It is possible to get a fairly clear picture of mam from dad’s letters. She was the eldest of five children and the only girl. Her young life was tough because for years her mother was dying with stomach cancer and mam had to be a little mother to her four younger brothers. In addition, her father was a harsh man. If he disapproved of something she did he would hit her across the face and if she then cried she would receive another hit. She learned to hide her feelings. Mam was a hotbed of suppressed feelings that found expression through feverish work. She never stopped. In addition, the greatest crime in our house was waste and everything was saved, everything (every elastic band, length of string , envelope, sheet of wrapping paper…) . Everything around the subject of money was fraught. The family myth was that I was the emotional, wasteful one. One day when I was fourteen and we were disagreeing about something mam said,’ Well, do as you like,’ and effectively washed her hands of me. Sometimes I gained her approval but mostly I was perceived to be wild and unmanageable.
Mam never seemed to know where she fitted in. Sometimes she would insist that we were just as good as others but she had a finely tuned nose for what was common. Our house/ income was modest but mam was very aware that she had married into a family that was above her. That probably explains why she spent so much time with Auntie Sylvia. Mam had four brothers, George, Arthur, Jim and Charles.
Gran Cis ( see below) lived in the cottage where my mother grew up. It was attached to Prospect House , the grand house near the hollow. My grandfather Piercy (Arthur) had quite a bit of land around the cottage and when my mother lived there the family grew all their food and reared a pig each year. Her father later sold the land to the village and once flattened it became the village bowling green and tennis courts. There was a condition to the sale that all of his children could use the new facilities freely. This accounts for my mother becoming a county tennis champion and why a slap on the back of my legs could leave its imprint for days.
Mam left school when she was thirteen . The miss Everards who lived next door in Prospect House never married and ran a dame school . My mother went to school there . It has taken me years to recover from the last time I saw my mother. She was in a Leicester hospice dying with mouth cancer. At that time I was living in Ireland, had three small children and a sick husband so my time in England was limited. I had to travel over to England to say goodbye and was told that I could do this on condition that I wouldn’t cry. The night before saying goodbye I couldn’t sleep for crying. The next morning I thought I had cried it all out but when I arrived at the hospital it was clear that there were more tears. I made my way up to the hospice slowly, crouching down behind buildings to cry before taking in a deep breath and composing myself sufficiently for the visit. And all was well until a passing nurse said,’ You all right me duck? You look choked up,’ and that did it. I cried and mam hit me. A weak sideways hit, nothing like her old back handers and she asked me to leave. At the entrance she hit me again and I said, ’Mam, you can’t let a hit be the last thing between us.’ And then she gave me a stiff hug. Now I know that it was her own tears she was afraid of.