It was my birthday yesterday. Sixty four years ago, an unhappy young woman suffered in Glasgow’s Rottenrow Maternity Hospital to give me my precious life. My mother passed away a few years ago. I hadn’t seen her in well over thirty years, and although I was unsettled by the news of her death, I wasn’t moved to attend her funeral.
Sally Bowers had been a beautiful and gallus Glasgow girl. From this photo, I can imagine that she had all the world before her, to be successful and enjoy a happy life. I don’t know when her troubles began but my earliest memories were of her frightening intensity, and moods that could shift as suddenly as the Scottish weather. One minute she would have everyone in fits of laughter, and the next she’d be running amok in a violent rage. Tender hearts got smashed, bodies bruised. She was terrifying.
She married my Dad just before her eighteenth birthday, and it’s fair to say they were fecklessly star-crossed lovers. She became a mother one year later. She was only twenty years old when I was born, and twenty-five when our younger sister arrived. There was poverty and dysfunction in our home. My Dad fell into alcoholism and would die an unhappy man in his early fifties. Who knows what girlhood dreams my mother might have had for herself, destroyed in those seven short years so early in her life.
1950’s life in Glasgow was tough. I was with her the day a dentist took all her teeth out, due to poor health and gum disease. About six years old, I remember running to keep up with her as she cried and spat blood in the street. No one was there to care for her or comfort her. She had to wait weeks before dentures could be fitted. What a horrible wounding, beyond physical hurt, to a young woman still in her twenties.
Then her hair began to fall out, and she developed some bald patches. Over the years it grew back, but remained fine and wispy for the rest of her life.
To be sure, my mother suffered great and prolonged anguish, yet she found the will to hold herself together. She was immensely strong, and I’m glad I inherited some of that grit. But I wish she had had the courage to walk away from a bad situation, and forge a life for herself away from the suffering she endured.
She and I never had any meaningful conversations, and I never really knew her. I don’t remember ever being hugged or kissed by my mother, and in her misery she could be vicious and cruel. I wasn’t easy for her to love. I was withdrawn and hypersensitive – and an unintentional provocation to her.
She could relate better to my noisy siblings; and I’m grateful that her firstborn, my older brother, instinctively knew how to calm her when she was freaking out. He and his family cared for her, and loved her to the end. I can’t express in words how much this comforts me. That she wasn’t alone. Because all mothers love their children, and she did love me somewhere in her torn up heart.
She worked very hard all her life, and never had any little personal luxuries, or the kinds of freedoms I enjoy today. She managed to keep a decent home and put a roof over our heads. We never went hungry and we always had clean clothes to wear.
She was my Mum, and it comes to me now after all these years how grateful I am to her. And that’s all.