There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.
Today I’m really pleased pleased to welcome Carol Lovekin.
Since Judith invited me to contribute to this strand, I’ve spent weeks mulling over too many memories of a myriad places. A moment here, a memory there, this place briefly visited and only half remembered; this one part of the fabric of my life. And it occurred to me, perhaps I could take the premise literally and highlight ‘places’ plural.
Many of these places and moments featured my mother. She was and remains a huge influence in my life. She was Irish, she played the piano and had a way with words. My mother held space, she had an authentic sense of the importance of place and my memories are littered with moments and memories of her.
The word ‘moment’ reminds me of the Kate Bush song, Jig of Life* and the line, ‘I put this moment, here…’ In the song she asks, ‘Can’t you see where memories are kept bright?’ I can and still do: places with moments stitched to their seams. And at the centre, my mother invariably making more sense than, at the time, I gave her credit for. These memories are in no particular order.
I’m nine and can barely swim; riding on my father’s shoulders in a chilly stretch of the river Avon, roped off to resemble a lido. There are rocks underfoot and he slips. I’m falling, it’s cold and deep and I’m swallowing water . . . drowning. . . drowning. . .
I didn’t of course. Dad hauled me out and ‘kissed me better’ while my mother announced her disapproval. (‘I told you not to do that, Ken! What’s the point of the rubber ring if she doesn’t use it?’) And that was indubitably that. Instead of throwing me back in, they fussed, although, to my horror, my mother did suggest a swimming pool and proper lessons. Really? No way; it has a Deep End!
It wasn’t until I became a mother myself and the children were learning to swim that I made myself venture back into the water. It didn’t last. The children were soon fearless and there were too many rivers near where we lived, too much deep water. Years later – decades in truth – I started going to the local pool and discovered a real love for swimming. I’m not very good and I still don’t entirely trust deep water, but I’ve come a long way from that day when I was a little girl, tumbling from my daddy’s shoulder.
With my green-fingered mother in the garden of the house I grew up in. It’s full to overgrown perfection with flowers. A drooping rose and Mum’s pulling a stick from the undergrowth. ‘That’ll do it.’ The rose firmly staked. Weeks later, noticing the straggler has expired, but the steadying stick is beginning to throw off green shoots.
‘That’s magic,’ says my mother. ‘Gardening is magic. If you have a garden, you’ll always have a place to be peaceful.’
The rose eventually grew into a rambling, delicate pink wonder with a glorious scent. We never did identify it. Mum just called it her magic rose.
Over the years I’ve made several gardens. All of them magical, all of them with a pink rose of some sort or another. Now I am ‘reduced’ to a balcony, I’m looking for one that will work in a small space. A pink one, of course. In memory of that perfect place. And my mother.
My mother, quietly and with no drama, delivering my first, born-too-quickly-for-the-midwife, daughter.
‘She’s got her eyes open already,’ says Mum. ‘That’s girls for you.’ She hands me the baby and yes, her eyes are wide open and I know she can see me.
Mum, smiling, nodding her head. ‘We’re a proper matriarchy now.’
And that’s when I became a ‘proper’ feminist.
I’m in my bedroom. Mine, at last, because Dad has given up his darkroom and decamped to the shed, so my sister and I can have our own rooms. I’m scribbling a story for ‘English Composition’ homework.
‘It’s rubbish,’ I say to my dusting, tidying mother.
She straightens the bookshelves. (She’s bought me most of the books.)
‘Read all the books,’ she says, ‘and you’ll write better stories.’
She wasn’t wrong. Now, decades later, I find myself realising, although my mother didn’t live long enough to see me published, she is everywhere in my books. Not always obviously, but nonetheless there. I write about mothers and daughters a lot and it took me a while to understand how my own mother influenced some of the mothers I imagine. I like to think she would have approved.
So long as the stories come, I shall continue to write them, and both consciously and unconsciously place my mother at the centre of them.
* Hello, old lady
I know your face well…
I’ll be sitting in your mirror…
Will you look into the future…?
One with the ocean and the woman unfurled
Holding all the love that waits for you here…
I put this moment here…
© Kate Bush
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