This both saddens and shocks me – my mother doesn’t cry. As an only child brought up in a northern, working class family she quickly learnt to look after herself and she is tough, hard even, lacking the empathy and sympathy for others that she has never asked for herself. “Crying never helped anything, Dorothy” she was told as a child, a lie that was oft repeated to me. Old age has softened her hard edges but has also weakened her mind, she is still physically more than capable but mentally..? Well, just a tad demented. The onset of senility takes the form of forgetfulness, endless repetition of the same conversations and an exacerbation of what were once eccentricities but are now obsessions. “Waste not want not, Dorothy” she was told as a child and as a good Yorkshirewoman growing up with rationing, she has never wasted anything. Now this thriftiness been taken to extremes.
She has just returned from an old ladies afternon club, she has been there before but on this occasion she has been taken aside by one of the women and chastized “It has been noticed that you have been taking more than two biscuits, Dorothy…”
My mother is upset and mortified. She has been told off like a sticky-fingered child and as to a small child I coo and fuss down the phone until she collects herself. “Who are these people anyway” I say “the biscuit police!? How rude of them to even notice how many biscuits you took, how petty that they would count them. Take no notice, they are just being silly… you should laugh at them.” After a while she comes to see it as an amusing anecdote and not an act of criminality. The tears dry up, she is reassured. Deep inside I know that it won’t just be that she has taken more than two biscuits – a good few more will have disappeared into her handbag to be consumed later instead of a proper meal.
Some weeks later my brother visits her, she is well, she is active but the fridge is full of decaying food and remnants of half eaten meals. He sends me a picture of a tin full of cheap, stale, biscuits which she refuses to throw away.
I cry for her. I cry for me. I wonder how long I will still be ‘best before’.