From her fondness for ballads to her way with a sausage, Jen Brown celebrates the things that made her Mam her Mam.
Illustration by Jemima Williams
What is a Mam? A Mam is the name given to a Mother who comes from the North of England. A Mam is someone who wipes your nose for you when you’re little, someone who buttons your coat up to keep you warm and sends you to school when you don’t really want to go. She’s the one who tells you not to worry, that there’s nothing to worry about. She tells you everything will be alright and you believe her because she’s your Mam. When you grow up she makes you wipe your own nose and fasten your own coat because it’s freezing out there, and you don’t always do as you’re told but you’re listening because she’s your Mam. When you get a lot older you find yourself buttoning her coat to keep her warm but that’s okay, she’s still your Mam.
My Mam was a nurturer. She was Nell Gwynn with her oranges. She peeled them, tore them into segments and put them on a big plate. We, my sisters, brother and I, were invariably glued to the box and all we had to do was open our mouths. Food was important to her and she was a careful, crafty shopper. When I was about 10, I remember standing in a fruit shop while she asked for a pound of grapes. She said, “Make them nice, love, they’re for the hospital”. I can still see my little self looking up at her and wondering who she was talking about. A finger to her lips told me to be quiet and I sensed we were about to get the biggest and best bunch ever. I recall feeling chuffed and proud of her. It was only a small white lie and nothing tasted as sweet as those grapes did.
She loved food, my Mam, and the procuring of it. I lost count of the times she would unfurl a pack of sausages and hold them under my nose for approval. She’d say, “Look at them. Lovely!” She would announce the name of the butcher with an air of officialdom; as if there was nowhere else she could possibly go. I never knew for sure what she expected me to say about her fine purchases but she wouldn’t put those sausages away until I’d paid homage to them.
She loved to sing and usually in the kitchen. I still smell liver and onions whenever I hear Love is a Many Splendored Thing.
On The Street Where You Live was a fine accompaniment to a bacon sandwich on a Sunday morning. Her party piece was My Lovely Rose And You, a 1960s hit by Irish singer Sonny Knowles. In searching for a suitable piece for her funeral, my sister and I decided the song was too jaunty but found the lyrics just right as part of her eulogy:
“A lovely rose has shed her crimson gown and autumn leaves are falling over town.
The sky has changed its shade of blue and we have lost our lovely world and you.
But one day soon the clouds will drift away and spring will bring another lovely day.
And like a miracle come true we’ll wake to find our lovely world and you”.
The words summed up our loss and our Mam’s philosophy: stop worrying, everything will be alright. We had to trust it would be when we chose a song by Joe Longthorne for the entrance music. He was her favourite singer and had to be in there somewhere. But Longthorne’s unpredictability meant we had to be careful. For All We Know was an anxious choice. We could only find a live version and worried ourselves sick about the bits in between, especially where Longthorne was referring to his song list and muttering on about Patsy Cline’s massive “hit”. Only it didn’t sound like “hit” at all. My Mam would have laughed her head off at what we thought we were hearing so, on those grounds alone, we suspended our concerns about Patsy and her big one. The entrance and exit music was spot on. “Entrance” and “exit” music is the terminology of funeral directors and it was only when we came out to the exit music that we realised our dear Mam had exited our lives, forever. It was hard to take.
We know time will pass and the sadness and emptiness we feel now will ease so we’re trying not to worry. She told us not to. Her song says spring will come again and we know it will. We are looking forward to the day when our hearts will be untroubled and filled with the beautiful memories only a Mam can make. We will remember our lovely rose in full bloom, when her beauty and hue were vital and flaunted, and the greenery surrounding her bowed to the dawn of her day.
This tribute is for you, Mam, and all the lovely roses.
(In memory of Irene Grace Lewis 2.01.27 – 19.09.14)
A Hollywood based Geordie pensioner living on her wits. Affectionately known as Nano to her granddaughters. Instantly likeable. (Daughter's words!) @MmePcato