My mother was a woman of rigorous order and routine, disregarding a weakness for iced-buns, and few things were allowed to alter the structure of her day or week, including unnecessary “Hysterical” displays, which was the generic term she applied to any expression of emotion. She was neither a warm nor sociable individual but took her faith and her connection with the church very seriously. Still, life being what it is, and clearly it is organised by someone with a very active sense of humour, situations could occur in which her appetite for privacy and solitude came into conflict with her sense of duty: let me give you an example.
At the age of fifteen, I was an unkempt boy with a remarkably absent-minded approach to grooming, who made his own meals, didn’t bother anyone and wandered around the house during the holidays in a pattern unmarked by parental supervision. Only on a few occasions, apart from the mandatory appearance at church on Sunday, was any interest taken in my whereabouts or hobbies.
Be that as it may, as I wandered through the hall one day, aged about fifteen, my mother came in through the front door followed by a woman of unfinished appearance who I would judge to be in her mid-seventies: “Come in come in” said my mother, in a tone of voice normally used by those who enjoy company. My heart sunk, of course, and then plunged beneath ground level when, seeing me, she added, “Make a pot of tea and bring it up to the living room would you” before turning to her mysterious companion and saying, “My son Brian” and waving her hand in my general direction.
Getting sucked into mother’s, “I’m a child of the church and all things good” behaviour was a hazard I avoided at all costs, but now I was trapped and would have to get through the visit as best I could. I made the tea, and carried it up to the living room before sitting myself down in a chair across from my mother, while the old lady sat on the sofa between us. My mother poured the tea and said some nonsense along the lines of “Have you always lived in the south?” puzzled that the old lady was looking at me with a growing intensity. “Do you have any relatives here,” she continued, now clearly disturbed by the strange woman’s growing obsession with her son.
As my mother raised the cup towards her, the old lady said, “Where have you been?” and without any further discussion launched herself across the room before sprawling over me and kissing me directly on the lips.
I must admit I was already subject to carnal daydreams, but nothing like this scenario had ever occurred to me. There was a cracking sound as my mother hit the women on her back with her own walking stick, thus encouraging the old lady to loosen her grip slightly and turn towards her assailant. “He’s my husband from a former life” she explained, which sounds odd given she was an apparently orthodox Christian, but the moment seemed ill-suited to the discussion of theological niceties. “Kindly leave” said my mother to whom the women replied, “Tell her Ronnie, Tell her who I am.”
Possibly to aid the explanation, a half empty bottle of vodka fell out of her bag which had tipped over during the commotion. My mother, a strict teetotaller was becoming less amused by the second and rising from her chair repeated, but in a louder voice, “Kindly leave” and then, “Go this instant” which seemed to drag my new love out of her dream-like recollections.
I was “Excused” from the room, but still loitered in the hall anxious to see the end of the drama, and as the women left the house my mother turned to me and said, “I dislike uncontrolled behaviour,” which was near as she ever got to discussing the event or her feelings. Of course, when I got older, I realised the women was troubled and possibly unwell, a detail that possibly lost on my mother, who reserved her understanding of emotional subtleties for her literary studies. Mysteriously, I never saw the women again.