My mother wasn’t the hugs, smacks and apple-pie kind of person, but she could catch flies on the wing. She couldn’t bake a cake but she carved beautiful wooden lamp stands and book-rests and tables. She didn’t teach us how to swim, she threw us into the pool at the deep end and said "swim!" She spoke several languages, often in the same sentence, and once asked, in Spanish, for a kilo of vultures instead of biscuits.
She was over thirty, with three children, before she was suddenly thrust into the mothering business. And the cooking, cleaning, shopping and housework business. That was when we were hustled onto a ship sailing out of Kobe and decanted onto the docks in Sydney to fend for ourselves. There we were, with a mother who didn’t do domesticity.
But she learned. By golly she learned. She found somewhere for us to live. She dug a vegetable garden. She chopped wood. She figured out how to cook and clean, how to light the copper, and bucketed hot water into the laundry sink so she could bath us. For a birthday party she scorned the idea of a donkey to pin the tail on. We were in Australia, so what else but a kangaroo? She drew a huge one wearing boots, and tacked it to the wall. The kangaroo had a worried look on its face because of course, she explained, it had no tail.
She took us from Sydney to Durban, to Cairo, to Haifa, to Damascus, to Baghdad, to Teheran, in wartime. She learned to knit and sew and make her own clothes. I only saw her cry once, way back when that ship sailed out of Kobe.
My father's career was also in effect her career, and she played her part with style and charm all over the world. And when she and Dad retired to England, my mother once again set to and did all the practical things around the place: the housework, the painting, the wallpapering, the gardening. She once painted an old carpet with potsful of different coloured fabric paint because it was faded and she was sick of it. She made curtains and cushions and loose covers for furniture. I don't think she was ever daunted. By anything.
When Dad died she emigrated to Australia, back to the sunshine. She lived and worked at a residential home looking after the oldies, some of whom were younger than she was. Then someone found out that she was ten years older than they thought and made her retire, but she went on helping, as a volunteer. In fact she never stopped until she died, aged ninety two. My mother was amazing.