Today, both the love and loss of my Mum is overwhelming. It’s been creeping up on me for the last few days. Moving slowly like time and some mosses, I’ve recalled her more and more. Funny stories. Things that pissed her off.
I hear her words coming out of my mouth, and I can concede that several of the attitudes she held (and that I disapproved of in my youth) are now attitudes of mine — her intolerance of injustice and justification; her anger at the way we label each other.
Because of my Mum, I met my first ‘gay’ man when I was 8; my first Japanese professor when I was 9 and, at 12, watched as she flushed a bag of MSG down the toilet because she couldn’t be sure it wasn’t cocaine.
Today I miss my Mum because of my garden. David and I have been working on this part of our lives for the almost three years we’ve been living in this house. Being in our garden reminds me so much of the feeling I had in the garden of the house in which I grew up — my Mum’s garden. There were always plants to move, compost to be turned, and keeping an eye out for when the toads emerged in the spring. There was a pond – no fish – we had cats. There was the outdoor aviary containing all sorts of birds. Her favourites were the Peking Robin and the ridiculous Chinese painted quail. And at one time we kept chickens. They didn’t like the urban environment too much and trying to get them to lay eggs that we could find became a bit of an obsession.
My childhood garden had a stone patio right outside the backdoor, stone walls and a gate at the far end. That gate was my doorway to local adventure since it led onto a lane behind the houses. We had a garage. No car because my Mum sold it when my Dad died. She could drive but preferred “shank’s pony” or the bus. The garage doubled instead as a potting shed.
Stone and brick encased the compost pile which was covered with mulch. The cats thought it a great summer bed for sleeping, and their coats would hold a warm, loamy, biscuity smell – reminding me of the smell of home.
We have a back gate in our yard too. It leads out into an open field which is a right-of-way for the local power company. The grass gets tall out there, and locals use it for walking. The magic of that gate though is not in the ‘going out’. It is in the ‘coming in’ – up to the gate, the snick of a thumb lock and I step into a space that fills me with delight and a sense of belonging.
Just as I belonged in the garden of my childhood, my Mum belongs in this garden of my adulthood. Today it would mean the world if she – turning 104 – were outside in a chair with a cup of tea and a book. There would be plotting – about dinner, the garden, books to read. There would be a debate about the latest political nonsense; and a story or two from when she was younger, and there was a war on in Europe. She’d twinkle a look about the Offical Secrets Act and smile. There would be laughter and irreverence for she held no person in thrall. She’d be asking about the cats and tutting as she brushed the crumbs that she had spilt on her shirt as she ate a cookie. I’m going to my garden, to do some digging and thinking and remembering. Then Mum and I will have some tea.
Today is my Mum’s birthday – and I miss her so terribly much.