by Lydia Jones
The treasured keepsakes told the story of her life – and a new chapter was about to begin …
“An elephant must always face the window,” Mum said.
“Why, so it can see the horizon, of course,” Mum replied.
“So it can see places it wants to go.”
“So it has hope for a bright future.”
I can still remember Mum’s smile.
“Hope is the most wonderful thing in the world,” she said.
But I didn’t want my elephant, Ellie, to face the window – or go anywhere away from me. I cuddled her closer.
She was my childhood confidante and slept on my bed right through teenage years. Of course, by then I didn’t need telling about focusing on the horizon.
“As soon as I’ve got my exams over I’m out of this hole forever,” I said ungraciously of the home where I’d been cherished for eighteen years. “I’m away to where there’s some life.”
“Go for it,” Mum said – and I would never have guessed.
The page is wrinkly, blotched by tears
I only know because I read the letter. I was searching through her bureau for insurance documents and it fell from between folders, on purple writing paper I remember well from all her cheerful missives in the days before email.
This letter was different. In it she talks about how much she misses me now I’ve left home; how the middle has dropped from her world. In places the page is wrinkly, as if blotched by tears. She didn’t send it. I feel guilty for having read it but I appreciate how heroic she was.
“Of course you can come home for the weekend,” she said in response to my homesickness, and welcomed me with my favourite pud.
We didn’t talk about my homesickness, but how easy it would have been for her to encourage me to quit.
“I bought you a new elephant for your windowsill,” she said, setting me on the train later.
“Thanks.” Tears choked.
“Try and stick it out until Christmas. Then you can think again.”
Of course by Christmas I was fully settled into student life.
“I’m working in France this summer,” I informed her.
“Great,” Mum said and never mentioned my job in the village pub.
I wish I’d made more of an effort to find out about the new life she was building for herself back then; the fairtrade business she ran. Their best sellers were elephants, little bejewelled creatures in stunning sari fabrics.
There’s so much I know little about.
Broken hearts mend
Over the last few weeks so many people have called to wish her well, telling me what a wonderful woman she is. Maybe I needed telling.
When I brought Dan home she disliked him but still gave the bread and butter pudding treatment. We never talked about it. When he broke my heart later and I moved back home there was no I-told-you-so. Mum gave me space and a gilded elephant for my windowsill.
“For your golden future,” she said.
We both smiled at the cheesiness but her sincerity was real.
Broken hearts mend. Before long I moved out of my childhood bedroom and began again.
Brian is as different from Dan as it is possible to be. Mum liked him instantly.
He’s my best friend as well as my husband and totally with me on what we’re doing.
In the way of youth, my blinkered sons are bemoaning the temporary loss of their playroom but they’ll get over it.
For almost 50 years Mum has been my rock
“Here we are, then,” I say as I wheel Mum into the room we have made hers.
“Oh.” I retrieve the package from the windowsill. “And guess what I got you?”
It’s wooden and painted cobalt blue with little golden beads along its trunk. She sets it on the sill with the others.
“Thanks, love.” It’s an exhausted smile.
For almost fifty years my mother has been my rock. So for a little while I’m going to try to be hers.
She’s already on the mend from the stroke and the physio says he’s never seen anyone so determined to regain mobility. Soon I’ll struggle to stop her doing too much.
But for now at least, she seems content to sit with the elephants, smiling out at the horizon.
“Right then.” I swallow a lump of love and gratitude. “I’ll put the kettle on.”
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