Her first memory was running down the street to the bomb shelter as the sirens whined in the East End of London.
Her last, hopefully, was of holding my hand and hearing me sing My Old Man as she drifted peacefully away.
Mum’s Dad was old. 54 when he started his third family and a cantankerous man he was, working long hours in a dockside warehouse.
Five children over 8 years all raised with a vile mixture of bitter words and the back of his hand.
Salvation came in the form of a local boy who’d served in the army just after the war. He cut a dashing figure with his blazers, cravats and brylcreemed hair. Although only in her mid-teens they were smitten.
Both families disapproved. His Mum was a staunch Salvationist and the 16 year age difference and his failed first marriage was not officially over were clouds they lived under for a dozen years.
Eventually, they eloped to Manchester taking his Mum with her. She pleaded frailty though she lived well into her 90’s.
They found a little decrepit terraced house and he found work and her first child was soon born.
As the family grew they were given a “council house” – low rent but good solid red brick estates. The boys started school and he changed jobs going from weaver to milkman to transparent paper worker. They turned their home into her little palace.
Her youth meant her Mother-In-Law ruled the roost, making all the decisions and teaching her the basic of good housekeeping and cooking. But the boys were growing and she occupied the second biggest room and wouldn’t budge. In the end she saw the sense of moving into her own flat and with much grumbling moved out.
Life wasn’t easy and arguments over money were top of the list, mostly caused by his changing jobs. He never got on with authority.
Then he came home with a leaflet about “Ten Pound Poms” – the scheme to move English workers to Australia where there was a shortage of labour.
It was a giant leap and they had to be married. So his divorce was finalised and they went into the registry office soon after. The house was decluttered, mostly of his birds and his gigantic record collection.
In Melbourne they found a beautiful, tiny house and he found work on the railways. Life was sweet again as the boys settled into school and calm descended again
Not for long though. The next Grand Plan was to become Salvation Army officers. He talked his way in and they took over a small local citadel (church). He was back in uniform and life was calm again – but only for a year.
Every year their is a Grand Congress where all Salvationists meet up and celebrate. Attending was a must so loaded up with the boys in the back and a family they’d befriended they arrived at the Hall.
And then disaster. As they pulled across the road a drunk in a speeding car hit the corner of their car and he fell/flew out of the door landing head first on a road grid. His injuries were life threatening. She had hit the wheel hard and lost an early term pregnancy.
After a year at a rehabilitation centre he returned – but he was different. His head injuries aggravated his already bad temper. His poor mobility and deafness made him bitter and he lashed out with his tongue making the boys’ lives a misery.
After moving to new jobs a few times – something the Salvation Army likes to do – they settled into a flat for a year or so as the boys started to attend High School.
The family was tired. Leesy, now known as Del, has a badly behaved heavily medicated epileptic husband who took all her time. The boys seemed to be coping but she was exhausted.
She decided to return to England. Hie and his mother were frail and after 6 years she felt the need to get back to a happier place.
As it happened, his Mum lasted another twenty years, well into her nineties and he passed quietly at 88 over 40 years after the Accident.
She made her sweet little home many times more as he repeatedly demanded that they move. The boys all left as the graduated and got jobs. Two stepped away and one stayed local.
Grandchildren came along, 8 altogether, and she finally nested herself into a little bungalow with her china ladies and flowers in he garden.
He became immobile and struggled to eat and so his care became harder but she refused help and put loyalty above all.
The cruellest part of her story is that when he died, after a time of mourning, we noticed changes that signalled the onset of dementia. The strain of care and perhaps the release of his passing had damaged her.
Increasing levels of care at first in her home and then in a secure Care Home enraged her. Coupled with her forgetfulness, her life was spiralling into nothing.
Visits from her local family and their new partners and eventually babies were nice but confusing.
In the end her mind forgot how to eat, and drink and her body slowly and gracefully … stopped.
Mum was a fighter. She was fiercely loyal to a partner, family members and some friends who really didn’t deserve her. She was a Giver in a field of Takers. A Golden Heart unappreciated by most.
I held her hand as she passed and after that awful first outpouring of grief came a happiness that I had known her and been given a gift of seeing the Right way to do things. A gift of sacrifice and loyalty and love.
Nite nite Leesy. God Bless. x