Autobiography Early Years

My Magic Mother

Unlike some children who only remember sunny weather, I recall the pleasure of dark, stormy times when, bundled up in my pram I was propelled through the streets in my push-chair, snug and warm against the rain and wind to home and the contrast of a glowing fire, protected from danger by a shining brass-railed fire-guard. I would sit transfixed, staring into the caverns of the glowing coals, watching the flickering flames and the ever-changing pictures I saw there. Mother would take down the long-handled toasting-fork which hung on a nail by the fireside. She removed the fire-guard, buttered slices of bread, speared them with the fork and held them dry-side-forward close to the flames until the buttered side had melted.

This concoction she called ‘frizzle-dick”. I don’t know why but they tasted much better than ordinary toast. Probably because Mother had made them. Whatever she offered us to eat always tasted good. We ate what we were given. Money was short and we always enjoyed our meals. When we had finished, Mother took us to bed and told us stories and prayers. Her presence was always magical. We never wanted to let her go. I remember the rough feeling of her work-worn hands (no rubber gloves in those days) as she gently stroked our arms and tucked us into the sheets. Then she went off to prepare Father’s evening meal.

The weather didn’t matter. Mother created her own brand of sunshine. On the rare occasions when she was not at home in my early days at school, the kind Miss West, who lived in the ground-floor flat would let me in, but she was not Mother. The house seemed gloomy and dark without her.

Mother never tried to teach me anything. As soon as I showed interest in something that also interested Mother, she would sit down on the floor next to me and we did things together. I always liked to draw. Mother produced two pieces of brown wrapping-paper and coloured chalks. Every time she drew a church or house in a setting of flowers and trees. Sometimes I copied her and at other times I drew whatever came into my mind.

I loved books and at first enjoyed the pictures. When Mother read the stories to me, I wanted to make sense of the words so that I could read for myself. When I was nearly four I persuaded her to send me to the little church school at the top of our road. I was the first in the class to read and was given a book by Beatrix Potter. From then on I read everything I could lay hands on including street and shop signs. By the time I began school I had read several books.

My church school teacher liked children and always spoke to us in a friendly way. I was shocked when I went to infant school by the sour-faced woman who taught us. It was the first time in my life anyone had spoken to me in such a disagreeable way. From then on I disliked school and the other children.