My mother’s wedding photograph was unique in one degree only: she was smiling from the heart outward and it showed in her eyes. Looking up at my father she clearly had found and married the man of her dreams and was floating along on those warm winds we believe originate in Paradise.
What made that remarkable was I never saw her smile face to face in my company: her wedding occurring, as was the custom of the age, a year or two before she began to have children; I only knew her when she was already a woman of resigned or even sour experience. My father was killed in a freak accident when I was three and my younger sister only a year old: it changed my mother forever.
To add colour to the picture I will tell you one of her favourite sayings, “Luck is a matter of chance, death a matter of fact” a remark, which hardly lifts the spirits of the young or troops on the eve of battle.
Continuing the military theme she observed, “Life is a battle which you ultimately lose:” another inspiring observation. She was, to all intents and purposes, a prophet of gloom, who counselled constantly against reckless optimism or euphoria. She was a successful author in her own way, but not to a degree which gave her any satisfaction.
I loved her because she was the only mother I had, but with her I found love was an emotion without children: she was protected against the weakness of joy by observation. Nothing in her research led her to believe that we, as a species, might feel any sense of optimism on a personal or genetic level which was founded on anything but the human need for hope or a general sentimentality.
I am not saying she was right or wrong, but her outlook on life impregnated every aspect of my childhood until I thought euphoria was the precursor to damnation. That girl I kissed in the park in a moment of pagan connection could not draw me into sunlight because, where laughter was concerned, my mother always kept the curtains drawn.
I would say her customary expression was non-committal: “Non-committal” also became my outlook on the everyday. She told me once in conversation, “I entered this life unwelcomed and will leave unnoticed.” Her passive body added, “Do not look to me for strategy, do not look to me for kindness, I have no sense of such things: all I offer you is the recognition that if you are sad you are not alone. I am sad also.” She lived a life largely in shadow and I am the guardian of her barren inheritance.
Severity became her natural outlook, but within that outlook she had a peculiar and original sense of humour. Robbed of life at an unfashionably young age by septicaemia as another year came to its close, she beckoned me to within hearing range of her exhausted body and spoke her final phrase, “Happy New Year”