Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Something occurs to me.

My mother is looking at a picture of Hitler on the front of her birthday card. She is sitting at her kitchen table with a glass of prosecco in one hand and the card in the other. "It's from a newspaper, in 1939," she says. I'm in York to see her for the day. The card she is holding is from Middle One. He made it for her. 

"Yes," I say. "Read what he put inside." You are the best thing to come out of 1939 - it says inside.

"That’s nice," she says.

"Yes," I say. "He’s favourably compared you to Hitler."

My mother throws her head back and guffaws at this, and so does my father. It occurs to me that my parents laugh a lot, and that when I'm with them I laugh a lot too.

Not to be confused with my mother.

My mother’s friend Anne pops by with a card and joins us at the table. “I feel I know you, Elizabeth,” she says, as we all sip prosecco and eat cheese scones. I realise she's talking about my blog, which I forget some people actually read (hello, Anne).

After opening all the other cards my mother turns to the one from my father, which he bought from a shop. It says - I wonder where I left my glasses. I wonder where I left my keys. I wonder what day it is. Welcome to the wonder years. My mother laughs again, then looks inside. To a wonderful wife, he has written.

After Anne has gone the three of us get a bus into town. My mother goes straight for the back seat and I follow and sit by her side. We have lunch in a tapas bar. "We come here a lot," says my mother, "the food isn’t that special, we just love the atmosphere." 

I order a beer, my parents order enormous glasses of red wine. In addition to my mother's birthday my father is celebrating one of his books being revamped and brought up to date with a new forward by some hotshot American sociologist. He talks about his work, both paid and voluntary, and my mother talks about her work, now all voluntary, and copious. It occurs to me that my parents are some of the busiest people I know.

"Take a picture of me with Libby Lou," my mother instructs my father, who is sitting opposite us across the table.

"Eugh," I say. "I look dreadful in pictures now, maybe because I look dreadful now."

"What do you mean?" says my mother.

"Too old," I say.

"Getting old is nothing to fear," says my father, "it’s great."

"It’s horrible," I say.

"You get over that feeling," he says. "You can finally be what you want, you don’t care."

It occurs to me I'm already being a lot of what I want and being any more of what I want might not be a good thing.

Neither one of these pictures is my mother.

"Rubbish," I say, looking at my parents, in a tapas bar, smiling, holding huge glasses of red wine. "It’s all downhill from here."

"You’re very pessimistic," says my mother.

"I am," I nod. "I like it. It minimises disappointment. Plus it's that voluntary work I do, ringing housebound old people."

"You’re like that joke," she says. "The pessimist says ‘at least life can’t get any worse,’ and the optimist says ‘yes it can! Yes, it can!’"

Walking through town after lunch they show me some of the pocket parks they’re involved in renovating for York Civic Trust. We stand in one in Davygate, in the darkness, under a skeletal tree.

"We’re on top of dead people here," says my mother, as we watch living people rushing by in the street, frantically shopping for Christmas. "Graves, moved from St Helen’s churchyard when the Georgians built the Assembly Rooms."

"Sad," I say, "ploughing up a delicate old graveyard so Elizabeth Bennet can meet her Mr Darcy at a ball."

"Yes," says my mother. "But the Assembly Rooms are beautiful."

We leave the pocket park and kill time having tea in Betty’s Tearooms, because there isn’t enough of it to go back to the house and out again to the station for my six o’clock train.

In Betty's my parents are treated like royalty because they eat here every week on the same night and have done so for twenty-five years, possibly longer. I once rang up and had their bill paid for them as a thank you I was so sure they'd be in there, and they were.

When I'm safely in my seat on the train they remain on the platform, waiting. As the train pulls out of York station they wave. I watch them standing there together, smiling, arm in arm, he very tall, she very small, until they’re no longer visible because of the bend in the track. And it occurs to me that my parents have the happiest marriage of anyone I know.

Love E x


P.S. Their secret? He does what she says. She thinks he's amazing.

Good times. 
(This one definitely is my mother.)

No comments:

Post a Comment