I started this blog as a means of documenting my baking trials and tribulations and also to encourage myself to practice my favourite hobby more. Underlying this though I think there was also a longing to share and preserve the memory of a truly remarkable woman, my mam.
I use the word remarkable but when you read on you may decide to disagree with my description, but for me my mam was a truly remarkable and inspirational woman and shall remain that way always in my memory. My mam was not college educated, she did not have a successful career, and nor did she amass any guise of wealth during her time on this earth, for many the mark of success or greatness. She was however a truly wonderful person full of kindness, generousity and love, true markers of a persons greatness in my humble eyes.
My mam would sing her way through every day. No matter how early in the morning or late in the evening she would sing a song to accompany whatever task it was she was busying herself with. She was always busy and only sat down in the evenings to talk on the phone or watch Coronation Street. Once she got on the phone you may forget about communication with the outside world because the line would be busy for hours on end. She would call her best friend who’s sole company she would have shared for a few hours that morning in work but they would still manage to speak for a minimum of two hours, then her sisters who would get an hour or two conversation each. Anyone else who happened to call would be afforded at least a half hour of her precious time.
As for watching the tv, if she saw 5 minutes of any given programme she was doing well as she had a habit of falling asleep once she sat down and relaxed and would snore so loudly that no one else could view the tv unless it was at maximum volume. On a Saturday night if she had the tv to herself she would settle in front of the fire to watch a movie. When questioned the next day about the movie she would give the most fanciful and unrealistic account of what had gone on, and then we finally realised why when we joined her on a Saturday evening. She would start off watching a movie and then about half way through on an ad break she might have a little flick around to see what else is on and pause on another movie. She would then nod off for a few minutes and wake forgetting she had changed channel and so end up watching half a rom com and half a slasher thriller, casting all movies off as rubbish.
When we were little and it was a miserable Sunday afternoon she would drag the sofa in front of the fire(it was usually positioned along a wall and if you were at the far end you would freeze the choppers off yourself), put on whatever old movie was showing on RTE 1 and we would all pile on with a bunch of goodies and snuggle up. My dad always gave us money to go to the shop for goodies on a Sunday afternoon and his last words to our backs as we hurried out the door would be, “and a large Whole Nut for your mam”. It was the same every week, her favourite bar and mine now if I am given the choice, so we would hand over the 60p and then run back down the hill to the house for her to enjoy whilst sitting on the sofa. If you snuggled in beside her you were guaranteed the offer of a mind(her word for a special cuddle). I think she enjoyed the comfort just as much as her 3 girlies, but you had to beware if you happened to be wearing a nice knitted jumper or cardigan as she loved to sit and pick a hole in them. So there you would sit safely nestled in her lap, her warm breath falling on your face, her thoughts rambling far far away as she gently rocked you back and forth and sang her madey up lullaby about old Johnny Boo being put in a shoe.
Like my sisters and my niece she was a great one for talking(I’m the quiet one in the family, a bit like my dad), she could talk for Ireland. As I have already said she would spend hours on the phone but she was known by all and well liked in the area so if she stepped foot outside the door she would find someone who would stop to talk to her. Our local newsagents was 3 minutes away and or local grocery store 10 minutes tops. My mam could go to either and be gone for 3 or 4 hours(no exaggeration) because she would only manage to get a few steps before running into someone who would stop her, she would leave that person and then run into someone else. If she ever asked you if you wanted to go with her and you made the mistake of saying yes you learnt your lesson for at least a few months as you stood there bored out of your bicky as she enquired after Nancy’s bunions and Barry’s piles.
Her love for and skill at shopping could have provided her with a very successful career. She would browse the shops in the city centre at least a few times a week and never came home empty handed. A result of her warmth and friendliness meant she was on first name terms with the sales assistants in all of her favourite shops who would put items aside for her as they arrived in store knowing she would like them or tell her to hold off on a purchase as it would be 50% off the next day. She would shop for her 3 girls and always bought the perfect thing for each of us with our different tastes. When I was a teenager I would regularly meet her on a Thursday evening for late night shopping. We would start off by heading to the cafe in Roches Stores. Mam would usually have, “a nice slice of quiche”, followed by a cream cake and I would have an ice cream, mint choc chip with chocolate sauce, served in a stainless steel sundae bowl that would freeze the hand off you. Mam was a non smoker but would sit on the edge of the smoking section as the layout meant that the smoke from there would blow up to the non smoking section, but sitting here you escaped that. We would then spend the evening shopping, inevitably being spoilt rotten by her buying everything I liked and then before heading for the bus there would be a mad dash when she would say, “we better get something for your father or there’ll be a face if we come home empty handed”, a Caramello usually did the job.
She possessed and endless supply of care and kindness that stretched far beyond her immediate family. If a neighbour or friend fell ill she was first to their door or hospital bed with a bunch of flowers or box of chocolates. She knew everybodies favourite and would be sure to buy get well gifts accordingly, no ‘one present fits all’ shenanigans with her. She would give up hours of her time to those in need. It would be nothing for her to sit with someone for 2 hours or more to bide the time until a family member finished work or just to fill the gap between lunch and tea time and alleviate the boredom and loneliness. She could catch up on her own to do list later and never complained that her day had been lengthened for the sake of someone else. Couple with this her ability to view and treat all as equals regardless of there ability or outward beauty and it is no surprise she was so well loved and to this day remembered with great fondness by all who had the good fortune to encounter her briefly or if they were lucky to have her in their lives for many, many years.
She took pride in her appearance and while she was never out of her slippers or apron in the house she wouldn’t dream of leaving the house without a slick of lipstick. She held a 9:30am appointment every Saturday for as long as I can remember in our local hairdressers and would have her hair blowdried weekly, and a colour and cut every few weeks. She had a penchant for blue eyeliner, something I don’t think I will be adopting, and always had a stash of pink lippies on the go which when worn would migrate to her teeth after a while. I have a diminished sense of smell due to a botched adenoids op but to this day can still conjure up the scent of her various perfumes. When I was little it was gold topped bottles of Apple Blossom, a scent that it seems impossible to buy these days, Estee Lauder’s Beautiful and YSL Paris and in later years Chanel No. 5. Scents that still conjure up memories as they waft past my nose in the street, in a store, sitting in a restaurant.
My mam didn’t possess what might be described as a quick wit. She loved to laugh and was always smiling, regardless, but was never really the one to induce laughter in others. But on some rare occasions she would come out with the most brilliant one liner that would reduce her to fits of tear falling, leg crossing, stomach aching laughter. I loved when she laughed like that. I have noticed in recent years that I have that same belly laugh, I hate the sound of it coming from my mouth as it is akin to a donkey braying, but from my mam I loved it and it always made me smile at how thoroughly she was enjoying those few moments, revelling in her fleeting comic genius.
So there you have it, a snapshot of the person my mam was. She was this and so, so much more but these are some of the things that I remember with great fondness. As I have said, to some it would appear that she did not achieve anything remarkable in her life, to me she was a teacher, carer, shoulder to cry on, mentor, guide, safe haven, cheerleader and to this day remains my greatest inspiration in life. Remarkable or not, she was simply my mam.