Monday, 16 January 2017

My mother's gift to me.

My mother introduced me to literature with stories. Bedtime stories and anytime stories. My early favourites included the Beatrix Potter books and Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit series. I loved My Naughty Little Sister, by Dorothy Edwards. That's what my older sisters called me, but I knew that the child in the book was naughtier than anything I could come up with, because she did lots of really silly things which I viewed with a four-year-old's contempt. However I was rather impressed when she went on a train journey by herself with only the guard to keep an eye on her. I also liked the Milly Molly Mandy series, by Joyce Lankester Brisley, especially as I had my own Little Friend Susan. I did wish Milly Molly Mandy would choose something other than stripes for her dresses though. She nearly did once. 

Like many children I also listened to 'Listen With Mother' with my mother! Co-incidentally it was first broadcast on this very day in 1950.

Learning to read was effortless and seemingly took no time at all so I read books for myself by age five or six but still liked my mother reading to me. One book that I enjoyed was Treasures of the Snow by Patricia St. John. Set in Switzerland it featured children who skied to school in winter which sounded wonderful, although I imagined the walk back up the mountains must have been a bit of a hike. Our house had plenty of books, including some of my mother’s childhood books and those belonging to my three older sisters. I read them all.

Stories didn’t end with books. I also loved those that my mother made up or the real stories about her childhood in Australia of which I never tired. When I helped my mother with household chores such as washing up, we made up stories with one of us starting and the other taking over. The best story we created went on for weeks about a crazy family who lived in the country and led a rather bohemian life, of which their father’s relations heartily disapproved. The step-mother, who bucked the trend by being nice to her step-children, was called Lorraine but she changed it to Raine as the children were Wood, Heath, Moore, and Brooke and she thought it fitted in better. Father was a little more conventional - I can’t remember if he had a name or not – so we got him out of the way much of the time by sending him abroad to work. 

As I grew older I devoured the children’s classics including two favourites, Little Women and Anne of Green Gables and we would discuss what happened after the stories ended or have conversations about the characters as if they were our neighbours and friends. We especially liked Anne and the inhabitants of Avonlea. These discussions continued as I met the characters in adult classics including Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.

We often compared our real neighbours to characters. Barbara Pym’s novels teemed with people from our village, which had its share of helpful ladies. We also loved the Mitford autobiographies and novels and happily chatted about Farve aka Uncle Matthew and his frightful rages as well as the sisters’ exploits. How we envied the Hons cupboard as our house had no such cosy delight.

In recent years our book discussions remained one of our favourite subjects in our regular phone-call chats, along with family news. My mother continued to read both fiction and non-fiction – she liked memoirs of interesting people – until the last few weeks of her life. She would often dip into favourite familiars if she felt too tired to tackle something new. It wasn’t so long ago that we visited Tara to have tea with Scarlett and Mammy to see if Rhett had returned. We knew exactly how that story ended – don’t be misled by published sequels.

My mother was also very supportive of my writing, and was pleased about my few modest successes. A couple of years ago she passed me several exercise books of her writings over the years about life on the farm where we lived when my siblings and I were children.  

Of all my memories of her, the literary memories are among my most precious. I'm going to miss our chats about our book friends.

Kathleen Hazel Bamfield, née Stephens. May 1921-January 2017.


Emily Benet said...

That was so beautiful and vivid. I was imagining it all. It reminded me of my mum reading us the Odyssy bit by bit. She also made up stories about Margarita the Chicken. She must have been so tired once because she kept falling asleep while telling it and I kept poking her awake to ask: what happened next? Your mum sounds so warm hearted, supportive and fun. Good job she passed those qualities on to you. I'm so sorry for your loss my lovely. Big hug and much love x

Maria said...

Oh Lindsay, so sorry to hear your sad news. Do keep your memories close as they are precious. X

Joanna said...

I'm so very sorry, Lindsay. What a lovely mother and how very deeply she was loved. It must have made her life very happy to have such a strong literary connection with you.

Your childhood reading mirrors mine closely - how fiercely I wanted Milly Molly Mandy to have the floral-sprigged material as a change from her stripes and how kind she was when she said at least she could see the pretty sprigged dress on her new friend, Bunchy, instead. (Personally, I would have resented Bunchy forever.)

Your mother sounds equally good-hearted and also intelligent and wise. Your memories of her will bring so much comfort. xxx

Lindsay said...

Thank you all, for your lovely comments. Many of us have memories of childhood reading with our parents and we appreciate how lucky we are. Joanna, I think I too would have been annoyed at the other child - I'd forgotten her a name - for taking the flowery material.

Emily, I love the sound of Margarita the Chicken! I remember reading The Odyssey to my daughter as she was doing it at school. I always think of rosy-fingered-dawn when I see the first sun rays of the day (not recently though because the mornings have been so dark.)

Maria, you are right. These memories are precious and ones I have passed on to my daughter and maybe, one day, grandchildren.

Anonymous said...

That's lovely, you must have made her so proud and happy �� xx What an age as well - all that reading and chatting did good xx

Rae Stoltenkamp said...

Dear Lindsay
A sad but beautiful tribute. How wonderful for you to have these positive memories around the gift of stories given to you by your mother. I hope it helps ease the pain. It certainly did for me. All my very best wishes and condolences.

Rosie Longstocking said...

Oh Lindsay, what a gift. the gift of story. It sounds like you have your own Barbara Pym in your mother and you have inherited her gene for storytelling. Such wonderful memories that you can dip into, I'm sure she was very proud of you.

Patsy said...

What lovely memories of your mother. In a way she'll be with you whenever you read.

Lindsay said...

Thank you for these further comments. Susan, my mother used to say that having five children phoning or visiting her every week kept her in touch with the world - she covered lots of subjects between us! Rae and Patsy, these memories will always be with me, and Rosie, my sister just found more of our mother's writing among her things so I will enjoy reading it - mostly factual family stories but stories nevertheless!