Tag Archives: Mary Armitage

Being my Mother

I have racked my brain to try to recall my earliest memories of my mother but with very little success.  I can’t recall anything in my life in my baby and toddler years.  Where were you Mum?

I know things I have been told about my baby times and have a few photos.  Where are my own memories?

I was conceived in the long bitter cold winter of 1947 – which makes me smile.  Everyone had to do their best to keep warm during 3 months of snow and freezing weather.  So my first summer was spent curled up in my mother’s uterus with not a care in the world, one imagines.  I was my parents’ first child, a baby boomer.

My Mum and Dad lived with my grandparents in Surrey and in 1947 my antenatal and post natal care would have been privately sourced as the NHS had not yet been founded.  So, by choice, and probably with financial help from my grandparents, I was taken up to London, to Westminster Hospital, to be born.  I had a big silver cross pram with big springs and spent time every fine day in the pram sleeping in the garden as all babies did then – I have the photo.  Mum later told me that she would take me shopping, to the clinic and to see friends in the pram.  I had a large wooden cot with transfers of nursery rhyme characters on the flat surfaces which in turn became the cot my own children slept in.

When I was eighteen months old my parents bought their own home and we moved there.  I recall nothing of this nor anything of my first home.  My earliest vague memories are of being taken to Mum’s friends ‘ houses to play, presumably while she went to hospital checkups when she was expecting my brother.  Mum was in her late 30s by this time.  I recall going into hospital to have my tonsils out when I was 3 but I know I have been regularly reminded of this because I was told that I was much less upset than my Mum about being separated from her, which of course I don’t remember!!!

I think I remember curling up next to Mum to listen to the radio – Listen with Mother – playing in my sandpit in the garden, being read stories, saying prayers before I went to sleep.  As I got older, but I cannot have been more than 5, I remember that my grandparents had moved to live near us and that I used to cycle on my tricycle to their house to sit on her bed with my unwell grandmother, who I called Bamma, while we watched Andy Pandy and the other early tv programmes for youngsters.  Bamma died when I was 6.  Her funeral was on Xmas Eve.  I didn’t go and have no memory of my Mum being upset.  Didn’t I notice anything?

Mum had a few friends with children my age so I remember playing with Lorna and Jane but most of my play at this time was at home or organised.  No going out to play in the street with whoever was about for me.  I know I found the regular company of friends when I started school so wonderful.

I remember Mum walking me to school every day – about a mile and a quarter each way, with my brother now in the pram.  It seemed a long way.  And of course Mum came to collect me too and no doubt did any shopping as we passed the shops on the journey. Once I had learned to read regular trips were made to the library – I was an avid reader.   Vans selling fruit and veg and fish and of course the milkman came around our streets and the salespeople always talked kindly to us children and sometimes the milkman gave us a ride on his milk float.

When it was the coronation in June 1953 we had a street party for the children and I had a special white dress edged in red and blue.  The children near our house were invited to watch on Mrs Robin’s 9 inch tv and about 20 of us crowded into her living room.  I cant remember anything of my Mum during these celebrations – I must have been too busy enjoying myself.

At home Mum kept us busy.  I did a lot of colouring and painting, plenty of reading.  I helped to make lavender bags and apple jelly.  My grandfather came to lunch every weekend and as I grew he taught me to play card games.

So these are my early memories of life with my Mum who was the centre of our world.  But how was it for Mum in the 1940s and 1950s?   How did she feel about having her first child?  And moving to her first home? And having a second child? And managing a limited family budget? And having to walk or cycle everywhere or go by bus? And doing the housework with very limited help from electrical appliances? I guess that for her, as now, that was how life was!

To me Mum was always there but as we grew up, she seemed to become more of the background to my life rather than a strong mother figure.  Mum cooked and cleaned and looked after us but what did she do for her own pleasure?  She sewed and knitted and gardened – was that pleasure or necessity?

She had a very good friend who lived over the road – they stayed friends until Mum died.  It wasn’t until the 1980s that I learned that, right to then, they had held secrets about themselves and in particular their ages and lives before they met – to protect their respectability.

Mum was a member of the Ladies Circle and they met once a month but as children we were only involved once a year at their annual picnic.  We went to church regularly and Mum and Dad used what influence they could muster to get us into the school attached to the church which was always over-subscribed.

What I didn’t find out for years was that Mum had been a regular tennis player before she was married but I don’t ever remember her playing except with us in the park.  Mum had also been active in amateur dramatics and in her possessions I found some glowing reviews but I cant recall her ever participating during my life time, even after we grew up.  Now that she is no longer here it is too late to ask her.

Do we think we know our Mum?  Did I just take her for granted?  What do our own children really know about us and what really makes us tick?

Mary Armitage



A piece in response to ‘Close your eyes and imagine you are somewhere.  What do you feel like?  What can you smell or hear?  No visual descriptions.’


I am at Pompeii as Vesuvius erupts

I hear the rumble at the same time as I feel the ground vibrating and shaking.   At first I do nothing.  I am trying to work out what is happening.

I hear screams and feel people running past me brushing against me.  They are breathing deeply and encouraging others to run with them.  Some are shouting for their family members, some are crying.  Children are shouting for their Mothers.  More screaming, fear in all the voices.

Then people start to cough and I find that I am wretching and struggling to breathe.  The air tastes foul.  It smells of sulphur.  I turn into my house for some water.  It tastes fresh and clean.

I try to keep my eyes and mouth closed to keep the swirling dust out.

Then I realise that I am running and shouting too.  Where is my daughter Carolina, my son Stephano, my husband Donato?

The dog is barking.  I can hear the fear in his bark.  I unleash him.

I hear Donato calling me.  I shout back and we find each other.  Donato has Stephano with him and I scoop my son up squeezing him to me, burying my nose in his hair, smelling his sweet boyish sweat and kissing him while holding Donato’s arm tightly.  “Mamma,” he asks, “what is happening?” “” I don’t know, I reply.  “Donato, what is happening?” I shout.

“It must be the mountain,” he says, “we must get away.”  “But where is Carolina,” I demand, my voice full of fear.  “She is with your Mother,” he tells me, “Grandma will look after her.  We must get away now.”

I fill a bottle with water, grab some money, some fruit.  I fill a bag with our valuables.  “Come on,” shouts Donato.  I can hardly breathe, we must go.  And we three run away from the direction of the mountain towards the sea.  We know the path well so can run at first while we are on familiar ground.  I feel my chest tightening, the air is full of ash and I still try to keep my mouth closed.  We are fumbling along now more slowly.  There are many other people going the same way so we soon find ourselves being swept along with the crowds.  Soon we are out of the town and stumbling across the fields but the air is still thick with dust.  When will we reach safety?

Stephano screams and falls to the ground letting go of my hand.  Now I am screaming as I feel about to find him.  “I have hurt my foot Mamma,” he says, “I tripped over a stone.” “Can you walk?”  I ask.  His father picks him up and carries him as we move ever forward.  Is it my imagination or is it getting hotter.  I am perspiring and I can feel that Donato is too.  I try to open my eyes but the pain is intense as pieces of ash and earth hit me in the face.  Donato is coughing.  He slows down to catch his breath and Stephano starts to cough as well.  The branch of a tree hits me and I let go of Donato to stop myself from falling.  I am screaming  for him and he has turned back to help me when the fog of ash intensifies and we are all coughing and can only lay on the ground, hug each other and try to breathe…………….

Mary Armitage