On Sunday, my mother will reach the grand old age of 80. A milestone she’s reached with her rose coloured glasses firmly intact; along with her viewing life events from a baseline of positivity. This despite more than her share of episodes where serendipity and karma have proved the most capricious of suitors.
Mum (Maggie) was only 20 years old, and newly married to my old man, when her own mother passed with breast cancer (aged 47). As the eldest daughter, an event requiring her to step up and embrace a motherhood role for her younger siblings, and even, to some extent, her elder brother Eddie.
As was the case in that generation, she embraced the laundry duties for her widower father and siblings. along with performing similar homemaking tasks at her own marital home. Not to mention, also, working full-time in Schofield’s department store’s cash office, Leeds.
Later in life, serendipity dealing further blows when her three siblings, including her younger brother and sister, passed aged in their 50’s/60’s. In 1996 and 2010, fate in it’s infinite wisdom decreeing her younger siblings would perish at the hands of cancer and a house fire. Undeserved existential events which’ve been merely the tip of this warm, loving person’s misfortune iceberg.
She met my dad in the Hussars pub, in 1958 Leeds. I’m not party to the opening verbal gambit between the eventually to be hitched couple, but, in mischief, I’d like to think it played out something like this:-
Scene – The snug in the Hussars pub, on the bottom of Eastgate, Leeds. A shy young fella named Malcolm Strachan, slim of build and fresh of face, is drinking with his pal Tony. As the men in their early 20’s chat about this and that (mostly that), Mally spots a thin 18 year old girl called Margaret from across the bar. She brown of hair, rblue of eye and rose coloured of outlook.
Egged on by his buddy, whose by this time was aware of Malcolm interest in the enigmatic young lady standing near the thick chestnut bar, the Farnley lad plucks up the courage to go talk to the girl who’d two years later’d go on to become his wife.
Nervous around women, Mally’s opening gambit to Margaret was the spluttering cliche “Are you dancing?”
With tongue in cheek, Maggie mischievously responding to this inquiry with “No, I’m queueing for the ladies toilet!”
“Do you want a dance after returning from the bog?”” the timid Malcolm queries in an uncharacteristic brash manner..
“Do bears s**t in the woods?” Margaret teased with a glint in her eye.
Malcolm, who’d never previously heard the expression, meaning ‘Yes, most definitely’, was at a loss as to how the conversation had morphed from human to bear ablutions. Consequently, he raised a furrowed brow, prior to responding with bafflement,“Well, it’s not something I’ve ever thought about, but as they live in woods, I’d guess they probably do?”
With the slender 18 year old hopping from foot to foot while continuing to queue for the ladies bathroom, an undeterred Malcolm asks the lass with who he’d become smitten “What’s your name?”
“Margaret.” the object of the Leeds lad’s affections retorted, getting ever more agitated at the latency of the toilet queue.
“Really?” Mally chirped with an over the top verve, which if undertaken in contemporary Britain would’ve had the young lady a speed dial away from obtaining a restraining order.
“Errr, yes!… Why?” Maggie queried, turning her gaze back towards the shy handsome man who’d clearly fallen for her.
“No reason…… I like the name Margaret…… It’s a far more appropriate name for an amour than Creosote, or Maudlin.” Mally countered enigmatically in a flustered posit.
“Have you ever dated anyone called Creosote or Maudlin?” the intrigued teenager questioned.
“No, I’d move on as soon as I learned they were called that.” the Farnley lad countered.
“It’s pretty unlikely, though, isn’t it?” Margaret suggested, continuing to balance from one foot to the other..
“Not necessarily!…… I know someone called Gladys!” Mally felt moved to point out.
“Yeah but Gladys is a girls name heavily used in the early 20th century…… I’ve never heard of anyone called Creosote or Maudlin…… And reckon it’s highly unlikely I ever will!” the late teen lass highlighted.
“Well, I felt it proper to make you aware…….. You know, on the off chance you bore one of those names.” he clarified to the young lass, who was finally seeing a lavatory light at the end of the tunnel.
On returning from the toilet, intrigued by this handsome man’s nervous dialogue, my mum sought out my future dad to be. On eventually finding him in the packed Sunday night pub, asking “What’s your name?”,
With the object of his affection appearing to thaw, The 22 year old fella chirpily responded “Malcolm…. You know, as in civil rights activist, Malcolm X!”
“Your surname isn’t X is it?!” Margaret teased, as was ingrained in her whimsical makeup..
“No, it’s Strachan!” my dad to be replied matter of factly.
“What’s your hobbies, Margaret? …. How do you spend your free time?!” Malcolm inquired of the new apple of his eye.
“Well for most of this evening, it’s been standing in the queue for the ladies loo!!“, Maggie quipped.
After chuckling at her jest, they chatted for the rest of the evening. A lovestruck few hours during which they discussed their life aspirations, along with Malcolm informed Margaret how woodpeckers and the Leaning Tower of Pisa got their names.
At the end of the evening, as they departed the Hussars pub, the 22 year old Leeds lad, asked the slender 18 year old girl, blue of eye and jocular of nature, if he could walk her to the bus. A request which received the response “Yes, sure…… However, first I need to find my friend Creosote !”