I remember the first time I was shown the photo of my mother, who was in the photo aged about four. First there was the realisation that mum had been a child once, and not always my mother. Then a strange feeling at seeing the little face that looked away into the big sky – looking so similar to my own child face, but more delicate, always more delicate – I had another half of genes to deal with.
She sits on the warm loose dirt, her feet buried in the soil and looks away dreamily, so at peace in herself that to me then and now, she was as much a part of the earth she sat on as any of the trees and hills that framed the world - her world.
I can imagine the warmth she feels and the light she is a part of, long before the world took her and told her how things were meant to be. The year she turned four her young mother died. As she and her father lived miles from town, the best part of a day trip by horse and sulky into town and the same back a housekeeper was soon ensconced in the house and things changed, became more rigid, more serious less light hearted.
Gone was the young laughing mother who loved music and is photographed shortly before her death poking her tongue out at the camera because she was caught with her hair, set curling in rags.
Gone was the love and companionship that a brother or sister might have brought into a house which catered to the needs of what was proper. Mum told me once that as an adult she realised how very lonely she was as a child but as a child didn’t know the words for what she felt.
Grandfather did his best, never re marrying and being the best father he knew how – but without his wife’s soft touch sometimes although he loved mum dearly he was too proper, and also too afraid something might happen and take her away as well. Who can blame him? Pictures of mum riding the big draft horse as a small child but then later her father’s fear of accident meant this pleasure was also gone. Mum told me that so I do know.
Declared “not proper” were the exercise books mum as a child filled with stories about the birds and animals and about what lay over the hills and under the hills – all gone burned by a stupid superstitious housekeeper who knew her job was safe, being so far from town and considered trustworthy – too hard to replace. The books gone, the stories slowed and stopped till only a year before her death they began again, only one or two but the gift was still there.
And still in spirit light filled she would walk for miles the high rocky lichen covered mountains and hills she knew so well, dreaming her dreams, abandoning herself to the intense greens, greys and blues of the land she was part of.
All this remained in her, no matter the tight lips of the relatives, no matter her beloved father’s concerned displeasure at her raw youthful exuberance – it all remained and was poured into us as we came from her body, drank her milk and were held in her gentle, tolerant arms. Allowed to dream without fetters, allowed to be different, she even covered for me sometimes when others tried to pull rank on her and tell her how to raise us. Allowed into a world light and full of laughter and an understanding of how the world really is – called common sense.
Endless conversations after school, when she would listen to all my stories, something she was to do till she died. The pair of us could talk under cement, but it was always interesting and we never ran out of topics. In the early days mum was not big on gossip and I don’t recall her being nasty about anyone and there were plenty to be nasty about at times. As the years passed, towards the end she showed what a wonderful mimic she was, often imitating the voice or attitude of this or that person who considered themselves so important. I wondered how often she must have privately exercised this gift in private when we were young and she was expected to be oh so proper. In the afternoons at her place, at her little table we would talk, almost no subject left untouched. Mum’s idea of a good visit was to say, “We had some lovely talks.”
... and sadly there were days when depression came over her in waves, only to lift again – something she knew she had to deal with as the cycles flowed about her. One of the bravest of people I have ever known.
Somewhere the memory of a little girl, sitting with her feet in the warm loose soil, secure in the knowledge she was born with, shimmers in the haze amongst the rocky hills, hearing the animals and birds, wondering what lays over the hills or under them...remembering things too often forgotten.