Mother’s Day – A Matter of Family Values

In my country, we have Mothering Sunday.   That’s today.

It’s the fourth Sunday in Lent, if anyone is interested in the jigsaw puzzle of the St. John of the ladderChristian calendar, and it remembers St. John of the Ladder, or St. John Climacus (Climacus – climb – ladder; gettit?  Don’t you just love Latin?).  It was once called Laetare Sunday, and is variously still known as Refreshment Sunday or Rose Sunday.  The latter because, apparently, of a golden rose traditionally sent by the Pope to Christian sovereigns.  Why?  Because Wikipedia says so, that’s why.

These days, Christian sovereigns are probably sick of an ever-growing stack of golden roses:  the pot in the royal throne room (the one just beneath the self-portrait of George W. Bush) is likely to be over-brimming with the things.   As for refreshment Sunday, that’s intended to mean refreshment of religious vows, rather than setting up a canteen in the vestry – or so I’m told.  Anyway, moving on.

In secular terms, as our beloved Archbishop is fond of saying, Mothering Sunday has simply become Mother’s Day, and though its origins are different to the American version, the essence of the festival is much the same.

It’s the day the chickens come home to roost.

For our grown-up chickens have a duty that must be fulfilled.  Our door must be visited, flowers must be presented, platitudes offered.

“Sorry, I know it’s not much this year, Mum.  We’re seriously short of money. What with the alterations to the house, the new Jacuzzi and Amanda’s kitchen makeover, there’s not much left to go round.”

“You’ll be planning your budget really carefully, then?”

“Yes.  That’s what the weekend in Florence was all about.  Just sitting down in a nice Trattoria with some wine and talking it over.”

‘I don’t suppose the 5K your father lent you entered your thinking?’  No, that’s a question that remains unasked; more because you fear the answer, than the risk of killing the conversation.

As for ourselves, we are past the age when we have mothers of our own, so Mother’s Day represents no major digression from our usual Sabbath routine.  Were we church-goers it might mean a service in a church where the faithful have made a bit of an effort:  a few flowers, some of what only a Christian congregation can call ‘gaiety’.  As it is, all we have to sacrifice is our sleep.  Rising at the crack of dawn is strongly advisable, because the progeny will be queuing at the end of the road waiting for sunrise.

The first knock comes at seven am.

“Hello Dad – not too early, is it?”

“My, those flowers look nice.”  (The all-night garage always raises its act for Mother’s Day).

The next knock comes at eight-thirty.

“Hello, Mummy, you look a bit pale.  Are you ailing?”

“Lack of sleep, dear.  My, those flowers look nice.”  (Discretion demands you conceal the first bouquet because the second one is likely to be identical).

By ten o’clock the fog of children will have dispersed and life will have returned to normal.   A day of creative flower-arranging beckons while we try to analyze our success-rating with our offspring (tricky, this one:  do we regard the very earliest arrival as the most ardent, or simply the one who wants to get the onerous event over soonest?)  and express our admiration for the innate sense of timing involved.  The earlier visitor will always contrive to be gone before the second arrives, because they do not ‘get on’ with one another.

What then, if anything, does Mothers Day signify – for us, the ex-parents, the holders of the torch everyone is waiting so eagerly for us to put down?  Enjoyment of a traditional family day when those we withstood for eighteen or so childhood years return to haunt us, briefly; or merely another clutter of cards, a few more needlessly sacrificed trees?   Or something in between?   Do the fruits of our loins observe the tradition because they want to, because they feel that need to reconnect to their roots, or rather through a desire to check that we haven’t sold the Ming vase that sits in their half of the will?

It is hard to give answers.  A wise owl on one shoulder might express the opinion 0wl 1owl 2that there are too many days in a year when family is meant to honor its obligations to its adjacent generation, whilst the wise owl on the other might claim that family unity is the cement that binds society together, and therefore cannot be reinforced too much.  (At which point I might remind myself that certain Sicilian families of recent history were very strong on the use of cement in resolving family issues).

My solution?  I accept what I cannot change.  I do not seek the answers.  After all, these shoulders are big enough for two owls:  why put one in a position where it has to peck the eyes out of the other – and which owl would win?

Which of our prodigal children will stay long enough to convince us they are happy to be here? Who will listen rapturously as we regale them with  details of our IBS symptoms, or try to persuade them to join our line-dancing class?  Who might even stay to lunch?

Ah well, tick the diary for another year.  Then cast forward to their next return to the fold – about a week after my birthday, perhaps.

ImageIn all her life Janice had never been known to speak in less than a shrill falsetto, and at 48 years old it was unlikely that she could ever be silenced.  There were neighbours who fervently wished she might, a husband whose wishes were seldom heard, two sons who bought their own houses a mile away so as to be out of earshot:  but she would not – some said could not -change.

 “Mind you, the whole family were loud.”  (This was Mrs. Proudfoot, a long-time friend).  “The old man were a blaster down the mine and he were deaf as a post, so ever’one shouted at ‘im  an’ ‘e shouted back.  ‘Twas ‘im put the ‘Dog and Gun’ pub out of business.  He were its only customer.”

Some believed Janice shouted because, like a small dog left alone in a big house, she was frightened.  This would have gained greater credence if she were quieter in the evenings when her husband came home, or on the days when she cared for her grandchildren, but no.  Teachers expressed concern that Janice’s grandchildren showed signs of premature deafness.  Neighbours overheard each and every remark from Janice’s side of conversations, like:   “You can’t have rice pudding”, “They’re in the top drawer”, or, more mysteriously:  “It’s stuck!”  These same neighbours were prone to changing TV channels involuntarily at Janice’s instruction, and to bury their heads beneath several pillows at Friday bedtime.

“Half-past eleven, without fail.  It’s like the ‘Ride of ‘t Valkyries’.  You never heard the like!”

Freda Warbleton, next door at no. 58, was less charitable:   “She shouts to get her way.  Every time she shouts at me I do what she wants.  She never asks:  she just shouts.  From the moment she moved in, I got no peace – none at all.  ‘Are you going down the town,  Freda?  Get me some sugar, will you?’; ‘can you pick up the children Freda?’   Freda this, Freda that, Freda the other.  Life’s not worth living.”

“Why don’t you move?”  I felt I had to ask.

“She KNOWS!”  Said Freda.  “We tried lots of times, Albert and me.  We showed people round and there she’d be, leaning over the fence.  She’d scream out helpful remarks, like:  ‘Dustmen come on Thursday’, or ‘School’s a mile away:  there’s no bus.’  No-one came up with an offer for the house – no-one.”

Janice’s sons generously clubbed together to pay for her house to be double glazed – to keep the sound in, rather than the weather out, said the neighbors – a failed attempt if that were its purpose because winter or summer, Janice’s windows were always open. 

Transportation was to prove her final undoing.  After receiving bans from the ‘bus companies (she alarmed the drivers, resulting in a number of minor accidents) she fell back upon taxi’s for her social and shopping needs.   

The taxi-driver was Romanian.  He had few words of English and a fairly loose appreciation of that strange British habit of driving on the left.   Given these pre-conditions it is easy to imagine how, with Janice’s stentorian bellow an inch from his left ear uttering some jewel such as:  “Yer going straight on, Yer should be turnin’ LEFT!” the poor man managed to somehow do neither.   And how he ended up where he did.

Which was Doncaster. 

On the northbound carriageway.

In the southbound lane.

Where the police managed to head off her taxi and guide it into a slip road.  Doncaster police station was as good a place as any to incarcerate the taxi’s driver, who had no idea that he had committed any offence.    Primed by the freehand traffic rules of Bucharest he was stimulated rather than alarmed by the aggressive behaviour of approaching drivers on the Motorway, and found the experience of driving up the wrong carriageway for 22 miles a bit of a blast.

Janice?  The pale, quaking wreck ambulance men extricated from the foot well of the taxi’s rear compartment took twenty-four hours to stop shaking.    She gave written evidence to the trial which followed, but it made little sense because the woman who had stared death in the face several hundred times within the space of thirty minutes was no longer capable of speech, or even logical thought.  

And Janice, sadly, has never been heard from again.