Although I was sorry for him I was relieved to see her go.

She and Adrian married but I never met him; in those days one didn’t just pop across the waters at the drop of a hat. They moved into a lovely bungalow by the sea and for a while I believe they were happy but after a couple of years I received letters from him begging me to do something about my Mom. Like what? I can only imagine she was wearing him out!

She did come back to this country a few times, once after Adrian died (did she or did she not kill him off) and a couple of times because she wanted to see my son, her grandson. Sadly, I couldn’t establish any kind of relationship and saw no future for us.

On her last visit I knew she was ill. She had an over active thyroid and kidney problems. She swelled up like a balloon just before she sailed back to Australia and I often wonder if she went back to die.

She had no home and no friends. Where once she had a splendid home, she now lodged in an Australian man’s house and died whilst there of acute renal failure. There were two people at her funeral, her landlord and her solicitor.

And that is the abbreviated story of my Mom. You may think it’s distasteful to write about her in this way but life history is not and never can be fictional. Besides, it’s about time I aired the past instead of keeping it bottled up in my mind.


  1. I'm humbled that you should share this Val, I hope it has been a positive thing for you, no longer "keeping it bottled up in my mind".


  2. Oh Val, your mom sounds a lot like my father. Glad we both had at
    least one caring parent. I'm not
    sure I will ever be able to write
    as openly as you have about your
    mom. Even though I know that is
    probably helpful to do so.

    Hope your weekend is relaxing
    and filled with happier memories.

  3. Bless your heart! I'm so glad you had such a caring, wonderful dad. I feel such sadness for your mother. Seems to me she had a very low self esteem. It makes me wonder what alful things happened to her in childhood to make her into such a person. I hope it has helped you to write this in some small way.

  4. Yes, Kath, it was a positive thing to do.

    Faye, it was a long time ago but the past often rears up to face us. My weekend will be good, stepdaughter is here from Oz.

    Loretta, I suppose the person who suffered most was my Dad. Maybe you're right about Mom's past. Ill never know.

  5. i cheer your braveness in talking about it val...i am sad for your mom...have a wonderful weekend val!

  6. "You may think it’s distasteful to write about her in this way but life history is not and never can be fictional. Besides, it’s about time I aired the past instead of keeping it bottled up in my mind."

    No, I do not think it's distasteful at all that you wrote about your mother in this way. It's what it was, and I admire you for airing it out instead of keeping it bottled up inside. I think it's healthy.

    I too have shared some very personal family things on my blog in the past. And for me, it was very healing.

    You're mother sounded a bit like one of my grandmothers. And when she died, her funeral was very bleak too.

    Thank you so much for sharing this story with us, dear lady.

    And I have to say, for what you experienced in your relationship with your mother, you've managed to turn it all around and become a loving, compassionate, and caring lady.

    I'm so happy and proud to have met you!

    Have wonderful weekend.


  7. I have always leant towards my Dad rather than my Mother as well. Mum was always very strict and I walked on eggshells with her, so I can understand what you're saying Valerie. x

  8. Brian, thanks. Am I really brave... I wonder!

    Ron, it's good to know that you experienced the same kind of healing. Thank you so much for your encouraging remarks. I really appreciate them x

    Pearl, Dads are great, aren't they?

  9. That's a lot of family history there, Val. I think it's good you unloaded all that - Have a wonderful weekend!

  10. It's part of you Valerie. You do the right thing in writing about it. I hope it gives you the same sense of release that I feel when writing about my childhood.


If you're new to A Mixed Bag you might find something to interest you, a bit of mirth, a story or two, or some pictures. I'm so pleased you popped in, do leave a comment if you have time.