My mam, Isobel, passed peacefully away this morning after a short illness. She would have been 79 on Sunday.
She was a beautiful, hard-working, intelligent, talented, humorous, kind, sometimes fiery woman. Until recent years, she had a hard life, often scrambling to make ends meet. In later years she was able to live more comfortably but her ‘golden’ years were marred by the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Mam was not one to talk about the past – maybe because she was often focussed on getting through the present. I would have liked to know more about her childhood but it was not something that she ever talked about. She was born in Great Lumley to Colin and Elizabeth Owens. A sister Doris was born 2 years after mam but she sadly died at 2 years old and her brother Colin was born when she was 8 years old.He tells of how she looked after him and he would follow her around almost like a little puppy.
At the end of the War the family moved from Great Lumley to Billingham where Granddad got a job at ICI.
Mam was a very intelligent woman and in different times and different circumstances she could have gone to University, instead it was left to her younger brother Colin to achieve that.
Mam married my Dad, Raymond, in January 1957 when she was only 17 and I was born just over a year later. When I was no more than a couple of months old she flew with me to Cyprus where Raymond was stationed in the RAF. My sisters Julie and Lauri were born there in 1959 and 1960 respectively. I have always thought it was a very brave and hard thing for a 20 year old girl to leave her parental home and fly with a babe in arms to a foreign country.
By 1962 our little family was back in England and my sister Melanie was born in Stockton. At some point Raymond was stationed near Lincoln and we lived for a short while in a double decker bus parked in a field!
My mam would never talk about my father, Raymond, but he left our home when we were very young children and was never seen again. I have no clear memories of him – my earliest memory is a vague one of him and my mam arguing, him slamming the door behind him and my mam sitting in a chair crying. Mam must have only been about 24 or 25 when she was left a single mother with 4 very young children. We went to live with her parents in Billingham. This was not great for us children as while grandad was a kind gentle man, Nana was an eccentric battle axe with a propensity for corporal punishment.
Mam always worked hard to support the family. She worked at different times as a waitress, a dental nurse, a betting office clerk and a transport manager at a crisp factory. Eventually she could afford to move us into our own home. We lived in a house in Tilery for a while.We had an outdoor toilet and took our baths in an old tin bath in front of the fire.
Eventually mam met my step-dad Malcolm Bird and in 1966 my youngest sister Tracey was born. We then lived in a succession of houses in Old Billingham. We moved so often that sometimes I would come home from school and go to the wrong house!
Money was still tight but mam always did her best for us. She worked hard and scrimped and saved so that we always had a good Christmas and we always had a summer holiday even if it was usually Whitby out of season when we should have been at school.
In 1968 the Mormon missionaries knocked on the door and mam let them in. We were taught the gospel and mam, me, Julie and Lauri were baptised. Mam had always had an interest in religion and we had at various times attended the Church of England, the Methodists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mam was never really active in the Church but I think she would have liked to be but Malcolm was not interested and didn’t want her to go.
Mam had many talents, some born out of necessity. She was a very good seamstress and knitter and made most of our clothes when we were young. I particularly remember her making me a very striking pair of purple flared trousers – all the rage in about 1974! She had a knitting machine and would make jumpers for all of the family and to sell. She was also a good cook and an expert decorator. Sometimes the urge to decorate would descend upon her and we would go to bed with one sitting room and wake up to another.
She was a kind woman. Even while living with dementia in a care home, her kindness was apparent in the way that she looked after and fed the other residents. She did however, have a fiery streak. She was protective towards her children and would tear a strip off any teacher that she felt was less than fair to any of us.
As we children got older and left home, mam and dad had more money for themselves and enjoyed their holidays in Spain and Florida. Mam always liked to travel and visit different places until later in life when she began to lose her confidence.
Malcolm died in 2000 and mam was again on her own. She then met Ken who was her kind and loving partner for the last years of her life. They loved to go on trips into the countryside in their car or campervan and their daily routine revolved around their beloved dog, Beauty.
Mam was beautiful right to the end. She was always the most beautiful, glamorous mother at parents evenings and she retained her beauty into her old age. Last night, as she was sleeping, she looked deeply peaceful and relaxed and young. I know that she now lives on in the spirit world with all of her wit and intelligence but without the mental shackles that restrained her these last few year.
Love you mam!