26 Fruits

We all have mothers

Some of this will sound weird. You have been warned. But in recent years I’ve re-established a deep connection with my mother who died 50 years ago this year.

It began about five years ago when the idea came for the Dark Angels collective novel Keeping Mum. In that book I took the role of Richard whose mother has just died. To prepare myself for the writing of the last chapter, his mother’s funeral, I visited the crematorium where I had said goodbye to my mother all those years ago. Now I found the plaque that commemorated my mum affixed to the kerbside of the garden of remembrance, alongside many other plaques.

A couple of years later I began writing my novel Spanish Crossings, having dreamed the words “Mother declared herself happy”. A novel emerged based on the family story that had been revived in my mind of my mum and dad’s adoption of a Basque refugee from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

While I was writing it I revisited the crematorium, looking for my mother’s plaque. I wandered around the circle planted with rose bushes but was starting to think I would not find it again. Then just ahead of me I spotted a vacant space on the kerb and next to it a plaque that had come loose. I bent to pick it up, turned it over and discovered it was my mum’s plaque. Upset, I pointed this out to a gardener who was passing by: “If I were you, I’d take it,” he said. So I did. My daughter Jessie, named after my mum, said “She wanted to come home”. Now it sits on a shelf in my study.

My mum had been enormously important to me, and she had died of cancer while I was at university. Of course I missed her and I still do. She had inspired me to do everything I now do and to believe everything I still believe.

She had been a lifelong socialist. When she died the local Labour Party had placed a bench, with a plaque showing her name, on the council estate where we lived. There had been a ceremony where our local MP Jock Stallard had talked about her and our little group sang The Red Flag.

I moved out and my main reasons for going back to that estate disappeared when my dad also died a year after my mum. Several years passed before I went back and discovered that my mum’s bench was no longer there. I assumed it had been vandalised. For some reason I did not ask any questions: perhaps I thought the answers might be too upsetting. I put the bench, but not my mum, out of my mind.

Two weeks ago I got an email from my daughter Jessie. A member of her running club had sent her pictures from Waterlow Park in Highgate – not a park he knew well, but Martin had been wearing in some new running shoes. The sun had come out, he wanted to rest and there was a bench in the sunshine. He read the plaque on the bench, with the name Jessie Simmons and dates of birth and death on it. “Is this anything to do with you?” Martin asked Jessie.

She sent the photos on to me straightaway. “Was there a bench for your mum?” I told her there had been once but her grandmother’s bench had long disappeared – in fact it had disappeared 50 years ago. Looking at the photographs of my mum’s bench seemed (despite my lack of religious belief) miraculous. “It’s like she’s become a benevolent ghost,” I said to Jessie.

Last Sunday Jessie, Linda and I visited Waterlow Park; it’s about three miles from where my mum’s bench had originally been placed. As it happened this was a favourite park where we had taken the children when young. It’s also just a short walk from the Highgate flat where my mum and dad had started married life in the 1930s (the flat I had re-imagined for Lorna in Spanish Crossings). It’s a beautiful setting; my mum would have loved it.

Here’s Jessie on her grandmother’s bench in Waterlow Park. Whatever next? We plan a picnic with the family, including my grandchildren Aimee and Ada, so we can sit on the bench in the sunshine.

 


11 Responses

  1. Jenni Wallace says:

    Lovely story, so glad you shared it. When you are open to the world all sorts of beautiful things pop in. Being intuitive is such a creative process.
    You have spurred me on to continue delving into my family magic. Maybe it will manifest in pictures rather than words!

  2. John Simmons says:

    Delve away, Jenni. Words or pictures – memories and imagination. There’s a magic

  3. John Simmons says:

    Johnny Lyons wrote this
    What an amazing story and so movingly told. It left me thinking about so many things including:
    the very special gift of being blessed with a good mother.
    the terrible sense of loss and sadness that follows their death.
    the unique vividness of the memories our mums’ leave behind.
    the suggestion that your Mum’s plaque had broken itself free from the curb in the hope that you might bring it or rather a part of her home.
    the matter of who arranged to move your Mum’s bench to Waterlow Park: perhaps an old friend of your Mum’s?
    the fact that it was your daughter’s friend who spotted the bench.

    Your blog has the makings of a wonderful short story, John.

  4. David Powell says:

    Amazing story, like finding buried treasure. I just loved ‘Spanish Crossings’ by the way John, don’t think I ever mentioned that to you!

  5. Geoff Dobson says:

    Thanks John, what a moving account of memories triggered by the discovery of your mother’s bench. Not for the first time your writing brought a tear to my eye.
    Just a few minutes earlier I had received an email from a charity I am involved with. It told me that a long standing friend of the charity had left it a considerable sum of money. He had no family and divided his legacy between a few organisations whose aims chimed with his values. Very kind and somewhat sad it had set me pondering the importance of connectedness. And then I received your blog….
    Geoff

  6. Monica says:

    This is such an amazing and poignant story of fate and chance, you stumbling across the plaque and bringing it home, Jessie’s friend happening to pass the bench, and the significance of Waterlow Park to your family history. I’m very happy for you and the memory of your dear mother.
    Monica

  7. John Simmons says:

    Elisabeth writes
    What a beautiful, touching story. Trop beau.
    There must be something.
    Merci
    Xx
    Elisabeth

  8. Douglas Howatt says:

    Very moving, John. We live on in the memories of those we leave behind. Your mother is living well.

    Doug

  9. Lovely John! We ignore these mysterious resonances at our cost.

  10. Gillian says:

    What a story, John. As miraculous as it is, it also feels quite natural that the universe should put the bench back in your pathway. I remember us having a deep conversation about the nature of coincidences many years ago back in Highgreen – whether we can actively invite these odd moments of synchronicity into our lives. I think you just proved that you can.
    X

  11. Anita says:

    In this world of hussle and hassle, have and get, stress and stretch, it’s easy to be persuaded that serendipity, intuition, and making (inviting) creative connections are things to be dismissed or ignored. That’s when we forget how to be human. Thank you for the reminder – always, only connect.

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