In Memory of My Mother Who Died on 26th January 2007
In loving memory of my Mother, I want to tell you her story – this page is all about my Mother
My mother died nine years ago and, for me, Mother’s Day will always have a special poignancy because of her.
My mother had an eventful life, and was very positive, full of vitality and fighting spirit
She had hard times but she also had a lot of fun and a good life whilst my father was alive.
Sadly my father died twenty five years before she did, and my mother never found anyone later who she felt would match him or have her love. He adored her and looked after her well – indeed, they looked after each other.
My Mother Told Me She Was Born in 1913 – Nonsense!
Leah, or Lily as she was known for most of her life, was born in July 1912 and died in January 2007, at the age of 95.
My mother was born in July, certainly, to Katie and Nathan, and we all believed this was in 1913. It was only very recently when we were discussing the birth date of her brother that we discovered that she couldn’t possibly have been born in 1913, as that was the year he was born, and she was a year older than him. She then admitted that there had been a mistake when her first passport was issued, and she was happy to recognize that as the official date.
So we had to revise our thinking, realizing she wasn’t 89 but 90 years old.
About that time for reasons only she knew, my mother changed her first name from Lily to Lilian which was neither her birth name nor the name by which she was usually called. That was a bit confusing for her family who had known her all their lives as Lily!
Romance, and a Broken Engagement
Lily’s mother Katie had a very good solicitor, newly qualified, bright and charming. His name was Morris and, although Lily was at that time engaged to another, Katie insisted that she meet him, and the rest was history.
Lily and Morris (my father) had a huge wedding in 1933. Lily looked absolutely gorgeous in her lacy wedding dress and lily bouquet. Joe Loss and his Band played the music, just as they were becoming famous. At the reception, Morris’s younger sister and brother, aged 16 and 15 respectively, both disgraced themselves by getting drunk, and his sister was sick under the table. She never lived it down – drinking was permissible, but not drunkeness.
My Mother’s Early Years
Before I Knew Lily
My mother’s parents were immigrants to England from the Russian and Polish Pogroms respectively, hence the significance of our choice to play The Warsaw Concerto at her funeral. It had an added poignancy because she used to play it so beautifully on her cherished grand piano in her middle years when she lived in Cape Town, South Africa.
My mother told me that her parents had a large shoe shop in the East End of London and could afford to pay for her to have piano lessons, and she also loved singing and dancing. As a child, I never even realized my mother could play the piano, because we didn’t have one in the home until she was about 45.
When Lily was 16 her father died, and she told me she was grief-stricken because he adored her and used to make a big fuss of her.
Then Came the Children …..But hard times ahead in the War years
My brother David was born in 1934. And I was born a few years later.
My mother adored babies, her own and other peoples’ – she was a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother
A cute picture of her with my daughter (many years later) in Capetown at Seapoint Swimming Pool
Here she is, below, with three generations: daughter, grandchildren and great-grand-children (the generations got a bit mixed up because my sister started her family at the same time as my daughter )
My father joined up voluntarily, before conscription
In 1939 war broke out. My father didn’t wait to be called up – news of the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews was filtering out, and he volunteered for the Territorial Army.
My mother left their beautiful, spacious mansion flat at Westcliff-on-Sea, in Essex and followed him up and down the country, to be near him when he was able to snatch a few days’ leave.
In all, she had 32 moves in 6 yrs and always said this was the hardest time of her life, travelling round on trains with a baby and naughty little boy, knocking on doors begging for accommodation in places like Swindon, and Rhyl in North Wales. Nobody wanted a young mother with two children billeted on them.
She had to live in awful conditions, in one room, often very lonely, and times were not easy, particularly for someone who, like her, was used to a degree of comfort and good living. She told me that in one place she didn’t even have a chair, just a deckchair and a bed, and her landlord wouldn’t even let her use a 60-watt light bulb, insisting that she change it for a 40-watt bulb, as she was “wasting electricity”.
Dark times indeed
However, there were compensations, and I remember wonderful times when she worked on a farm, possibly as a Land Girl, and we used to go to a farm and milk cows, and have picnics in meadows with pigs chasing us.
My First Holiday Ever – in 1946 – And my first aeroplane flight:
After the war we returned to Westcliff-on-Sea for about four years.
I remember my first holiday ever , in 1946, when we all went up in a tiny plane and flew to Belgium to meet my father’s sister, her husband and their daughter for a holiday in Belgium. There was more food on the hotel table than I had ever seen before, as there was food rationing in England at that time and things were in short supply.
Post-war Life in England was Hard
My father decided we would do better if we emigrated
So in 1949 my father travelled to Northern Rhodesia (now known as Zambia) in central Africa to see what work as a solicitor was like there. When the partner in the solicitors’ firm died 6 weeks later, Dad was asked to become his replacement. He found a house and we joined him there.
It was a big move and at first my mother was very unhappy and lonely when my father was at work, and wanted to return to England, home.
Diaspora from England
Our family followed us
Over the years, at my father’s instigation, members of both their families followed us to Africa. There were my father’s brother and sister with their respective spouses and children, my mother’s brother and his son , and my father’s Uncle with his wife and son, and finally my maternal grandmother Katie arrived. Even my father’s Aunt joined us for a holiday. Several of the family married and had their own families in Africa. At its height I can count about 26 of our family in various parts of Southern Africa at one time, all as a result of my parents moving there in 1948.
But between the 1960’s and 1980’s many of them were gone, one or two dying, but mostly, including myself, just dispersing across the world – a mini-diaspora I suppose.
This was an era of partying – These Were the Good Times
– Loads of family and friends coming and going, with sun-downers in the garden or on the verandah in true colonial style.
As well as having their family around them, my parents also had some very good and lasting friends who were constant visitors. The Copperbelt town Ndola was very cosmopolitan – almost as cosmopolitan as London today, but of course more rough-and-ready.
My sister was born in Ndola in the 1950’s and changed everybody’s lives. She was 17 years younger than my brother, and 13 years younger than me. What with pets – Patch my little dog, Binkie the boxer dog, Micky and Cheeky the monkeys, Peter the Cat, Donald the Duck and a bushbaby – life was quite hectic.
We moved to a bigger and better house, and had a swimming pool built. Much swimming and drinking of gin and tonic went on, with many holidays in Capetown which was the nearest holiday resort by the sea. Whilst my brother and I were at boarding school, my parents went on cruises round Africa to Zanzibar and through Suez and the Mediterranean, the Canaries and Madeira. There were holidays all over Europe: Vienna and Rome, Nice and and the casinos at Monte Carlo.
When Dad retired, my parents moved to live in a flat on the Sea Front in Cape Town, South Africa.
Falling in Love With Spain
After holidaying a few times in Spain in the 1960’s, my parents bought a flat there.
My father’s sister and her husband had already bought a flat there, and later his other sister and her husband bought one there too, followed a few years later by my cousin who moved over from England to live nearby in Marbella.
So, once again, the family were gathered together, all living near each other in a foreign land.
That’s my mother and children sitting at a beach bar:
Unfortunately my father died quite young in 1967, before he had time to enjoy the flat. My mother and he were still very much in love and it took her many years to recover from her deep sadness.
My Mother Began to Travel Again
South America, Cruising Down the Danube
Eventually my mother got used to living alone, though she was never as happy again as she had been when my father was alive.
She had many friends, and these were her bridge-playing years. She went on cruises to South America and also down the Danube, as well as other places.
Gradually her health began to fail
And fourteen years ago she became so ill that she could no longer look after herself and she went to stay in a care home in Spain. There she declined so rapidly that she would not have lived more than a few weeks if my sister’s husband had not flown over from London to rescue her and bring her back to London.
After that she lived in a care home near them for her last five years. She loved to have her family and visitors popping in, and always looked forward to seeing us. My sister, her husband and their children between them saw her almost every day, sometimes more, and she loved her granddaughter’s stories and her grandson’s corny jokes. I lived a bit further away, and visited her every weekend without fail.
My mother died in January 2007
She was the last of that generation who were young adults during the war and saw such huge social change in their lifetimes
Her fighting spirit towards the end was nothing short of a miracle and I miss my mother very much – indeed, we all miss her.
This Portrait of my Mother was Painted By her Grandson, Alexander (my Nephew) – In the Year that She Died, aged 95