Sunday 24 February 2013

Olive Davies (néé Gillings) 1923 - 2013

Before I left for England on the day my mother died, a good friend of mine emailed me with their condolences and gave me some advice. They suggested I take a brief time-out from my busy schedule, go into the garden, light a cigarette and remember my mum. Well, I don’t smoke nowadays , but it seemed like a good piece of advice, even without the cigarette. So here I am, in my imaginary garden, with my imaginary cigarette.

Of course, I’d like to remember mum, not as she was in her final years, but as she was in her prime. 

When I was born, the youngest of three brothers, my mum was still a young woman at 33.
We grew up in a warm and loving environment and, perhaps without fully appreciating it at the time,
had happy childhoods. That was mostly due to mum and dad. Dad went out to work, mum stayed at home and looked after our daily needs. They sheltered us from the grim realities of life, but never put us on a leash. We were allowed to develop our own interests and no pressure was applied to do something with our lives we didn’t want to do.

As a family living in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester, we spent happy times together, but perhaps never more so than when we went on holiday.
As young children we would spend hours building sandcastles or playing cricket on the beach at Scarborough, mum’s home town, where we’d stay with grandma and grandpa Gillings.
Another Davies family haunt - from way back - was Colwyn Bay, where for many years we rented a cottage, whose main asset, as far as we were concerned, was that it backed on to the main London to Holyhead line. Every time we heard a Jubilee, Royal Scot or Britannia approaching, we would dash upstairs to watch it pass. What could have been better for a kid growing up in the Sixties?
Later, when we bought a car, we’d venture further afield and spend holidays in Scotland. It was the peace and tranquillity away from urban life in Manchester my mum and dad were seeking – and they certainly found it for us.

My mum enjoyed walks in the countryside as much as anyone. She was not necessarily bold or adventurous, she just loved the beauty of the seasons, the countryside and the flowers and birds around her. Walks were all part and parcel of a good holiday and by the time I was 12, as a family, we could count Snowdon and Ben Nevis amongst our conquests. I’m sure it’s from my mum that I gained a passion for walking.

The holidays together didn’t end when we’d all left home and started our own families. In retirement, my mum & dad fulfilled one of their dreams by moving to Thornton Dale in North Yorkshire. We all loved going to ‘Harefield’. And the happy holidays theme was passed down to another generation. I’m sure all the grandchildren have fond memories of playing games, feeding the ducks, going to Wardills, tobogganing down Miller’s Hill or enjoying an ice-cream from Balderson’s when they stayed with grandpa and grandma in Thornton Dale.

The 15 years they spent there were golden years for my mum and dad. My mum kept a diary during those years. In fact it was only in 2003 – at the age of 80 – that she gave up writing. Each entry would start with a report on the weather that day. In between the trivialities of everyday life, she would write about her painting class (she was a modest but talented water-colour painter), her gardening endeavours, the walks in and around the village and quite often about the birds she had seen that day. The entries invariably ended with the words, ‘Thank you Lord for today’.

When her memory started to play tricks on her in the last decade, in between bouts of lucidity and disorientation, she would often imagine herself going back to
‘Harefield’. Even when she started to dote, she would make it abundantly clear how much she missed Thornton Dale.

Mum can look back on a good life. She had a happy marriage in a happy household. She was unassuming, not prone to any great socialising, and was perhaps happiest out walking with dad, in the garden or engrossed in her painting and, of course, being with the family. And if her mental health hadn’t eventually failed her, she would have been able to appreciate her grandchildren and great-grandchildren growing up a great deal more, but I’m sure I can say on her behalf that she’d be proud of what she leaves behind.

Olive Davies (néé Gillings)
Born Scarborough, 7 September 1923
Died Hull, 31 January 2013
Text given as an appreciation at my mum's funeral on 12 February 2013