I didn’t realise what a manipulative, selfish old cow my mother was until I was in my late teens. That’s why I’m always upset when people compare me to her.
We used to go to Grandma’s to stay over Christmas. On arrival, mother would greet everyone like long lost friends, air-kissing her way around the family and gushing about how much she’d missed them even though she never mentioned them from one year ‘til the next. Immediately after this charade, she’d go to her room claiming she had a headache. This left me and dad downstairs to help with peeling a mountain of potatoes and Brussels sprouts.
Dad said to me ‘she always has a headache after a long journey, Silvia, she’ll be all right in an hour or so.’ Dad was such a gentle, mild-mannered man, always making excuses for her.
Sure enough, just when all the hard work had been done mother would appear. Without as much as a by-your-leave, she’d change channels on the TV and appropriate the best armchair telling the hapless occupant ‘it’s my back you see, dear, it needs the support.’ We would have to sit watching some thirty-year-old comedy repeat that wasn’t funny when first made and that hadn’t improved with age.
We suffered in silence because the thought of mother having one of her funny ‘turns’ filled us with dread. Mother always had a funny turn when she was denied her way.
When grandma called from the kitchen ‘dinner will be served in five minutes’ we all washed our hands at the kitchen sink and made our way to the table.
Mother went upstairs ‘I’ll just be a minute’ she called ‘I have to nip to the loo.’
The first time she pulled this stunt we sat patiently awaiting her return. We waited and we waited. Finally, Grandma called up the stairs ‘Doris? Are you all right up there?’
‘Yes, dear’ came her distant voice ‘I’m just applying a little make-up.’
Another ten minutes ticked slowly by before we heard her descending the stairs. She entered the dining room like the queen of Sheba, beaming at us all, resplendent in her new face. She slowly circled the table and took her place.
We ate our now cold turkey and trimmings in subdued silence.
The meal over, mother said to grandma ‘that was very nice dear, but what a pity you served it cold.’
I thought Grandma would explode on the spot but Grandpa put a restraining hand on hers. I heard him whisper ‘let it go, love, or it’ll bring on one of her turns.’
My mother would then insist that we all sat down to watch the Queen’s speech out of what she called “respectitude.” As soon as the Queen started speaking so did mother, wittering through the whole speech, giving us the benefit of her opinion and commenting inanely on the Queen’s clothing, the photos on her desk, even the lighting didn’t escape her attention. If we caught one word in ten of the speech, we were lucky. As soon as H.M. finished, Mother would guzzle two large schooners of sweet sherry then fall asleep in the armchair, snoring loudly. My two cousins and I had to keep quiet and “show her some consideration” as she put it.
This pattern was repeated for two more Christmas’s until Grandma had had enough. She gave mother a half-hour warning then a fifteen-minute warning and a final five-minute warning of dinner being served. As we sat down to table, mother announced in her silly trill ‘I must nip to the loo, dears. I won’t be a minute.’ She gave us her crocodilian smile and disappeared upstairs.
Grandma was furious ‘we’ll not wait for her, get stuck in everyone.’
This we did. As we were finishing, mother appeared freshly made up. She looked around and her face turned lemon sour ‘Oh, you didn’t wait for me, how inconsiderate.’
Grandma erupted. I can’t remember all that was said, but Grandma used some expletives I had never heard before and rarely since. We didn’t watch the Queen’s speech that year, nor did we stay the night. I was bundled into the car and we drove home, mother swooning in the front seat.
The following year we stayed at home and father cooked the festive meal whilst mother contented herself with going into the kitchen every twenty minutes or so to offer advice and to criticise father’s efforts.
As he announced that dinner was ready mother said ‘I’ll just nip…’
‘You’ll bloody well sit down and eat, woman’ father bawled. ‘I’ve had just about enough of your bullshit.’ He gripped her shoulder and pushed her into her chair.
I’d never heard father even raise his voice before let alone his hand. Mother’s face was a picture, she was so shocked she forgot to have one of her turns.
Shortly after that Christmas, I stayed at a friend’s house for a weekend sleep-over. When I returned, mother had disappeared and I never saw her again. Father said she’d run off with another man to Canada or Australia or somewhere like that. He was always rather vague about the details.
After father died, I inherited the house and a very handsome insurance policy. I went on holiday to Ibiza to recover and that’s when I met my husband Julian. He’s such a quiet, mild-mannered soul. It annoys the life out of me when people remark that I’ve married a younger version of my father. They say he even looks a lot like him. That bugs me so much that I feel faint.
After I had Julian refurbish the entire house to almost my satisfaction, I decided we’d have a new patio laid at the back. That’s when they found mother.
As I sit here this Christmas sipping sweet sherry and relating this tale, I hear my daughter-in-law calling that dinner is on the table so please excuse me, I must nip upstairs and fix my make-up.