I first met Mam when I was nineteen. She and Dad, on hearing that Martin’s new girlfriend would be spending Christmas on her own in London, invited me down to their home near Swansea. Dad was there at Swansea Bus Station to meet us, looking smart and shoe-polished, warmly shaking me by the hand and saying “Welcome to Wales!” Mam and Nan waited back at the bungalow with a hot meal. Mam cared for Nan, her elderly mother, until Nan's death.
Mam became like a second mother to me – my own Mum being largely absent in those years, living in Spain. Mam taught me how to wrap my baby son Welsh shawl style so that I could carry him round for as long as I needed to, swaddled against my heartbeat, and leaving my right arm free. She showed me so many small things, which gathered together, comprised what I had not been taught in my own home. And she was a wonderful grandmother to our boy. She came up to London to help out when he was born, she was always willing and ready to assist when needed. I had an ectopic pregnancy only weeks before we moved to Sussex, and she travelled up on the train to fetch our five year old son down to Wales while my husband packed up the house and finished the tasks involved in closing down my theatrical agency. When my son had febrile convulsions in the second year of his life, she was a calm and reassuring presence at my side. She herself suffered from some OCD issues, yet in spite of this, she was in many ways a sure and steady person to have with you in frightening times. She and Dad were generous, though they had never had much money – unasked for, they would pay for new shoes for our son, coal in a hard winter when interest rates had soared, took us for a week’s holiday to their beloved Blackpool when funds were low. And they were always kind and scrupulously fair in their gifts to all their grandchildren.
We had many wonderful summer holidays in Wales – Mam would pack up sandwiches, crisps, fruit and a bottle of pop for our outings to the beach on the Gower, or trips to Carreg Cennen etc. We never came back up the M4 towards home without provisions for the journey. And Mam faithfully sent cards for birthdays, tests passed, anniversaries etc.
There’s an old story that the Welsh people is the lost tribe of Israel, and Mam certainly had some things in common with the archetypal Jewish Mama: her two sons were the apples of her eyes, and could do very little wrong, and naturally enough, that rankles with daughters-in-law from time to time! We had a joke that if Martin or my son asked for a special dish, whatever hour it was, e.g. gammon, egg and chips at midnight, if remotely possible Mam would happily oblige, whereas if I asked for muesli for breakfast when toast was the norm, I
was blinkin’ awkward!
We got on each other’s nerves from time to time – we both had quite strong wills – and we had one or two quarrels, but we got through them.
Like I said ,Mam suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder. She used to say that I couldn’t know how bad “her nerves” were, and although I sympathised, as a young woman I also felt annoyed by her odd ways – always having to check a certain number of times that the gas cooker was off, that the door was locked, every time she left the house. It’s only with hindsight and experience of my own ‘funny’ ways, with years of struggling with my own character defects and bad habits, that I see how hard it is to overcome these things.
But Mam was also very brave. After Dad died, she worked hard to get out and about on her own, join classes, take the bus to Llanelli, Swansea, Aberdare and Carmarthen to eat in cafes, and do her shopping with her little rucksack. And she had some great qualities – she was patient, caring, constant in her affections and loving in very practical ways.
After my father-in-law's death in 1995, Mam missed him dreadfully – she used to sigh and say “Oh Judy, I miss that man”. They met when she was fourteen and she said she could never think of being with another man. Towards the end of her life, when Mam suffered more and more with loneliness, she would always end telephone conversations with the philosophical words “Dyna fordd y mae” (that’s how it is).
When Mam was dying in hospital, my son and I drove down to Wales to see her. We sat with her and held her hands, stroked her forehead, gave her kisses. We had no idea how long it would be before her heart gave out, and regretfully I returned to work in Kent while Martin stayed with her. He sat alone with her through her last night, only two days later, and rang the next morning to tell me that she had just passed away. On Wednesday it will be a year since she died. I miss her.
Loving and cherishing those around us is a very worthwhile practice to
aim for. As someone once wrote: “Any good that I can do, or any kindness that I
can show to any fellow-creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer it or
neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again”.