Saturday, 6 November 2021

I'm turning into my mum.


Waiting in the wings to become shameless and lethal too.

I'm turning into my mum.  Blimey, it's not a bad thing as such, I love my mum.  I have written a whole book about her dying, for goodness sake, she is big in my life even now.  The thing is, I point my finger in the same way as she did, my hair is turning into her hair, I say things that she said, I feel myself walking like she used to walk and I find myself saying with feeling in the dead of night, "Back Mother!  I am my own person!"

Mum was such a striking figure.  Small, elegant and ferociously intelligent, she relished a fight with anyone who stood in her way.  Never one to actually swing a punch, Mum would use her super power instead, a forensic perception of your weakness, and a pathological determination to bring you down, and use it without mercy.  As she got older, she became more confident and delighted with the success of her encounters.  Those left in her wake included bad salesmen, disrespectful shop staff, stubborn officials and anyone who refused to give her a bargain.  

Mother was also very kind indeed, and her growing fearlessness as she got older made her step into situations where angels would fear to tread.  In these situations, her forensic perception could be very strong and helpful.  But as children, my brothers and I would relish the idea of someone trying to pull the wool over our mother's eyes when out shopping for, say, some good piece of cloth in a market.  We knew that she could be underestimated, being small and beautifully dressed, but what they did not know was that she was going to kill.  And nine times out of ten, she did.  She got what she wanted - and somehow in the negotiations, mum would find out the name of her opponent, and their mother, father and grandparents' names and she would use them all to bamboozle the poor victim. It was a master class in assertiveness and sheer bloody mindedness.  

Later in life, mother became quite openly shameless.  We went on holiday to Ireland together a good few years ago, back to visit her family and see where she spent her childhood and I was to drive us around Southern Ireland in a hire car.  On the big day, I picked her up from her house, and drove us both to Gatwick Airport with our bags and snacks for the journey.  Though in her eighties, she was a powerhouse of energy and determination, and so looking forward to our holiday.  We were like kids on school holidays - mum could be wonderful company.  Walking happily from the airport car park, swinging our bags, chatting and planning our trip, we walked into the airport building and mother suddenly slowed down her happy, healthful and spritely walk and announced that she was disabled. She needed, she said, the special help that airports offer, the little car that drives you around, a wheelchair, and one to one care.  I was mortified and wanted nothing to do with this charade because I knew from old that she was on a roll, and I was sure she was on CCTV skipping around outside.  I told her she could go and ask on her own because I was going to hide. As she approached the desk for special assistance I watched her from behind a pillar in what I can only think was a perfect display of method acting.  She limped, and sighed, and staggered, and moaned and blow me down, she convinced them that she needed help immediately at the head of the queue, and not only that, because she (now) couldn't walk at all, she said she needed - and got - the special kind of lift apparatus that lifted her, me and her wheelchair into the aeroplane before everyone else, and to be helped into a seat like a dying hero.  I was mortified, mother was delighted and all the staff felt that they had helped an old lady live another day.  It carried on in Dublin where mother (who was still very beautiful) convinced a nice (poor) porter to wheel her off the plane, through customs and then actually right outside the airport building to where the hire cars were waiting a good ten minutes walk away, and put her bodily into ours. He even fastened her seat belt because she had so little time left to live. That, is chutzpah.

No pretending.

But now, back to me.  Obviously the above account is not me, (yet), and I do not want a fight (yet) with anyone.   My mother was tiny, and I am tall.  She was well dressed and loved quality and I, bless me, love colour and sequins.  I look fine, but it is obvious I like the jumble sale look.  How am I morphing into my mother?  I find myself listening to people in exactly the same way that mum did. I remember how careful she was when listening and how she could tell if someone was not interested in asking her about herself.  Sometimes Mum was a bit sharp but mostly, she had this strange kindness as if she knew it was important for her to just let them speak.  I am aware that I am holding my head in exactly the same way that she did, and I hear myself responding using her words.  There are times when my voice is exactly like hers and I repeat phrases and sayings that used to make me say, "Oh muuuuuuum!" in embarrassment when I was much younger.  Now it is me saying them, and they are coming out from my mouth as if I'd always been speaking that way.  I know my face is more like her than it ever was, despite me supposedly looking more like my dad. I can see her in there, she's in my face and when I put on my lipstick, which I wear because my mother always did so, she's taken over. 

Mum used to say she loved a bit of hard, brown crusty bread and butter late in the evening with some whiskey.  I couldn't think of anything more tedious when she was alive but now, what have I taken to having?  I can't wait to have hard crusty brown bread and butter of an evening but as I don't drink alcohol, I have mine with hot milk. (Sorry Cousin Kirsten, this always makes her feel ill).  When did a piece of hard brown bread and butter become beautiful to me?  How? 

I see myself being her when I deal with my grandchildren too.  I can feel myself being her.  I know now how she felt looking after my children, I remember watching her and being very curious about the seamless change in her from being a mum with beautiful long black hair to a stouter white haired grandma.  I find myself thinking about her and what she said and did, and understanding her now because I am also sliding seamlessly into being a stouter grey haired grandma. It is almost as if she knew the path that I would have to follow, that of getting older with all it entails, and also becoming a grandmother, and left little clues and presents for me along the way.  And because she was my mum and played second fiddle to no one, she is making me look and act more like her just for the hell of it.  

I am just waiting in the wings now to become shameless and lethal too. 


Hello Mum!


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