Going through my mothers belongings after she died wasn't as hard as I had been expecting. Maybe because we had been living away from Plymouth for the last 11 years and so much of her clothing was unknown to me. Obviously there were items in her wardrobe that I recognised and a couple of these brought a lump to my throat.
Buried at the back of the wardrobe however was a treasure box containing something I thought long gone... the photo albums. There were four albums with some of the pictures going back to the turn of the century. In one album the pictures and postcards dated from 1920, pictures my maternal Grandfather had collected during his time in the Royal Navy and his travels throughout the world. Pictures of Jerusalem, Malta, Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii, even Constantinople before the name changed to Istanbul.
I vaguely remember being shown this album when I was young and being told to keep my grubby fingers off of it. I was still apprehensive about touching it now.
The second album contained photos from 1948 onwards, I was able to date these more accurately because my parents married in 1949 and this book contained their wedding and honeymoon snaps. I found pictures of family that I never knew existed and of people that I did recognise. How I wished that I had paid more attention to them when I was a little girl being shown them by my mum.
Mind you I could tell my Dad's side of the family because they all have easily spotted characteristics, my father's large ears etc., only joking Dad! I won't embarrass the rest of the family by spilling the beans here.
The other albums contained a mixture of photos of me, postcards from family holidays and a few oldies mixed in.
Needless to say these were the first things I packed in my suitcase to bring home.
In amongst the loose pictures were some I never knew my mother had kept. Photos of my first wedding and even some of an ex-boyfriend, most surprising, as I didn't know that they had been taken.
Considering that my mother was always nagging me about hoarding things I was amazed at the stuff I found in her wardrobe and the cupboard. I found the head-dress she wore at her wedding, the veil, the telegrams and even the little pillars that held the cake layers apart. There were diaries from several different years and I just had to read these. I was most disappointed to find that I was hardly mentioned! It felt so wrong to be reading a personal diary but at the same time I had to do it. I'm sure Mum was looking over my shoulder at the same time, remembering with me.
The result of all this clearing out, apart from dirty hands, was to suddenly realise that my Mum and Dad were people, not just parents. They had had a life before they got me(I was adopted) and they had a life after I left home. I wasn't the centre of their world the way that children assume themselves to be.
How Mum ever found time to stick the photos in an album I'll never know because Dad kept her busy and if he had seen her doing this he would probably have told her to throw them away. It isn't that he doesn't care about memories, he just hates clutter around the house, unless it's his of course and then it isn't junk but valuable paperwork.
This is the reason I came home with an extra suitcase full of bits that I couldn't bear to lose, I even brought one of mum's favourite dresses home. I had to get in quick or everything would have gone to the charity shop or the dump by the next time I visited.
Heartfelt thanks go to Mike for putting up with me oohing and aahing over various items, for listening to me relate the meaning of different pieces and most of all for carrying it all home across the London Underground etc. All because he loves me and accepts me cluttering up the house with even more bits.
As time passes the memory that seems to keep coming to the front of my mind is that of Mum spending hours washing and combing my hair, trying to remove the tangles that magically appeared every other day.