Michael, the youngest, was a lovely kid. I always tried to look after him and always had a soft spot for him. He grew up to be the tallest, at six foot three, and was built like a tank. He married a London girl called Chris, and after Don had left, he cared for my mam even up to her final illness and death. It must have been a struggle because he and his wife were bringing up children.
Once I began to have a degree of independence I had little to do with my mam. It had always seemed that she neither liked me nor wanted me. If she loved me, she never showed it. We became like strangers – even when, after I was married, we moved into the house next door to her in Pringle Street. We never spoke, and even passed each other on the street without any form of greeting or sign of recognition. After we left Pringle Street I didn’t see her again. By all accounts she was fairly happy and was a good grandmother to Mike’s kids.
I heard nothing until she was very ill. Mike’s wife Chris phoned my daughter, Carol, to say that mam had been asking to see me. When Carol told me, I must admit that whether or not to go to see her was not a very difficult decision to make.
I had felt alone throughout my childhood. It was not until I began to move away from the family unit that I began to receive any sort of love or affection, and that from other people. I had learnt to cope on my own and had developed my own set of values.
Over the years, I was able to look at my mam in a new light. I began to understand her. Given the circumstances that she was in, having to bring up six children must have been a hard task. Time, and the pressures of my own experience of motherhood, combined to give me an insight into her pain and the measures she took to cope with it. Even so, there was one thing I have never been able to understand -- why she never seemed to care about me. The poverty, the hunger, the humiliation, all the squalor, all would have been made much easier if she had shown me a little love.
I decided not to see her, despite the pressure from my own family. After all that had gone before, I felt that a tearful deathbed reunion would have been false. I still pray for her and hope that she is in heaven (Catholics never really stop believing in the power of prayer and heaven) and reunited somewhere with my dad. But there was no way I could have made peace with her, even on her death bed.
I also carried with me, unfairly or not, the thought that she would have met any attempt at last-minute reconciliation with a sneering “be honest, bitch”. But anyway, by the time she died I had long moved on from my family, and in a sense the family didn’t exist anymore. We were just a group of people who had no contact with each other and nothing in common except our parents.