Remembering Ma

 

26-04-2020

It was this time last year I was in the ambulance with Ma, the heavily tattooed body builder paramedic doing his best to take my mind off the, doubtless to him, obvious outcome, as we bounced along the pothole riven A259 coast road to Worthing Hospital. I didn’t expect it was going to be a one way trip for Ma, that bombshell was going to be dropped on me later, albeit in a very caring and compassionate manner by a lovely lady doctor as I blubbed like a baby in front of her. The rest of the family made their way along to say their goodbyes, with Lizbet refusing to leave Ma’s side until she passed away two days later, Sunday 28th April.

One year on and what a different world we now live in, I wonder what daily hell that poor lady doctor is now having to deal with. She was in the emergency ward then, so I guess she’s front line now, and seeing things she never thought she would have to see in her lifetime.

For us, well we’re just concentrating on doing what we’re told, and making sure we keep Pa safe from infection. Shouldn’t be too hard, but then we are very lucky to live where we do. With this lockdown situation, we inevitably find ourselves trying to fill the hours, and plenty of time to think. Ma has been on my mind fairly well constantly this last year, but with the anniversary of that fateful day closing in I’ve been doing my best to remember as many of the stories she told me as I can. You see, there’s the thing, I always expected Ma to outlive Pa, she was 7 years younger for a start, and until 2015 when she had a transient ischemic attack (T.I.A), she had also been a fitter, more active person in her later years than Pa was. As such, I’d been trying to get as many of his stories down as possible before he shuffled off his mortal coil. If I’d known then that he had a better chance than Captain Scarlet I’d have spent more time getting Ma’s stories. As it is, I do have lots of memories of things she told me along the way, and just like Pa, she had plenty worth sharing.

Ma at centre. Left to right:- Jim, Peter, David, April. Circa 1935

 

Ma was the youngest of 5, daughter of a doctor, (Charles Courtney Bennett), Granddaughter of a Rear Admiral, (Frederick William Marshall), and her Ma, Granny Pip, would have fitted in as a fearsome Duchess in Downton Abbey just by being herself. It seems strange seeing old pictures of a much younger Pip holding Ma as a baby, and contrasting that image with the occasional raging battle axe we remember. In fairness, Pip did soften as we got older, and my overall memories of her are fond. When I made the front pages of the local Argus paper for kissing Duchess Lavinia of Norfolk in 1982, the headline was, ‘Kiss for a Duchess, just like his Gran’. I’d been chosen as the youngest apprentice at Watercraft, to give her a bunch of flowers after she presented our Chief of Sales, Tim Dunlop, with the Queens Award for Industry. Tim then arranged for the front page picture of me with the Duchess to be framed for Pip, and she kept it by her bedside at the care home she was staying at in Hove.

Granny Pip holding Ma, circa 1934/5

When war was on the horizon, Pip arranged for Ma and her sister, April, to be sent to Canada to stay with friends or relatives over there, until a passenger ship got torpedoed by the Germans, and the plug was pulled on that plan. Instead, Ma and April were enrolled at St Martha’s convent school in Rottingdean, where began their lifetime devotion to the catholic church. While April appears to have been a model pupil, Ma was clearly not. With her soon to become lifelong friend, Tisha, and two other girls, they were known as the 4 Toughs apparently, which still brings a smile to my face. She told me they were some of the happiest years of her life.

Ma, April, David, Peter, and Jim, (with Tisha between Ma and April) at St Martha’s circa 1938

As youngsters, Ma and April were assigned Guardians, in the shape of their eldest brothers, David, and Peter, with David having charge of April, Peter with Ma, or ‘Babe’, as they all called her. There was quite a difference in ages, with David born 1922,  Peter 1923,  April 1930, and Ma 1934. Ma recalled those years very fondly, and always said what great fun they all had as children together.

David, Peter, and Ma-2

When school days were done, and Ma was finding herself pursued by young men, Pip would hire detectives to find out if these ‘beaus’ were suitable or not. One boyfriend clearly did not live up to Pip’s expectations, and around 1953, to effect a split, Ma was shot off to Denmark to work as an au pair, where she lived and worked for over 2 years.

10. Ma n April circa 1955

Ma and April in Denmark. Circa 1955

Not long after her return, she and April started at Southlands Hospital in Shoreham, training as nurses. I know she has mentioned her time there, but I haven’t been able to find any notes, and my memory, sad to say, cannot recall. She did tell me of the family living at West House in Albourne, by the A23, and how she used to cycle to Burgess Hill to get straw for the rabbits they kept, or how she and April would think nothing of cycling to Arundel for the day, (a good 50/60 mile round trip), and having cream teas there. She also told me how they had to get the boiler going, which was quite a rigmarole, and the general rustic lifestyle they lived, hard but enjoyable.

Ma the farm girl

Ma the nurse. Circa 1956

 

 

When Ma and Pa first met, it was through April and Leslie’s friend, Jake, who they had invited over for tea. Pa was best mates with Jake, so came along. Ma told me that Pa was very rude about April’s rock cakes, commenting when she handed him the plate, “bloody hell”, and making like they weighed a ton to a startled April as the rest laughed. From there began a whirlwind courtship, and I must presume Pip gave her approval, as it was her that took the photo of Pa down on bended knee proposing to Ma at West House in Albourne. They had a Register office wedding at Brighton on the 23rd March, which they called their ‘Daffodil Wedding’, as all their friends nicked daff’s from the Royal Pavilion Gardens on their way for the occasion. They then had the wedding proper at St John the Baptist, in Kemp Town, on May 3rd 1958, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Ma n Pa’s Golden Wedding card

 

I wish so hard I had grilled Ma more about her young life, I wish she was still here, but also know she was already leaving us a little more with every passing day because of the dementia. They’re all gone now, David, Peter, Jim, April, and Babe, up there with Granny Pip, and Grandpa Co. Such a grand family they were, and although I’m not the least bit religious, but because you really were, I shall allow myself to say, God Bless you Ma, and all you lovely C.B’s. I miss you all, and especially you Ma, but you will live on forever in my heart.

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2 Responses to “Remembering Ma”

  1. Amanda T Weller Says:

    so lovely

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