My mother loved a proverb. I hated them.
Her use of them always smacked of the Victorian to me. Used as chastisement or warning, or an usually superfluous “I told you so”, the effect through repetition, was to make me resistant to these often trite, righteous mottos. I suspect she had been on the receiving end of them herself at some point, possibly from her own mother’s tongue. They certainly felt like a sanctimonious throwback to a more proscriptive age.
I never doubted my mother’s love for a second. She was a doting and supportive Welsh Mam. As an only child I was the focus of her life, (apart from my dad of course) and she took it upon herself to educate and guide me to the best of her abilities, which were quietly formidable.
She taught me to read, to tie my shoe laces, to wipe my bottom (not necessarily in that order). She cooked unquestioningly for me and washed and ironed my clothes with pride. She gave me standards, aspirations and ambition and strove to make me respectful and accepting of others. She also drove me potty with petty nagging that built a wall between us that her early death meant we never got a chance to demolish.
I only ever knew my mother as a housewife (although she also took care of my father’s business accounts), a role I think she was happy with, and despite her extended family and a wide circle of friends I suppose I’d always considered her as having a small life in our small village.
She had, however, lived and gone to school in London for some years in the forties when her father moved the family to find work after the war. It must have been an austere time, especially in the blitzed East End where they settled. She told me tales of losing my Gran in a ‘Pea Souper’ smog and of a visit to Parliament with her school. I think she was proud of the worldliness her time in the big smoke had given her.
After they moved back to Wales she had been in a good job helping to set up new department stores and had travelled all over the country in the fifties, staying in digs in a variety of towns and had maybe seen enough to make her content with the self-imposed constraint on her later life.
A life of hard work for meagre rewards made her whole generation stoic and self reliant. They found the strength to be that way due to the solid familial and community ties they enjoyed and fostered. It was a generation that followed the rules, listened to advice and took it all on the chin.
It’s not surprising then that they could sometimes appear to be a bit preachy to our flighty young generation with their seemingly inexhaustible stock of proverbs and sayings. I know that the intention was to educate, to guide a young mind along a narrow path of what was culturally and morally acceptable within their tightly controlled ethos, but it was always in my contrary nature to rail against it.
I could cope reasonably well with “The early bird catches the worm” when being chided into getting up, I liked my bed when I was a teenager but also hated wasting the day. I could handle the odd “Beggars can’t be choosers” if I was being picky with my food. But my ire was piqued most reliably when I was at the point of losing my rag at a frustrating situation only to be treated to the blindingly, bleedingly obvious “A watched pot never boils” or “All good things come to those who wait”. These would invariably have been preceded by my mother’s simple, often repeated mantra “Patience, Simon” Arrrrgggghhhh!!
I can’t now recall any lengthy conversations I had with my mother, just snippets, although I can still clearly remember her voice. I suspect a parent’s voice in your head is indelible. But it greatly frustrates me that I can’t recall a single time when we discussed anything of importance, or found common ground in the way we felt about something. I’m sure we had those conversations, I just can’t remember them.
Perhaps one day something will trigger that store of memories and bring them to the fore. I eagerly await it — I just wish it could be sooner rather than later. Until then I’ll keep tapping my foot and fidgeting with the discomfort of having to wait for an as yet undefined point in time when all will be resolved. But I will have to wait of course.
As my mother used to say…