28 September, 2014 / General
A lifetime of things
Mum moved into a care home a month ago, and I’ve spent the past few weeks clearing out her house. It’s the kind of job I’d have imagined to be pretty harrowing – but in fact, the enormity of the task has been helpful. There’s been no time to dither over every item. Instead, I’ve clicked into practical mode. The whole process has also made me realise that, in most cases, things are just things: the stuff we collect over decades without stopping to consider whether we still need or want them.
When it comes down to it, all that really matter are photographs – like the one I found of Mum and her fellow newly-qualified nurses in Liverpool in the early 50s. There are very few photos of Mum as a young woman so I was delighted to find one where she looks so happy and proud. Mum, who’s fifth from the right, loved being a nurse. She left the profession before I was born in ’64 – she and my dad ran a youth hostel, then Mum helped with his photography business – but returned to it in the 80s, driving all over South Ayrshire as a Macmillan nurse.
I’ve kept a few mementoes from Mum’s house, but her vast collection of fabrics (she was an avid crafter and quilter) has been passed onto neighbours and friends. Mum would want her belongings to be used and enjoyed. Daughter and I spent a lovely couple of hours sifting through an entire attic’s worth of material, selecting the special vintage pieces to pass onto our creative pal Cathy.
Amazingly, some of the sorting has been enjoyable – even fun. I found Mum’s ice skates, which I wore in the 70s to skate around the Silver Blades ice rink in Bradford. No one else had their own skates! I loved them. I’ve also unearthed fantastic vintage knitting patterns and dressmaking books. I probably took Mum’s creativity for granted until I was faced with her entire collection of fabric, wool, threads, three sewing machines (!) and a host of half-finished projects. Mum also dabbled in embroidery, woodwork, calligraphy, stone polishing (she requested a stone polisher for her 70th birthday) and even had a go at making marbled paper. There was nothing arty or crafty that she would’t try.
In case you’re wondering, I can’t sew for toffee, or even crochet or knit. I’m a complete klutz with a needle and it took me an entire school term to make an apron edged with ric-rac braid. Mum tried to teach me once, and when I my attention wandered she laughed and said, ‘That’s not the attitude!’
As a little girl I loved that she could make me dresses to match my own whims and preferences – until I started to covet the styles depicted on Jackie’s fashion pages and yearned for C&A jeans and Miss Selfridge gypsy skirts. Mum kept on sewing clothes for herself, and when my twin boys were born in ’97 she presented them with beautiful hand-made quilts, blankets, soft toys and pyjamas made from Butterick patterns.
I love to think of my crafting friends’ sewing machines whirring away as new things are made from the fabric of a lifetime.