I never got to know my mother as an adult. She died just after I turned nineteen, a few months after Princess Diana’s fatal accident. I remember sitting with her one morning in the doctor’s office waiting for an appointment. At the time, there were some awful jokes going around about Diana’s death. I told my mother one of them. I don’t think either of us laughed. My mother had quite a dark sense of humour, as do I, but that joke went too far. In the car on the way home she gave me a cigarette. When I was a little girl, after a trip to the dentist, she’d take me for a milkshake and I would struggle to suck on the straw with my numb mouth. That cigarette was the first acknowledgement that I smoked (the Benson & Hedges I stole from her after years of confiscating them in protest against her smoking). It was one of the first adult moments with her. A few months later, she was gone.
Although I feel a kind of relief that she wasn’t around to see the first half of my twenties, I wish we could have known each other beyond my teenage years. I cringe remembering how selfish I was, my disregard for the things she was going through. It’s a guilt that can never be assuaged. Last night I dreamed of her, as I often do. I came across a kind of journal entry in which she’d written about the different relationships in her life. She’d assigned a score to each one, and mine was a D. It was a strange, childish dream, based on a combination of real events. But it was upsetting. Because as much as I wanted to change that score or make up for it somehow, I knew I would never be able to.
I’ve been thinking of her more often recently. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough now to clearly remember her at my own age, 38. It’s incredible to think that at this age she already had two children, an eight-year-old girl and an eleven-year old boy, when most days I still don’t feel like a real adult.
My mother died long before the days of Facebook, before most people had the internet, or even computers, at home. So you can’t find her when you google her name. There are no pictures of her online, very little record or her anywhere. It’s sad to me that there is only a handful of people who still remember her well. But it is not too late to leave some record. As I was walking the other day, I started to make a list of the things she loved. I realised that I like almost all of the same things. I suppose this has partly do with having known her at my most self-absorbed. Also, I realised that a lot of these things were things that brought her comfort, and which represent only the later years of her life. She’d stopped reading a lot of the books or listening to the music she had when she was younger. She hadn’t painted in years.
I wish I knew more about her than I do. I hope it’s not too late to find out. But this is a start. Her photos in this post, her painting, which I’ve used as the banner of this blog, and this list of things she loved:
mocha java coffee
Pick ’n Pay fruit and nut slices
madeira cake with margarine
Woolworth’s magnolia scent
The Fair Lady magazine
Benson & Hedges light
the Royal family
singing in a choir
Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos
Matisse, Kandinsky, Klee
walking on Rondebosch Common
Flanagan’s green onion flavoured kettle fried chips
Albany dark chocolate
Henri Matisse, Virgin and child on a background of flowers and stars, lithograph (1950–1951)