We let the bird out and he got on my arm and we stroked him…and he flew around like a little duckling and walked like a little duckling…
Excerpt from a letter written by my mother during her childhood
The quote above is from a letter mum wrote to her parents when she was a child. She talks about visiting a relative who has a pet bird and refers to him as a little duckling. Reading it gave me such a joyful feeling, as ducks and geese (well, all waterfowl really) are my favourite animals. Although it may seem fairly inconsequential, reading it made me feel that we had something in common.
This blog has felt like a chronology of sadness at times, and I have become acutely aware of the need to acknowledge and celebrate the happier period in my mother’s life before she started showing signs of her illness. I covered the importance of remembering the triumphs as well as the tragedies of people who die by suicide in a previous post, so that is what I hope to do for her here.
It seems that mum was a very creative child, far more than I ever was, although my brother seems to have inherited the gene. She loved painting, textiles and making Airfix models of historical figures. English was another strength, and she enjoyed reading, although she wasn’t particularly academic and some school reports suggest a lack of confidence in the classroom.
Despite her occasional difficulties in school, socially she seems to have been more self-assured; it seems that she enjoyed her childhood. She was pretty, petite, with thick blonde hair and a lovely smile. She enjoyed ice skating, fairground rides, netball and dancing. Another relative recalls that she enjoyed camping holidays with her family, she was loyal to her brother and cousins, loving and caring towards them.
In 1971 she married my father, who was her childhood sweetheart. For a while, the union was a happy one. They bought a house in Tamworth and mum started work at Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. A former colleague recalls her being great to work with and a good friend, visiting her in hospital after an accident and helping to choose her wedding dress.
Apparently, she was a bit of a hippy around this time. She wore tie-dye t-shirts and jeans and listened to a lot of folk music, although she also enjoyed soul and Motown. Everyone I have spoken with has mentioned her wonderful sense of humour, it seems her exuberance had carried on into adulthood and the first five years of her marriage. I’m told by friends that my sense of humour is also
passable good, though quite dry and self-deprecating.
Learning about the happier times of mum’s life has been an important and very positive experience. The family member who gave me the first lot of information about her said it had been kept because so few people spoke up for her when she became seriously ill, and they wanted her children to have an understanding that her legacy is not solely defined by her illness and death.
I feel very fortunate to find out the things I have. Of course, there are times when the poignancy of what could have been had she lived hits home and grief sets in. Still, I try to remember that discovering a shared love of ducks, reading and writing, and a good sense of humour allow me to feel a closeness to her that I previously thought wouldn’t be possible.