Leading By Example
Mother knows best in this amusing complete story by Vivien Hampshire.
IT’S not always easy to shake up your life and make changes. I suppose, for me, it was my mother who showed me it’s never too late to make a new start. If she could do it, suddenly and unexpectedly widowed at the age of sixty-two, why couldn’t I?
“It’s great having the sea right on my doorstep,” she told me the f irst time I visited her in her new bungalow. “It’s lovely and quiet here away from all the traff ic and the bustle, and there’s nothing quite like waking up to the sound of the waves crashing over the rocks. The bus into town stops right outside so I can still get to the shops, and there’s a mobile library that stops on the corner once a week, and bingo in the village hall on Fridays.”
“Bingo? You’ve never played bingo in your life!”
“There’s a f irst time for everything, Rosie. Might as well give it a go. It will be a great way to meet people. I’ve joined the local women’s group, too. They have some fascinating speakers, and we’re making a big embroidery together to hang in the church. Yes,” she went on, “this will suit me very well. It’s just such a shame your father’s not here to enjoy it with me. We always said we’d move to the coast one day.”
She took a swig of her tea and I had a good look around. It was a small place, after the big house she was used to, with just two bedrooms and a snug little lounge, but ideal for someone on her own.
She’d had to get rid of a lot of the bigger stuff, but I was pleased to see that many of her favourite pictures and photos were still in evidence. She looked happier than I’d seen her in a long time.
“Your sister was a great help,” she told me. “I’d have struggled with all the lifting and carrying on my own. We put some of my pictures up on the walls, too, which made this place feel like home.”
“I would have lent a hand if I could, Mum, you know that. But I do have a job, and . . .”
“And our Barbara doesn’t? Yes, I know, she’s just a housewife and a mum, like I was. And you’re a workaholic. Still, you’re here now. Drink up and I’ll take you for a walk along the cliffs. Forget about work while you’re here and just enjoy yourself.”
Driving home later that evening, I felt relieved. Dad had died two years earlier and my sister Barbara and I had grown increasingly worried about Mum.
She was still as f it as a f iddle, a demon with a duster and a brilliant cook, but Dad had always done all the practical things like the DIY and the driving, and taking care of the f inances.
She’d been left rattling around in a big house with little idea of how to maintain it. Roof tiles needed replacing, a tap in the bathroom dripped incessantly, and the shed was starting to rot away. Not to mention that huge garden.
She could have got in an odd-job man or a gardener, but she hated having strangers stomping about the house, or seeing someone else doing the things Dad had always done before.
When Mum considered moving house she set herself a 20-mile limit, drawing a circle on a map and restricting her search to places inside it so she’d still be close enough to see the grandchildren often and to invite her friends to stay.
She’d decided on one with a small, manageable garden so, despite the sea right outside her door, she’d still have her own little piece of outdoor space, too. Now I’d seen her in her new place, I felt it was exactly the right thing for her.
Once home, though tired, I tried to catch up on a report I needed for a meeting the next day. Ever since John left me more than six years earlier I had been struggling, too, but there was no need for Mum to know that.
Money wasn’t the problem, and it was easy to get a tradesman in if anything major needed done about the house. No, for me it was more what they call the work-life balance.
My job was demanding and left little time for a social life, and very often I’d come home late, not feel like cooking, get stuck into yet more paperwork and f ind I had nobody to talk to except the cat.
I had always been focused on my career. That was one of the reasons things didn’t work out between John and me. The frequent trips away, the late nights and the long hours.
We weren’t blessed with children, either, which perhaps would have given me a reason to slow down. John had said he felt second best, and the trouble was that I knew he was right. I just hadn’t loved him enough to change things, and I hadn’t fought hard enough to make him stay.
Us splitting up might have left me feeling lonely sometimes, but I knew it had been the right thing to do, especially for John. It had given him the freedom to start again, and to f ind someone who would give him the love he deserved.
In some ways, I felt envious of Mum. She had a new home, she was making new friends, and all her worries about looking after that old house were a thing of the past.
I wouldn’t have said no to a little of what she had right now. Time just to sit and breathe; library books brought right to my door; a chair at the window overlooking the sea to sit and read!
Something was missing from my life. I was forty-three and I didn’t want to have to wait until I was Mum’s age to f ind it.
As I bent over that report, with a headache that was starting to spread out from my temples and across my forehead, I realised I was sick of working so hard, so