Mothering Sunday or Mothers' Day: In Celebration of my Mother & Mothers Everywhere; A Tribute & a Poem
In Britain, Mothering Sunday, or Mothers’ Day, is held on the fourth Sunday of Lent, exactly three weeks before Easter Sunday. It is usually late March or occasionally early April. In many other countries it’s the second Sunday in May.
It’s a day for honouring mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers and mothers-in-law or anyone who takes a mother's place. Sons and daughters make a special effort to visit or to send cards and gifts, or maybe to take mothers out for lunch or for tea.
Schools, pre-schools and other children’s groups often encourage the youngsters to make cards and gifts for their mothers.
Originally people used to return to the church where they were baptised or attended regularly as a child. It created a family reunion in towns or villages. Those who worked as servants were given the day off in order to visit their mothers, when they would take a gift of food or hand-me-down clothing from their employers.
My own mother deserves recognition for her rôle not only in my life but in many others’.
Mother of Mine: Norah, 13 June 1923 - 5 Dec 2008
I am a mother, as are my two daughters, and I am a grandmother. Due to those rôles, I appreciate far more now what my own mother did for me, what her life was like and how lovely she was.
Norah, neé Marshall, died aged 85. As each Mothering Sunday approaches, instead of offering her a card and flowers as I used to, I offer her my extra-special thoughts and thanks. I look back to my childhood and remember the joy she brought me and our family.
My Mother's Father
Born and brought up in Hove, Sussex, she was an only child and attended Cromwell Road School. She enjoyed English, drawing, French and, most of all, Music. Her music teacher recognised her talent at the piano and gave her lessons.
She longed to go to the RSA in London to study music but her parents couldn’t afford it. Granddad was a painter and decorator, as well as his daughter’s idol and mentor. He was a gentle soul; I remember his quiet demeanor and his pipe. As I sat on his knee he would blow slow smoke rings up to the ceiling. I was spellbound. Of course no one realised then how much they could have harmed my health. He died when I was 5 and my mother was distraught.
Wartime Eggs for Breakfast
She recounted many times a story of her father’s lateness one night during the war. He was in the Home Guard; she feared for him every time he was out on duty. One night he didn’t come home. The following morning he sauntered in and, after a severe reprimand from wife and daughter, explained that he’d had eggs for breakfast with some Canadian soldiers. Eggs were rationed so that was sheer luxury and of course it would have been rude to refuse!
In a Ditch with a Soldier
A story Mum regarded as rather risqué, told amidst blushes, was when she was walking along with a soldier, a friend of her cousin, and there was an air-raid. Nowhere near a shelter, the good-looking soldier threw her unceremoniously into the roadside ditch and protected her with his body. Ummm.... I think I believe her!
As a young woman, Mum was in the WAAFs (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). She was stationed in Cosham near Portsmouth and, as she had sewing skills, was in a group of girls who made silk patchwork for the manufacture of barrage balloons. These balloons were tethered to the ground and floated above certain sites to impair the approach of enemy aircraft.
Portsmouth harbour was the centre for the Royal Navy so was pin-pointed for many an air-raid.
Romance at Church
Norah met her future husband through friends at church. They married on Boxing Day 1949, though not at that church which refused to marry them as Dad was divorced. She never forgave them and did not attend church often after that.
Dad was involved with the local amateur dramatic club (playwright and director!), so Mum happily joined in, making costumes and helping with props.
Holiday by the Sea
Mum was taken up to see her future parents-in-law in Yorkshire. A southern lass, she found it bitterly cold! I have photos of them, windswept, in Blackpool with Dad’s sister and her husband. They look happy enough! Some of you are probably thinking, ‘Blackpool isn’t in Yorkshire.’ You’re absolutely right of course. They made a holiday out of it and had a little detour over the border to the Red Rose side of the Pennines!
Her Heart's Desire
Music, Music, Music
A huge part of Mum’s life was her love of all genres of music. As a gifted pianist she used to play duets with a friend, to raise money for charity; I remember attending some of their evening get-togethers.
As a young player, she once accompanied George Chisholm, a well-known trumpet playing jazz musician. She told everyone how charming and kind he was.
She adored the compositions of Rachmaninov and Chopin. Also in her repertoire were Mozart, Brahms, Gershwin and the Beatles! She was no snob, her eclectic tastes extending to the Beach Boys, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel and many others. At least the records (yes, vinyl!) I played at home were tolerated and often liked too. My sister (Dad’s first daughter) was already into Cliff Richard and Duane Eddy so we had great fun in the holidays.
My knowledge of classical music was therefore not too bad and I can recognise those composers’ music to this day.
Strangely, the time I went abroad just after Mum died, we were in the Botanical Gardens in Singapore and there was a new statue of Chopin and his wife - was that a sign Mum didn’t mind that I’d left her on ice whilst we were away? I feel that needs an explanation.
She died unexpectedly quickly after I’d already booked a flight to Australia. With my family’s blessing I took that holiday and we arranged the funeral for my return. She wouldn’t have minded, that I know.
Let’s get back to her life, when I entered onto the scene in 1951.
Fun on the Beach
Mum pushed me, gently as ever I’m sure, into this world in Shoreham-by-Sea hospital, near Hove, Sussex. We lived in a small rented house in Mile Oak.
It was 4 years later when we moved to Hurstpierpoint, a village beneath the north slopes of the South Downs, where my childhood flourished, where so many of my memories are based.
Dad bought our first home, a bungalow. I had a marvelous childhood there. Mum spent all her time looking after us, tending to my cuts and bruises, defending me, consoling me if I was sad. I only once saw her angry. A girl who lived nearby decided one day to stick a kitchen knife in my arm; I only remember surprise and to this day have no idea why she did it. Maybe just to see what happened, like children do sometimes. My mother stormed up to the girl’s house, spoke to her mother and told me never to spend time with her again. That was it, subject closed!
We giggled a lot, especially when my sister was there for the holidays. Mum was more than happy to look after her and they got on famously. In fact, it was my sister, as a lay reader, who conducted Mum’s funeral.
Also an accomplished seamstress, Mum made my clothes, assembled beautiful interior furnishings for our sitting room and made similar articles for others; patchwork cushion covers, fitted covers and curtains. Her embroidery was exquisite.
For the children, she made this Victorian tree decoration out of shot silk and velvet. The patchwork cushion told many stories; each piece was from one of her or my dresses, or a settee cover or some curtains.
Later, she worked for an interior decorators' business in Brighton. Her claim to fame was making some furnishings to go into Laurence Olivier's flat on the sea front!
Walks & Gardening
We spent many a weekend walking on the South Downs, in the deciduous woodlands, picking primroses and bluebells (forbidden now as they are protected thank goodness) and visiting friends and relatives.
Mum loved gardening. Her favourites were convolvulus, delphiniums, daffodils and cornflowers. We always had a garden strewn with colour, seemingly random but well planned. She wasn’t that keen on the weeding though.
A Mother's Day Gift
Coincidentally prior to one Mothers’ Day, she’d expressed her love of delphiniums and wanting some for the garden. I’d spotted some in the village garden shop, so with most of my pocket money I bought a large tray of about 15 seedlings and balanced them on the basket of my bicycle all the way home. She was overjoyed and I was so happy. Rarely demonstrative with her emotions, she was caught by surprise that day and her enthusiasm overflowed.
Though not that sporty, Mum did enjoy a game of tennis. I loved it so we played now and then. I found out that she could pack a punch when needed!
We spent a couple of holidays with her cousin’s family and tried skiing. Mum had a crack at it but let’s just say it wasn’t her favourite pastime!
Mount Snowdon, North Wales
Holidays in North Wales
An aunt of hers lived in Llanberis, North Wales. A few summers on the trot, we stayed there for a week or so. It was near a slate quarry and at night I was often woken up by the blasts of dynamite; a little scary for a six or seven year old.
We once took the rack and pinion train up Mount Snowdon (2nd highest peak in Britain); it was a misty view but exciting for me. We also bought a platform ticket for the station with the longest name:
Welsh has a phonetic alphabet but if you don't know it, it's difficult! If you want to know how to pronounce that name, go to http://www.llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.co.uk/say.php
A Move of 100 yards!
Still in the same village, we moved nearer to its centre, due to Dad’s work as an ophthalmic optometrist. Mum was his secretary and we had one of the first telephones in the village! She had to deal with a few awkward customers but, ever the calm, tolerant lady, she rose above it and smoothed any troubled waters.
My maternal grandmother came to live with us in that house; one of the most uncomfortable times for all of us. Eventually she went to the local nursing home. Looking after her mother caused much stress and tension to all of us and Mum developed depression.
She tried not to let it show and remained up-beat for me; we often went shopping and she indulged a fashion-conscious teenager. The dresses she made for the Summer Balls at college were admired by all my friends!
A House by the Sea - a bit bigger than ours!
Fortunately, she went back to her usual self when we later moved to Rottingdean, a pretty Sussex-flint village on the coast east of Brighton, a town Rudyard Kipling loved and where he lived for a while. I was at teacher training college then; they did tell me about the move, in case you wondered!
True to form, Mum always welcomed my friends; she knew many of them from my school days. They loved coming to my house and often said they wished their parents were like mine - what a compliment! Mum was happy to fill the house. I don’t remember her ever raising her voice and rarely saw her cross.
From Cared for to Carer
Of course, I eventually moved away from home, was married and had my children. She helped me look after them when I was working and loved being with them; they adored her.
Mum and Dad moved in with me and when Dad died, Mum continued to stay with me. When looking after herself became difficult, I did my best to help her. She always appreciated what people did for her.
She died in hospital, in her sleep, at the age of 85.
The Music Played On
For my mother’s funeral, the coffin was carried in to the strains of her beloved Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor. She was cremated and we left the chapel listening to her other love, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Trees & FlowersClick thumbnail to view full-size
Her gentleness, modesty and tolerance remain with me as a lasting memory of her character. Haunting strains of her playing the piano return to me whenever I hear elsewhere those pieces she played so often.
She was my comfort, my firm base in a crazy world, she had a wicked sense of humour and practical skills aplenty. She could write and she could draw and there we were closest in interests and abilities.
Manners were important and she helped me to be less shy by telling me, ''When you're introduced to someone, shake their hand firmly and look them in the eye." I always remember that one.
She taught with patience and with a quiet determination. I would have done well to follow her lead more often. We don't always realise such things when we're young.
I miss her still and wish I could talk to her now.
Young & Beautiful
This poem refers to a large photo of my mother, in a huge frame, which hung on the wall of the 'best' room in my grandparents' house. I loved it; when my grandmother moved out, the picture must have been put somewhere or maybe my mother got rid of it. I don't know why because it was lovely. I wish I'd realised at the time and asked if I could have it; sadly, it's far too late now.
Where is it now, that wonderful picture I saw
of you, on the wall as I glanced through the door?
Wavy golden tresses flowed to your waist
past a gentle smile on a wistful face.
The sepia tone set you way back in history;
for this little girl, your youth was a mystery.
Your beauty held me spellbound with joy,
I asked to go up there on any fake ploy,
to Gran’s room which was used for just special days
for taking tea, airing the best silver trays.
I wish I had that unique picture of you
to display in my house, but I haven’t a clue
what became of it when my Grandmother left.
Did you keep it? It means I’m forever bereft
of an image you must have got rid of, thrown out,
in your modesty thinking it was worth, what? nowt?!
To me it was worth a child’s wonder and awe
for it lifted my heart as I smiled from that door.
That face with its innocence, softness and charm,
her life still to come, many joys, yes, some harm.
That girl who did much to light up others’ hearts
became a dear wife, loving mother, played parts
which left an impression in so many ways.
She’ll be in my heart till the end of my days.
Copyright annart/AFC 2015
A must-read for any Mother
The figure who immediately comes to mind is Mary, the Madonna, the mother of Christ, revered and worshipped by Christians and others.
There are notable mothers in literature. For example:
Mrs Weasley in the ‘Harry Potter’ series by JK Rowling, wonderfully portrayed by Julie Walters in the films.
The mother in E Nesbit’s ‘The Railway Children’ is a kind, strong, lovely mother who guides her children along the moral path despite worrying about their absent father who finally returns for a happy ending.
Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ provides a larger than life comedy character, famous for the line ‘A handbag?!’ (pronounce it as ‘hendbairg’ with a high-pitched posh accent, ascending on the final syllable). Her son was found in one!
Meryl Streep plays a dotty, head-strong mother in ‘Mama Mia!’, the film based on Abba’s hit and including many of their songs. She’s a wonderful mother but hasn’t a clue which of three possible fathers is the real one.
A totally batty but much-loved mother is Gerald Durrell’s in his autobiographical story ‘My Family and other Animals’. Hilarious!
If you want to read about a rôle no mother would wish to take on, then try ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue. She struggles to bring up her son imprisoned in a locked room with one small skylight, until he’s 5. Hats off to her!
You can listen to Rachmaninov and read more here:
If, when listening to the sublime second movement, you think you might have heard the tune somewhere else before, take a listen to the ballad 'All By Myself' by Eric Carmen. The song was based on Rachmaninov’s melody.
Information on Mothering Sunday:
PLEASE READ: Theresa's (FaithReaper) hub here: http://faithreaper.hubpages.com/hub/Celebrating-Women-Happy-Womens-Day-March-8th