It is not a memory it is a photo of a memory. Sometimes they are the same thing as one triggers the other. It is Christmas morning 1954 and I am proudly driving a toy tractor along the path in front of our council house on Bonney Road in Leicester. There is a frown on my face and I do not look happy. Maybe I have already travelled too far from the safety of home. I had no reason to be worried. There in the corner of the photo looking out of the front door is my Mam. Watching from the touchline.
Some years later there she is again standing on the touchline watching me play football. Mam came to all of our home games and to the important away fixtures. I knew that if I ever looked up from the game she would be there watching me. It did not occur to me that she might be cold or wet or tired from her job working in the school kitchen. When I looked up I would always see her smiling, silently showing her support. I never thought about the lonely 5 mile walk that she made in the wind, the rain and even the snow along the Ethel Road to and from the school playing fields. I expected to see her on the touchline and she was always there even when she was ill. I do not know if she liked football. She never said. She was there because of me and that was enough.
She was there again at the Albert Hall with my Dad and my wife Vishva. She was sitting high in the Gods watching me receive my degree from the late Queen Mother. I could not see her properly. She was too far away. But I knew that she would be there, smiling, as the tears rolled down her face. Tears of pride and of joy. The same tears that she had shed on the touchline when she thought I was not looking.
They were different to the tears that she shed in that awful year when she sat by the bedside of her daughter, my big sister Pat, and watched her die. Tears that were repeated a few months later when she heard that her other daughter, my younger sister Colleen, had also died. I cannot begin to imagine the pain she must have suffered to lose her two daughters in such a short time. No parent expects to outlive their children. Mam outlived three.
I was not surprised to find myself some months later sitting at her bedside beginning my own touchline vigil with my remaining brother. I knew there would be only one ending. The death certificate said that she died of renal failure complicated by her long-term Leukaemia. But we knew that she had died of a broken heart. She had overcome the loss of my Dad 6 years before. She could not survive the loss of my 2 sisters. The strength that had enabled her to support us all over the years had finally given out. I often think I could have done more in her final weeks to make her passing easier. She had never failed me but I felt that I had failed her. Throughout my life I knew that whenever I looked up she would be there. I hope that in her final days she knew that when she looked up I was there quietly supporting her.
She died on 10th July 2003 and she has missed much that has happened since. She was a small woman who never stood out in a crowd. But I could always see her among the spectators. My Mam. Even now when I look up in the early evening light, out of the corner of my eye, I can see her still. Watching from the touchline.