Category Archives: Mammy

Baby Loss Awareness Week

Baby Loss Awareness Week (9th-15th October 2019) is an annual event to raise awareness, and commemorate the memory of babies lost during pregnancy, giving birth or soon after. It is not an issue I’ve ever had to deal with personally, but I’m acutely aware of the heartbreak and emptiness it causes through my Mammy. And in a way, that loss, I realise has indirectly affected me too.

My parents married in the late summer of 1961 and I was born in early 1970. Before my first born status arrival, there were three confirmed and a suspected fourth miscarriage. As I grew up, my Mammy would mention the other siblings I could have had in a sad quiet way. To my knowledge she NEVER spoke about the loss to anyone else. I distinctly remember her reaction when someone enquired “you’ve JUST got the ONE then”, a sharp intake of breath, pursed lips and a nod of the head. I’d wait for the tirade of swear words but they never came, just a reassuring squeeze of my hand and we would depart. My young mind would be upset that my Mammy seemed to be blamed for something, and I was angry because I was the accusation. That’s how it felt to me anyway.

Growing up I was drilled in my maternal family tree as much as possible, my paternal side being somewhat scant on information. Mammy would take me every Saturday until I was about 11.5 years old, to visit her two sisters, and my Dad’s two brothers (on a strict rota basis) who all lived locally, so I would know about my cousins. Both my parents were the youngest in large families; so many cousins were already making their way in the world themselves. But she tried hard to ensure I was aware of them all. Whilst being drilled on my Mammy’s family, I was ALWAYS corrected if I forgot I would have had an Aunty Annie (elder sister of Mum) and a cousin James from Uncle Johnston & Aunty Rosie’s family, had they not died as babies. I was a Seventies kid, Annie didn’t survive her first year in the 1920s, James his first year in the 1940s. BUT THEY WERE NOT FORGOTTEN. That’s what impacted me the most; they were still remembered and considered part of the family.

My Mammy always wanted more children and kept my pram in hope it would be used again. She sold it with reluctance when I was 11.5 and about to embark on going to high school. Four years later she had to get another pram, with the welcome arrival of my brother Paul. Her pregnancy was a late discovery, the doctor declaring the change of life, my Mammy replying “the change is going to take feet!” She was literally “blooming” with health and eating well, in total contrast to her pregnancy with me. She was convinced a little boy was on the way and was delighted. It was at this time I became acutely aware of how people who should bloody well know better, can be the most inconsiderate buggers alive. The doctor had tended my Granny and my Mammy from her younger days, including those miscarriages. Her medical records were a reminder of those losses, my Mammy testament to a healthy birth for my Granny who was 43 when her final child arrived, the same age Mammy was now. History was repeating itself, although in the mid 80s abortion was available unlike in the forties. The doctor gave my Mammy no more than 72 hours to decide if she wanted a termination, as she was nearing a final cut off point, being I think about 5-5.5 months pregnant by then. To say she was apoplectic with rage is an understatement, her face masked with fury as she left the surgery. All the way home she raged at the unbelievable attitude, the insensitivity, how hell would freeze over before she would agree to such a monstrous act. Two of her three sisters were less than supportive on hearing the news as well. Regardless of the deafening howls “to get rid of it”, with all her being she wanted this baby, and thankfully safely delivered a wee boy in the summer.

My maternal Granda was adopted and as a result, there was a hyper-sensitivity surrounding the subject in my Mum’s family. I suspect a combination of circumstances surrounding his birth ensured his adoption, the lack of a stable home, finances, supportive family, and the authorities knowing better. Not a lot has changed in that regard, although my grandfather was born over a century ago “out of wedlock”, which condemned his mother and tarnished her child instantly in those days. It can’t be easy, feeling there is no choice, but to hand over your baby for someone else to bring up. In today’s society, it can’t be easy to decide on abortion either, making a choice which benefits the whole family (parents & other children) too. Of course many people and organisations condemn this act, and it has become a highly politicised issue as well. But those who wield the power don’t always know better, or come up with the right conclusions.

I recall a neighbour suffering a cot-death and never being quite the same person again. Another baby followed and I did hear “that will make up for the one she lost”, and I thought nothing will ever do that, and take away the memory of finding her weeks old son unresponsive in his cot.

People maybe childless or have a small family for numerous reasons, be it a conscious decision or something beyond their control. But you can never really tell what story lies behind a family picture. I have one sibling, but I definitely could have had four maybe five.

I visited Burlington House courtyard last week, where there is an Antony Gormley piece “Iron Baby 1999”, depicting a tiny sculpture of a newborn baby (based on his six-day old daughter). A descriptive plague quoted Gormley commenting “Iron (concentrated earth) the same as exists at the core of our planet. This tiny bit of matter in human form attempts to make us aware of our precarious position in relation to our planetary future”. It certainly made me think of “Mother Earth”, my far off ancestors’ tenuous hold on life, my unborn siblings never to be known, and holding my newborn baby brother watching him grow into a fine man. So tonight (15th October) at 7pm I will remember, and light candles held in angel wing vases as part of   the Global “Wave of Light”.

Iron Baby 1999 by Antony Gormley. Image credit abmj

ANGIES ALLSORTS “Mammy’s Birthday Party” RADIO LEIGHTON 23RD JULY 2014

Tonight’s show is inspired by the songs my Mammy used to love singing and/or dancing too. She would have been 73 today, so this is a musical birthday party for her.

Playlist

For a party you need food and drink, and some dishes from the southern states of the USA are mentioned in the first song, and it seems appropriate for a country & western fan. Drinks are provided by a Scot’s singer from my home village of Cleland, and I grew up listening to his music.

JO STAFFORD with JAMBALAYA

SYDNEY DEVINE with TINY BUBBLES

My Mammy went to the special Saturday pictures for kids at the cinema and loved Cowboys and Indians films. Probably this is where that love of the country sound came from, but she also was at an impressionable age when the early rock n’ roll music came on the scene. These next few songs highlight these early influences well I think.

GUY MITCHELL with SHE WEARS RED FEATHERS followed by a birthday jingle

JOHNNY PRESTON with RUNNING BEAR

THE SEEKERS with LOUISIANNA MAN

JOHNNY HORTON with BATTLE OF NEW ORLEANS

The year my Mammy & Daddy got married this song was in the charts, and over the years I heard it quite frequently. Only recently did I pin down who the artist was and what the song was called.

CLARENCE “FROGMAN” HENRY with BUT I DO

The next two songs were firm favourites.

DON WILLIAMS with YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND

PATSY CLINE with CRAZY

A couple of songs highlight the inner faith my Mammy held, and another provides a novel party game that everyone can join in.

DOCTOR & THE MEDICS with SPIRIT IN THE SKY

SHIRLEY ELLIS with THE CLAPPING SONG

FOSTER & ALLEN with A PLACE IN THE CHOIR

Occasionally parents surprise you and my Mam was no different when she head-bopped to this rap song during a visit to us in the mid nineties. She had the hand movements as well, but perhaps not the attitude and definitely not the bling ha ha.

INNER CIRCLE with BAD BOYS

A good little boy who I knew all about from a very early age was called Bimbo.

JIM REEVES with BIMBO

A party for my Mam would not be complete without an appearance from her favourite artist and another birthday jingle.

DANIEL O’ DONNELL with STAND BESIDE ME

To finish off the evening (after the requests) I wound down the celebrations with a terrific duet from the King & Queen of Country.

KENNY ROGERS & DOLLY PARTON with ISLANDS IN THE STREAM

You can stream and listen to the full show here:

Wired for Sound. Happy birthday Mammy
Wired for Sound. Happy birthday Mammy

A Mothers Day Letter

Mammy at 65
Mammy

Dear Mammy,

It’s Mother’s Day and you are not here to receive a gift or card. So I thought I’d write you a letter as I have so much I want to say. I’ve put the last good photo of you as a stamp on this so the angels know who to deliver it too. And I’ve enclosed some others as well since I have your photo album here. Some pictures you won’t have seen before. Remember how Granny Bowes used to write letters with no punctuation except for the odd full stop!! Well for ease of reading I’m putting this into “bite-size” chunks so you can read bits when you have time ok.

All The Adults From My Childhood

Of course I’m sure since you left me and Paul, you’ve been surrounded by the menagerie of pets from over the years, and have hooked up with all the folk I knew as a wee girl. You were always at Granny Bowes’ house taking care of things, or running messages for Jim & Cathy Bryce at no. 12, or keeping Nellie Neill company whilst I played with her grandson. Say a big hello to all of them for me. And of course big hugs to Granny, Uncle Harry and Aunty Maggie. Sorry I know I should include Uncle Allan but I was never overly keen on him, too much like Dad I’m afraid. Sadly Granny, Jim, Cathy and Nellie were all gone from my life by the time I was around eight. Then my wee pal Craig Twaddle from Cleland Primary moved to Preston in October 79. I never got to say a proper goodbye to him, I’d to get to the house and make sure the Prudential man was paid. I cried all the way home that day, and a shutter went down in my young mind. Everyone was gone more or less, and I vowed I would never hurt like this again. That barrier stayed with me until I was well into my twenties. I don’t think you had any idea.

Me and Granny
Me and Granny

Uncle Harry

I only met him for a short time when I was about four. Having gone to Australia on a £10 ticket around late 50’s/early 60’s he was far away. Mind you out of sight was not out of mind as far as you were concerned. When commercial radio began in about 73/74 regular requests were sent to Radio Clyde for Harry’s birthday. It was my responsibility (aged 3+) to listen to the Frank Skerritt and Sydney Devine shows and record the requests onto tape, as a gift for the big day. Is it any wonder I feel most comfortable with a pair of headphones on, messing about with music? It was ideal preparation for my volunteering at Hospital Radio Leighton and in January I completed ten years there, can you imagine! Regular airmail letters were sent to Australia as well, and you got me into writing letters too. The joy of pen pals came easily when I was a teenager as a result.

Harry
Harry

Extended Family

Up until I started high school you took me to see my locally based cousins every Saturday. We would visit your two sisters and Dad’s two brothers on alternate weeks. But as bus fares rose, and you began to realise that most of them all had car access, you stopped making the effort. This meant that when Paul was born (I was 15 ½) he never knew any of them, with the exception of Aunty Maggie. At your funeral I had to scratch my head trying to identify the handful of relatives in attendance, poor Paul hadn’t a clue. Suffice to say both Paul and I could walk past any of the clan in Lanarkshire and make no connection. They would probably stop us though, I have your face and Paul has Dad’s, a bit of a Bowes/McCully giveaway. Not surprising then I view the concept of family as a curious notion, I consider the people I call friends as family instead.
Both Paul and I grew up in a house where the past was ever present, and the present didn’t matter. No matter what was happening NOW you would brush it off and talk about something from years back, with “oor so and so done that or went there”. Rob’s mother is 93 now and reads her diaries to keep hold of the past. But you lived the past your whole life. You were old before your time, and you made me old before mine, as I was your main confidante for all your worries and woes. When I went to Keele I had to fill in the Grand Canyon chips on my shoulders inherited from you and Dad. And I had to try very hard to find the person inside I thought I could be, because I didn’t know who that was.

Paul

Paul is doing well at college now and is engaged to a lovely lass called Kerry. You were there in spirit at the engagement though, because Kerry has your engagement ring. I can just hear you muttering

“whit’s guid enough fur Prince William and Kate, is guid enough fur ma laddie and Kerry”

kerry Kerry took this picture in November last year. Yes, you can take a picture of yourself (called a selfie) with a phone these days!!! A long way away from the days of sending “spools to get developed”. Kerry is studying beauty therapy at college, and has a black-belt in tae-kwon-do that funny sounding martial art. So Paul knows to behave himself ha ha. You always hoped you would see Paul reach the age of 21, and you managed it with ten months to spare. I know you’d be very proud of Paul and Kerry making a go of it, and trying to better themselves with college. But I feel with me it was a different matter.

Paul at 21
Paul at 21

Conflicting Messages

You always told me not to be like you and stick in at school. Yet when I showed myself to be a natural kind of scholar, you seemed threatened somehow. At high school I was virtually thrown out of the house to attend my only prize giving. But you refused to speak to me for a year when I went to university. Through the whole course at Keele University you would not entertain the merest conversation about it. When I told you I’d graduated your exact words were

“so this stupid malarkey is over with is it. Not that it matters getting a degree, but at least you got a guid man oot it”.

A word of congratulations would have been nice, or a well done, but there was no chance of that! I shouldn’t have been surprised though because having uttered the words “oonyverity” aged three you said to Granny

“if it wisnae fur his temper and ma ears, I’d swear the hosepital gave me the wrang wein”

Clearly we were on a different paths altogether. But considering you never got so much as an ounce of encouragement yourself, from family or in your marriage, I can easily understand you not being able to fully encourage me. The support and encouragement I desperately needed came from Archie & Agnes in the church, and my old school teachers Mrs Pender, Mrs Mitchell and particularly Mr Brown. I suspect if you’ve met Mr Brown up in heaven you gave him a rollicking for giving me fancy ideas, poor guy. And I know you won’t like me saying this, but Archie and Mr Brown were the main male role models in my formative years. Although I only knew them from a distance, they were the ones I seen the most of growing up.

Educating Angela
Educating Angela

 Bingo & Horse Racing

 I distinctly remember you playing bingo from Radio Luxemburg, you telling tales of going to bingo by water bus in Malta, and prize bingo in Cleland in the Old Folks Hall. So I’m presuming you have found the heavenly bingo hall by now. Remember how you had a big cash win the night Torvill & Dean won their Olympic Gold medal. It meant I celebrated the occasion with a battered sausage and chips supper you brought back that night. I bet you were surprised when I got to be a bit of an Olympian myself in 2012. No I never suddenly gained an ounce of natural sporting ability, but I was a volunteer for London 2012, so I enclose a snap of me in my uniform for you to look at.

olympic volunteerYou also enjoyed a wee flutter on the horses too, just a few pence but you enjoyed the thrill. If there is a Grand National from the ghosts of yester year where you are, Red Rum my first sporting hero will always be my number one choice. Not that I’ve ever put a bet on, I don’t know how, you made sure of that. You always feared there was a potential rouge gambling gene in my DNA from Dad, so you ensured its traits would never come to light. But it was definitely your influence that brought me to be a horse racing pundit for a friends sport website. Bissom!

Home Alone

Dad, a merchant seaman was away a lot of the time, thank goodness. Because when he was home it was rarely good, him being a heavy drinker and a bad gambler didn’t make life easy. You worked 2/3 part time jobs just to make ends meet. So after Granny died when I was six I became my own baby sitter, with the family pets, radio and TV and my teddies for company. I got to be self reliant and that’s probably why I don’t particularly feel alone in my own company. When Paul was born, you were much older and less able to go out to work. So you were always around for him, and I think that’s why he needs company about to quell feelings of loneliness.

My teddies (and a few dolls) are VERY IMPORTANT to me; each one has a place, person or event associated with them; and there are over seventy now. You unceremoniously put my first teddy in the bin one day when I was at school. The violent reaction you encountered from me at this discovery, guaranteed you never made that mistake again!! Is Teddy receiving some better care in heaven, and does Granny look after wee Tommy doll? Tommy was the twin brother of wee Betty that Granny bought for my second birthday. When I went through the house after you passed away, I found Betty but not Tommy. I have a feeling he succumbed to an attack from Brandy the dog. There were only two places I never explored, the loft and the boiler cupboard in Paul’s room. Anyway, Betty is comfortable with me at Keele and we accept her brother alas is long gone. Here is a picture of Betty, Colin the Koala (Uncle Harry), Goldie (Aunty Maggie) and Agnes the rabbit named after you. I took this little one from your room at Ravenscourt, and she reminds me of you very much. Her pale colouring, feisty and opinionated character and her dainty mouth and pink nose are all you. I know, I know, you didn’t have a pink nose, but Dad described you as having a Miss Prim mouth and pug nose.

kidz
Goldie, Betty, Agnes and Colin

Today

 So how do things stand today I hear you wonder. Well Paul is nearly finished college, and still lives in Tinto Way, so a McCully has been resident in that house since it was built about 46 years ago. I think Ravenscourt Nursing Home is still there, although it went through some difficulty as the company running it had finance problems. It was the place you called home for your last years, and I’m grateful to them for giving you a quality of life you sadly were lacking. Rob and I still live in the flat at Keele and will be celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary in April. Rob still works in the department, plays trombone and is always dashing about. He is a very good man who adores me and I love him to bits.

me and rob Rob and I in London last week (another selfie)

Your stroke meant that when you died you were not the woman I had grown up with, but a younger version of yourself before the cares of the world ground you down. Granny was never able to express any love toward you, but you made sure that Paul and I knew we were loved very much. As I glance in the mirror the woman I see before me is you, as the chin develops and the hair becomes ever whiter. You are never far away in my thoughts and please remember…

I love you