Burnt Autumn

 

bonfire-2016

 

My mother is eighty-six years old. She looks full of vitality, though her health is challenged by a less than perfect heart and a recent diagnosis of dementia. She’s facing this bravely, in the same way she has always faced adversity.

mum-anglezarke-sept16
Barbara Tanham, September 2016

Born in 1930, her early life was dominated by extreme poverty and the 1939-45 European war. She was, in her own words, “As thin as a rake and malnourished.” She tells of how the whole family had to live for several weeks on a large bag of rice which someone had given her father in lieu of a cash payment for a watch repair.

Her father,  my beloved Grandad, was out of work – as so many were in the Britain of the 1930s. But, she does not remember those times as painful. She remembers the camaraderie that prevailed. “Everyone was the same,” she says. “We didn’t know any different. You were hungry and had nothing, so you seized every chance you got to have fun, to learn and to help those souls who actually had less than you…” Working men put in ten-hour shifts and then went out to night-school to better themselves.

She remembers the Blackshirts and the backing the Daily Mail gave them. She remembers the immense sense of pride she felt in the working classes and how they rose up against Fascism in all its forms – right across Europe.

She tells of the regular sing-songs they had, when, after working the full day at the local munitions factory, the four girls from Osborne Street would assemble at Grandma’s house with a headful of songs and ‘combs’ – covered in greaseproof paper and blown so that they made a kind of buzzing instrumental noise (and drove your lips crazy – I’ve tried it!).

With a little help from her mother and father, she raised me and my brother, David. Our Dad was the usual hard-worker, but Mum was the active force, filling our heads with the ability to ask the right questions -something she treasured when she began a lifelong study of mysticism as a Rosicrucian student.

I grew up in a very unconventional and spiritually-oriented household; something that cost me dearly, in terms of my education, when we moved to a small village dominated by the local orthodox mafia of Church of England vicar and primary school headmaster. But that’s another story…

Both boys grew, through love which gave power over adversity, to become a success in their own fields, maturing to have children of their own, in an age infinitely more prosperous than my mother’s had been.

We nearly lost Mum a decade ago, when severe colitis and emergency surgery saw the removal of most of her lower intestine. The six months that followed were marked by daily visits to the local hospital. For the first three weeks, she hovered between life and death in the Intensive Care Unit at Bolton Royal, while we clung to the belief that she might have some reserves left with which to return to a kind of health. Against the odds, she eventually emerged from the ICU and was transferred to another ward only to catch MRSA, which brought on pneumonia. Within days, she was back in the ICU, fighting, once again, for her life.

I will not detail the half-year in hospital that followed; this post is not about her recovery, it’s about her approach to life…

Life is her philosophy, she says. Seizing the day and finding the beauty that’s always present, if you look hard enough… The mysticism helps, she says.

Even now, she walks her golden Pomeranian dog, Sammy, for several miles each day. Whenever we can, we get her up to our home on the edge of the English Lake District. Her joy in the lush green hills of the Lakes is palpable…and you can feel her drinking it in.

We do not know how much longer she will be with us. Once a week I drive down to the old home town of Bolton and we spend as much of the day as we can together. Sometimes it’s just shopping and a fish and chip lunch. Other times–as much in Winter as Summer–we take our dogs to the seaside to run them on the beach. St Annes is a favourite. She likes the fish and chips on the pier cafe.

We talk a lot, now, about the state of the world. She still believes in the kindness that people show within their own walls, in their own families. “But people are losing that, collectively,” she says. “As a nation, we are forgetting how to be kind in the face of adversity.”

She cried, recently, at the sight of homeless children in the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais. “No-one cares,” she said, “We would have set an example in reaching to look after them, after the war.”

“That’s not so far from Fascism,” she says, looking at UKIP’s actions on the TV. “You can taste Fascism when you’ve known it…”

“People always think it’s different,” she says,”but it’s right there, next to where you are now. Forgetting it always gives it chance to come back…”

“Being kind is all that’s needed,” she says. “We can all do that if we choose to believe it and have courage that things really can be different.”


©Stephen Tanham, 2016.

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39 Comments Add yours

  1. Barbara Walsh says:

    You rock Aunty Barb ,much love ,xxx

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  2. Lovely post and memories. What an influential lady x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Thank you, Samantha. You’d like her!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, she sounds pretty cool 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. TanGental says:

    Lovely Steve. So many echoes here in the attitude of my mum. The fortitude, the getting on with it, the finding fun wherever, the belief in essential goodness coupled with a determination not to allow negativity to rule. My mum and her background were very different to yours but they were both made in the steel hard world between the wars and it showed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Thank you, Geoff. Yes, a shared layer of consciousness that seems only to emerge from prolonged hardship…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Sue Vincent says:

    Reblogged this on Sue Vincent's Daily Echo and commented:
    “Being kind is all that’s needed. We can all do that if we choose to believe it and have courage that things really can be different.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. adeleulnais says:

    What a wonderful woman your Mother is and I pray she will fight dementia as fiercely as she fought before.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Thank you, Adele. She is fiercely independent. We’ll protect that as long as we possibly can…

      Like

  6. Such a lovely lady, and a smashing photo. The love in your post is overpowering.
    My Mum is 94 and sadly I don’t get to see her as much as we’d like, which is usually once a month (it’s a 280 mile round trip). My sister sees it as making excuses not to visit, but circumstances are against us just now anyway. I continue to write every week though, knowing I won’t get a response but that doesn’t matter.When we’re together, I encourage her in conversation and love to hear her reminisce about her childhood, to hear her sing as she did when we gave my sister a weekend break and I played the old piano in the hall. In the colder months, she doesn’t want to go out and sits quietly in her chair by the window.
    I remember the roast dinners, cakes, apple pie, sausage rolls, trifles and stews, outfits that were too big for us to ‘grow into’, and her trying to pass rabbit off as chicken. Mums are special, a treasure without comparison.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Indeed they are, and the distance you have to manage is only physical and not if the heart. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. What a beautiful piece. The love shines through and I wish you and your mum all the best. My own mother would be almost the same age now but died in 1980. I still have some stories to tell though 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Thank you, Wendy. Keep those stories close to your heart!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. jenanita01 says:

    Every son should have a mother like yours, and every mother needs a son like you… and I cannot speak anymore now…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      That’s so lovely. I hesitated to put out such a personal piece but I’m glad I did, now. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. evelynralph says:

    My mum was not quite like that but she was indomitable. Wish I still had her atoun (and dad) but, not ti ge. Thank you Steve. Lively to read.
    Evelyn

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Thank you, Evelyn.

      Like

  10. What a lovely post. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Thank you, Alethea. I hesitated, given the personal nature of it, but it’s been well received.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What a hero. What a warrior.

    Like

    1. stevetanham says:

      She would resonate with that comment! Especially when looking back at her time as an anti-hunt saboteur, being chased by the mounted police up the local country lanes…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m liking her even more!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Lizzy says:

    So right – kindness and compassion are the most important things in the world. And what a lovely lady and family – I’m envious! (though I know I shouldn’t be).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      You must meet her one day soon! x

      Like

  13. Helen Jones says:

    This is such a beautiful post, Stephen, and a lovely tribute to your mother. She sounds a wise soul indeed…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      Thank you, Helen. That’s a lovely comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Helen Jones says:

        You’re very welcome 🙂 Hope life is treating you well x

        Liked by 1 person

        1. stevetanham says:

          An awful cold and political depression, but, apart from that, I’m fine!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Helen Jones says:

            Oh, sorry to hear about the cold, and I can commiserate about the depression – what a strange year it’s been!

            Liked by 1 person

        2. stevetanham says:

          And how are you and your family?

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Helen Jones says:

            We’re all well, thank you 🙂
            Looks as though it’s going to be a cold one when you go to Wales next month! Brrr

            Liked by 1 person

  14. stevetanham says:

    Part of the experience! The Druids didn’t have central heating either you know…

    Like

  15. Bernadette says:

    You are very fortunate to have been raised by such a special lady.

    Like

    1. stevetanham says:

      I am, indeed, Bernadette, and very conscious of it…

      Like

  16. I relate to your comments – began to write more which was turning into a blog all of itself!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. stevetanham says:

      I know that feeling!

      Like

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