By Stephen Clover
During World War II my mother went through the English blitz. Her education was received in a bomb shelter. In 1947 she emigrated to New Zealand where she met my father, who was a prisoner of war guard. They were married in 1953.
At 27, my mother was well versed in the realities of death and destruction. And then there was the rationing. Between them they reared a family of us four children. I was the eldest. My mother still rationed out the food and I hated it. Everything was ladled out.
She would even count out the slices of bread, bacon and luncheon sausage. When I visited my friends’ houses for a meal their helpings were always dished up in a generous fashion. Not so at our house. It was an embarrassment to invite people home.
Because of her English heritage she was staunch Church of England. As a child I would go outside on the swing and sing the popular songs of the day – “Eight Days a Week” and “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine.” These and other songs by the Beatles would drive my mother crazy.
So it was no surprise to the neighbours that I got dragged down to music practice. The vicar was pleased and I had found somewhere that my loud voice was appreciated. But “Onward Christian Soldiers” took awhile to sink in, as so did “Oh God Our Help in Ages Past.”
In time I went flatting then eventually married. After a few years the relationship turned to custard. I found myself on welfare, in a pile of debt and miserable. Among many other things, my mother had taught me how to cook and sew. She taught me how to do the washing. I have many happy memories of being at the clothes line with her. We would talk about all sorts of things. I could talk to her about anything. Even girls.
Now, as a single parent with four children, I had to learn how to juggle the cheque book. Where did I learn to do that? My mother. I began to ration our food supplies. Welfare payday was every fortnight and it wasn’t easy.
I soon learnt to bake bread and then there was my mother’s recipe for pikelets and many other delights. The first time I baked scones they came out hard as bricks. I put them on the table to see what the children would do. The boys banged them on the table and dipped the scones into their tea to soften them. They ate the lot. I was so impressed that I made another batch, this time meticulously following the recipe. Imagine – after all my hard work, the kids wouldn’t touch them.
“Daddy, we want the ones you can bang on the table.” I was told.
Even though I’d rebelled against Mum’s teaching, some of it had filtered past my bad attitude. By being careful with food I could make ends meet. My mother had also taught me how to make a meal out of nothing. That is making do with what you find in the cupboard. For some strange reason I excelled.
The children were always well fed and with what savings I managed they went on to reducing the family debt. My son Norman came home from school one day with his jeans torn. There was no money to buy him a new pair so I used the sewing skills my mother learnt in a bomb shelter.
I sewed by hand a simple patch on his pants of a contrasting colour. He was rapt as only a small boy could be. It wasn’t long before another tear developed and so I would repeat the process with a different colour.
In time his jeans looked more like a patchwork quilt. It still amazes me that those trousers never got dirty. He would wear them to school with pride and to bed when he could get away with it.
Without my mother teaching me these things I would never have survived. She died in December 1981. For a long time, Christmas was not quite the same. It took me a long time to appreciate what she taught me.
Sadly I was not able to tell her about these things. To you who are reading this, I hope you will find a new appreciation for your mother. All I have now is memories that are not as good as they should be, but I treasure the ones that are.
I have since remarried and we are very happy. My children are all grown up and are in relationships of their own. We now have what is known as a blended family. It has taken 20 years but my step children are now beginning to accept me. Just like I began to accept my mother through life’s experiences. I miss my mum.