My mother was 77 today. She’s quite a character and I wondered what might be suitable present. She’s been at me for some time to write a poem about her. I wrote one for my father after he died and in her inimitable fashion she told me that she wanted to hear hers.
So I sat down this morning and the wrote the following. I’m not claiming anything about its quality but it allowed me to say a few things to her that I’ve probably never said.
We went round to her house this afternoon with the poem but she was in Edinburgh – at the Joan Eardley exhibition as it happened – so we left it for her return with a few other bits and pieces.
My mum was born in Malaya ( as it was then known) in 1930. She was christened Barrie – in honour of her father’s favourite author J. M. Barrie – of Peter Pan fame. Her father was the manager of a rubber plantation. She stayed with her parents until she was eight before being sent home to school. When Malaya fell to the Japanese her father was taken prisoner and spent the rest of the war in Changi jail. Her mother got the last overloaded boat out of Singapore. She had to swap ships in Bombay – only for the original boat to be sunk with all lives lost. Neither she nor her husband knew the other was alive for a further two years.
After his release they stayed in Alford, Aberdeenshire where my mother became a nurse and met my father who was a medical student.
They set up a doctor’s surgery from scratch in Portobello, Edinburgh, which went on to become one of the biggest practices in the city. At that time my mother had three of us under 3 in addition to being nurse, receptionist and anything else required.
In the last few years she hasn’t enjoyed good health but always sees others’ problems to be much greater than her own.
On writing the poem I realised that the greatest gift my mother gave me was my sense of optimism. Thanks’
She only sees the light
The Cameron Highlands always sounded so exotic
To be born in the tropics – a colonial mistress
She could have been a proper lady!
A foundation of happiness,
Upon which she built a life,
Proved all too short
And sailing home – alone
She built an imaginary world
Protecting herself by
Always seeing the best
Learning how to sacrifice
Drawing people to her light
Her innocence balanced by her knowing.
She waited for her time
Remembered running on a platform
Holding him in her arms
Feeling his emaciated body
Reunited – a family once more.
Coreen, Alford, Donside
Nursing, dances, army
And somewhere in here a man
A special man
A man who made her whole
Lives and hearts entwined in perfect balance
A wonderful blur
26 Duddingston Crescent, Windyridge
Housewife, receptionist, nurse, mother, lover
Multi-tasking on a grand scale
A Neverland of wondrous memories.
She nurtured her tribe of boys and girl
They grew happy and protected
Yet time took its toll
The crocodile’s ticking clock
Catches us all
Yet the laughter, love and happiness
Drowns out the ticks
From a woman who only sees the light