Saturday, 1 March 2008

Lion Aunts

It's Mothers' Day tomorrow, but the person I would like to celebrate is my Aunt Valerie. She is not by anybody's standards a high achiever. She isn't beautiful or clever or well educated. She lives, in fact, in the house she grew up in, left in trust to me and my heartless brothers. She has worked as a lollipop lady at a local Catholic primary school since retiring from work as a secretary in a cable factory some fifteen years ago. At the age of 71 she has just ordered a new Ford Ka, apologising to me on the phone this morning for doing so. She had a vintage Mini, bought new about twenty five years ago, and with only about 40K miles on the clock (she only drives to the local town - a distance of two miles, or to the local park, even closer), but was ripped off by the garage man who told her it would be too expensive to repair the radiator, browbeating her into leaving the car with him gratis, as 'recompense' for the costs of scrapping it (I bet...). Why should she not have a brand new car? Why shouldn't she?

And I also celebrate Valerie's mother, my Nana Betty, who inspired in me a love of singing. She sang in musicals, put on by a Mrs Lyon (Mrs Lyon's Shows), and I used to sing the best tunes in the car on the way to North Wales, numbers from Carousel and Show Boat and South Pacific and Oklahoma. Oh, and Desert Song. Betty was crippled when she was a child after slipping on soapsuds on the kitchen flags and injuring her arm. Because there was no National Health Service in those days, the bone was never set properly, leaving her with a bump on the forearm and a jutting out elbow joint. I always thought this was just cosmetic, and her preference for three quarter length sleeve blouses an attempt to disguise the disfigurement. It was only when she died that I found out she hadn't been able to move the arm at all - even though she always seemed to be doing things with it. She was always doing for somebody. Aunt Valerie will get a lift with her neighbour tomorrow to put flowers on Betty's grave. Betty wanted to be buried with her beloved mother - a tiny matriarch, known as 'Mick'; but Mick had nine other children and there was no room in the grave for Betty's body, so her ashes were put there instead.

And finally, I celebrate my awesome Grandma Edith, born in 1905. She got herself an education at a time when women weren't expected to be educated. She went to business school and spoke French and German and ended up as personal assistant to a Bradford wool millionaire, attending tennis parties and tea dances at his mansion in the 1920s. She was captain of Cornwall Ladies' Golf team although she always said her sport was tennis. When she was widowed and blind and deaf (she went deaf at 27, though never let it inhibit her), she took her friend's advice and stoically confided in the fire. 'I've been in every capital in Europe,' she told me. 'I can't complain. And I've always been lucky, dear, always lucky.' I celebrate her for being formidable. For Having a Go. I wished that she and Betty had been living when I was diagnosed because I know that they would have been there for me, unconditionally. I think they were there, really. They still are.

To Lion Aunts and Grandmas everywhereI salute you.

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