Mo Mhathair

It was the caption on the Mother’s Day card that prompted my reflections. Underneath the picture of a petulant, pouting little girl with pert bunches, it read,

“By the time you realise your mother was right, you’ve got a daughter who thinks you’re wrong”.

Age five and off to school, with hair tightly plaited, wearing a homemade tweed skirt and a hand knitted Fair Isle jumper, I was pleased my mother was proud of me. It never occurred to me that she could be anything but always right. She milked the cow, made butter and crowdie, scones, pancakes, oatcakes, light sponges and cakes, jams and jellies, pickles and chutney.

When I was ten, after my mother won the silver cup at the local agricultural show, I was bursting with pride.  Then I discovered that other people’s mothers were ‘modern’; they bought bread from the baker and jams from the Co-op, their husbands milked the cow and the calf drank all the excess milk. Their clothes came from the Marshall Ward catalogue.

Doubt crept in. It didn’t seem to matter that my mother’s kindness, generosity and hospitality were locally renowned. She was not modern. I got proof positive of that when I brought home a copy of “Romeo” comic.  I was too young to read that rubbish, she told me: “Those Penny Horribles are an evil influence.” My mother knew her Bible and could quote any number of verses to support her moral stance. She understood human nature and the need for constant vigilance. It never occurred to me that this might be based on experience. No!  She was not modern; she was old-fashioned.

At fifteen, I loved her with all my heart but we were on different planets. She didn’t listen to Radio Luxemburg. Just as well. She would have disapproved, attentive as always of my developing character and spiritual needs.

She agreed to listen to Elvis.  I was excited.  She wasn’t.  She said, “I can’t understand a word of that American accent. I think he doesn’t sound very well.”  (Good job she never saw his moves).  Then she made sure I got straight back to my homework.  She was very interested in my Domestic Science lessons, if a little sceptical of the teacher’s recipes and methods.

I never told her about my boyfriends but she knew all the same. Local gossip was as effective as any current phone tapping scandal. Wisely she never pried but her conversations were well strewn with clichés:

“Marry in haste, repent at leisure,” and “Honour your father and your mother”.

I was resentful but yes, she was influential; I was kept from drunkenness, a truncated adolescence and a shotgun wedding.

Age twenty, (actually twenty three) I was married, happily and respectably, and my first baby arrived.  My mother was there helping, so very practically. She had never heard of Dr. Spock. She was still old-fashioned, but nice with it. In some ways she was more approving of my husband than of me. Still I could see her goodness, love and concern for her grandchildren, always siding with them against me, an over-disciplining mother.

By thirty, my mother suddenly got much easier to talk to! She had considered views, I could even, sometimes, see where she was coming from. I was surprised how much she made allowances for human frailties and foibles. She was much more tolerant of those struggling with their own difficult personalities than of the self-assured and the self-promoting.  When had she changed…?

Age forty, fifty and now late sixties, at last I recognise my mother’s wonderful influence, wisdom and spiritual guidance. In some ways I am her. I see it in my daughters and in my grand-daughters.

Her legacy is the foundations she laid; mine is that I continue to build upon them.


Happy Mother’s Day to mothers and mother-figures everywhere!






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