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At the time of writing this I am not in the best of health, but I'm warm, well fed, loved and safe from harm. That's how my mother probably felt in the long ago days of 1965, shortly after her husband passed away. She'd enjoyed a long and happy marriage, living in a picturesque village setting, but what she didn't know was her best years were yet to come. That simple factual truth was something all of my siblings would probably have agreed upon including those who are still drawing breath in their eightieth and ninetieth years. Although my mothers married life in the Shamley Green was fulfilling, it was sometimes hard. Money was often short and for many of those early years there was no welfare state to assist poorer families like ours. But, by 1965, all of her children were working and they were all of the mindset that the mother who'd done so much for them, would never have cause to have financial worries again.
It was my brother Gordon who decided that mum should have a weekly adventure by being taken out, and this happened every Monday evening. He knew how hard it had been for her looking after our father during the long years of his illness, during which she'd had very little time for personal pleasures. She'd enjoyed the satisfaction any good mother had from running our household and looking after us, but had she had enough fun? Gordon thought not, but he'd had an idea that would improve her life and it involved a motor car . In 1965 a car was a luxury to most people so Gordon's acquisition of a smart Morris Traveller was a possession he was rightly proud of. He'd roped me in on his intention and together we told our mother of the plan and, before long, the three of us had set off on the first of our Monday car rides. It was the first of dozens of such trips she would enjoy, first of all with Gordon and I, then with Gordon and Audrey and later with my Jenny and yours truly.
I hadn't really thought about it before, but, although mum had lived in Shamley Green for thirty five years, the only sights she had ever seen were those she viewed from the No 23 bus. We had some beautiful villages close by but they were off the beaten track, so historic places like Shere, Forest Green and Blackheath were largely unknown to our lovely mother. So, as Gordon drove on the first ever of those Monday evening adventures, she sat proudly next to him in the front seat of that car and each bend in the road revealed to her a sight she'd never seen before. Dozens of beautiful houses appeared as we travelled along those quiet country lanes and majestic views of the famous Surrey hills came into sight as we crested hills both large and small. We eventually came across an out of the way pub and Gordon pulled up and parked the car. "Time for a drink, me-thinks," were the words mother heard, and the three of us headed in and found a snug corner to relax in. Gordon and I drank beer as Merrydown wine and crisps were enjoyed by our mother and, when a second drink was ordered, my brother and I found joy in the realisation that mum was so very happy.
As we drove home that night we came across an old man walking on the road. Gordon, gave a couple of blasts on the car horn and waived frantically and the old man waived back. "Who was that?" my mother asked and looked stunned when Gordon replied, "No Idea!" Later, we passed a young couple walking arm in arm, again Gordon blasted the car horn and this time I joined in with the frantic waiving. When they waived back in a semi-mystified fashion mum began to laugh, as we all did. When we passed the next stranger mum was waiving along with her two sons, proof that the family Tuffs have a shared sense of humour. Was her humour helped by the Merrydown wine that was to become a regular part of those car rides? I'm sure it was. As Merrydown was to help Audrey chuckle in those splendiferous days when she came into all our lives, a year or so later. That was followed by even more car rides for mum with Gordon and her now daughter in law, Audrey, where the two women, who got on so well, would laugh at they knew not what but, by golly, the girls could laugh.
I couldn't say whether my mother had a favourite among her nine children, but there's one thing I know for certain. Gordon could make her laugh! Mind you, Mum liked to enjoy herself and she laughed a lot in the years that followed when she went on those mystery car rides. Mostly, with Gord and Aud, but also with Bob, Len and sometimes Jenny and I. I recall obtaining a Merrydown pub map of Sussex that we used to ensure they stocked the elixir of laughter whenever we went out with mum, sometimes for a meal. In the years that followed my fathers passing my mothers nine children all found the time to show their thanks for the wonderous upbringing they'd had, which brings me to a particularly important point. As I face the reality of a future with a limited time span, I can't help but wonder if my Jenny's final years will be as special as those that my mother enjoyed. I obviously hope they will be, but when my mind reflects on the love shown by the total of my parents nine children and twenty grandchildren towards my mother, I have to doubt it. The fact is for all the love that my two children and one grandchild have for my Jenny, how could it possibly compare to those joyous times my own mother received from the collective love of those twenty nine close relatives. At first I thought it couldn't, it was impossible, it was too big an ask, but then as I reflected on the love I'd witnessed over the years between Kathryn, Morgan, Emma and my wife, I realised that it could still happen. It wasn't a 100%, slam dunc certainty, but time, love and a whole load of effort could make it so.
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