‘It is what we leave as a legacy that is the measure of our existence’
On Thursday, 27th May 1937 a little girl was born to Harold and Florence (Flo) Marriott in a small fishing village in Hoylake, Cheshire.
They named her Sheila Jane, or ‘Blondie’.
The reference to the colour of her hair was frequently shouted by her mum, as with ten children, it was easier to go by the hair colour of her offspring than remember their names individually in the heat of the moment. More often than not, by the time Flo had shouted each one in turn, and finally found the right name, the moment had passed and she had forgotten why she wanted to chastise that particular child in the first place.
They all shared a small terraced house that had the added luxury of an outside brick-built loo with complimentary newspaper squares for toilet paper and a howling breeze under the wooden door which acted as an early prototype for our modern day Vent Axia to dissipate any unwanted odours.
Sheila wore knickers made from black-out material, had her shoes mended with the leather from her Dad’s old belts, shared a tin bath in front of the coal fire with as many sisters that could squeeze into the tub in one go and slept six in a bed. The war years were harsh; curfews, rationing, hand-me-downs and fear.
She left school at 14 with a limited education, but she never once let this deter her later in life. She never gave up, never admitted defeat. She worked hard to reach the dreams that she couldn’t touch in her youth. She won prizes for poetry, painted vibrant, exciting and passionate studies, she crafted pottery and created beautiful hand-knitted designer clothing and she began to write a book.
She loved life, loved to dance in her bare feet, swinging her shoes over her shoulder as she skipped, slightly worse for wear, from pavement to gutter to puddles on her way home from the pub. She wore silly woollen hats in bad weather, hunched under pasting-board tables with her granddaughter, trying to sell tat to passing neighbours to raise money for the Blue Peter Appeal. She played the penny arcade and Roll-a-ball Horse Derby, cheated relentlessly at Trivial Pursuit and gave the most amazing family Christmases full of fun, laughter, love, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas and the famous upside down turkey that looked like it had been run over by the No.23 bus.
She could drink her weight in Brandy, fall asleep on the sofa, snore for twenty minutes and wake up sober. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t cough and fart at the same time. The fart was always on a hilarious three second delay.
She was always there for others, with her love, kindness, compassion and acceptance. She was the welcome ear to listen, the security of a warm hug and the wise words of experience.
How do I know all these things about Sheila?
I know because she was my mum. My fabulous, wonderful, beautiful mum.
And today would have been her 80th birthday.
I’m sitting here sadly wondering how she would have been at Eighty. My loss as raw today as it was when she left to jump puddles, barefoot into the afterlife without finishing her book…..
……and then as the tears fell, I remembered.
I remembered her vibrancy, her laughter, her joy at living and her legacy in me, my daughter and my granddaughters.
It was how she had lived not how she had died that became my abiding memory, and with it came a perfect picture of mum at Eighty.
She has remained untouched by the passing of time, still blonde, still smiling, a Brandy in hand as she smokes her cigarette with her pretty bare feet dancing in time to the music whilst her party guests enjoy her home-made ‘Mary Roses’ eggs …. and she is still coughing fit to burst to try and cover up her turkey induced, three-second-delay farts!
So, Happy 80th Birthday Mum. Wherever you are, keep dancing, keep laughing and hopefully you will have mastered the art of good timing by now…but if you haven’t, I think it’s highly unlikely your guardian angel will be standing behind you when you cough!
My love today and always,