Memories are strange. They can lie hidden in some remote storage locker in the brain, forgotten for decades until a word spoken, read or written sparks them back to life as real as if they happened yesterday.
It happened to me a few days ago while assembling my late Mothers’ Day offering. I mentioned my mother wearing a starched white pinafore apron to protect her best dress from tidying-up stains before marching us all – except dad – to church for Mothering Sunday which preceded Mothers’ Day by a few hundred years.
“Her best dress” may have left the impression that she had a wardrobe full of dresses to choose from. Alas, I was writing about Mothering Sunday in the 1930’s, the middle years of the great depression. A time when mothers, fathers and their offspring had one “Sunday best” set of clothes for weddings, funerals or church on Sundays.
It’s the reason – or excuse – dad had for not accompanying us to Church. His wife, two sons and a daughter had “best clothes”; dad had only the working clothes he tramped the streets in from Monday to Saturday looking for work – or working his garden patch to keep us in fresh vegetables.
He preferred a couple of Sunday hours in The Wheatsheaf Pub where a penny or two would bring him more realistic comfort than a St Mary’s Church High Anglican sermon.
Mother’s best dress may well have been several years out of style on Mothering Sunday, but the white pinafore apron protecting it was bang on, always in fashion on days of celebration.
Christmas Eve carol service, Easter, birthdays, baptisms, weddings, all the special days in our family life marked by a carefully preserved dress – and the always immaculate white pinafore apron. The last time I saw my mother wearing her special event attire was in June, 1948.
My first wife Joyce and our 18 month old son Stephen, en route to our new life in Canada, had stayed overnight with mum and dad. Dinner had been solemn but happy, breakfast a very quiet affair. Mother was wearing her best dress – and her special occasion white pinafore apron.
A taxi arrived to take us to Trent Valley railway station and the train to Southampton where we would board the Cunard’s Aquitania for the voyage to Pier 21, Halifax. It was a warm day, sultry, with threatening thunder rumbling. As the taxi swung from Bottrill Street onto Manor Road I looked back. Mother was on the doorstep of Number 19, her white pinafore apron clear and proud as she waved goodbye on this, for us all, most special occasion.
It was the last time I saw her.
She had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer two weeks earlier but had forbidden anyone to tell me about it. Nothing was to spoil the day her sole surviving son achieved what she had so long urged him to do – break free from life on the edge of the Black Country to take up a new life in Canada.
Little more than a year later she was “gone far away into the silent land” and I walked down to Ogden Point and shed a lonely tear for a wonderful friend and mother – and her white pinafore apron for special occasions.