Z’s late mother

When Weeza and I were in India several years ago, for the wedding of her best schoolfriend (both she and her husband live in London but had gone home to Chennai for their marriage), we found that we did a certain amount of sitting around. Every time there was another party, we were told what time to present ourselves, all decked out in saris, ready to pile into cars and auto rickshaws and set off. We duly did so, only to find that no one else was ever ready. So after a day or two, we arrived a bit late, and were given a thorough ticking off. Not that our hosts were ready (W’s friend has several aunts), but we and junior members of the family had to be there for when they were, even if it was an hour or two later. This was all right, we were happy to sit and chat and wait although, as the senior aunt was teetotal and so every party was dry, I did start to suffer a certain amount of stress and had to cadge cigarettes from Weeza, who smoked at that time. I didn’t smoke and never have, but a girl needs a vice and there were no others available.

One day, we’d arranged to spend the afternoon with the bride’s younger sister. We knew she wouldn’t be ready on time, and we thought our place in the pecking order was about the same as hers, so we carried on shopping and were in no hurry. When we arrived, she was waiting impatiently. “You’re dreadfully late,” she scolded. “I wondered what had happened to you, we’re going to be late.”

“I’ll just have my lunch”, she added, “and we will get going.”

I had a sudden revelation. When I was growing up, you see, my mother was always the last to be ready to go out. She blamed the rest of us. She had to get out the right clothes for our father, or he’d have worn just anything, she had to make sure we were ready and that my hair was brushed, and only then could she turn her attention to herself. When, finally, we were all assembled in the hall, then she vanished to the loo and we all had to wait again. We took all this at face value and it was an accepted thing.

Years later, when she lived here, she and I used to go to a lunch club once a month – originally I went to keep her company as everyone else was much older than I, but of course they became my friends too and I still go (some of them are in their 90s and I’m still one of the youngest). At that time, on a Thursday morning I used to help as a volunteer at the village school, hearing children read and that sort of thing. I used to leave early on that Thursday, wait on the pavement and she’d pick me up. She was nearly always late. I often stood waiting for ten minutes or more.

One day, I’d heard nearly all of the children in the class and I stayed an extra few minutes for the last ones. Suddenly, my mother erupted into the room looking furious and saying that she was waiting for me. When I had finished what I was doing (couldn’t abandon the child) and joined her, she ticked me off thoroughly, saying how dreadfully rude it was to be late for lunch – 45 minutes was allowed for arriving, having a drink and chatting generally, so we weren’t really, and in any case it was only because she’d been on time for once – we left at the same time as usual.

Anyway, when Deepa was cross with us for lateness, but still hadn’t used the time to get ready herself, it gave me a sudden revelation about my mother. The point was, not that she couldn’t be ready on time, but that she wouldn’t wait for anyone else. So she made sure that she was the last person to appear. And she’d done it all my life, and I’d never realised.

16 comments on “Z’s late mother

  1. mago

    What caused this insight if I dare to ask?

    Unpunctuality is one of the few things that make me really angry.
    Today I wait for exactly five minutes.

  2. Z

    There was an article about unpunctuality in the Times on Saturday. It’s been in my mind for a while though, as one of the things to write when I hadn’t anything to write about. And we all need a break from my hip, as it were.

    We used to speak gloomily about an old woman whom we were saddled with for years. “God doesn’t want her either,” we used to say, and speculate how He and the Devil were bargaining, each to avoid her. She lived to 101. And a half.

  3. mago

    Dr. B. is near the one hundred. It’s no fun for him. He is frail, went to a home now. Helped him with his last article, did go for him in the library etc. He once told me that the worst for him is that there is no one of his age, of his generation around: He and his family are deeply rooted in the history of this city, but he is the last, of abiturium, of the people he studied with, he served with, with those he rebuilt this town together, the collections etc. – he’s all the last one, the last, lone, survivor.

  4. Z

    Oh. Nice to have known you, 4D.

    When people hope to live a long time, Mago, they don’t take that into account, do they? I remember once, in the days when we were all rather more formal, an old lady telling me that there was no one left to call her by her first name.

    On the other hand, a century can be a goal. I have another lovely old friend who is nearly 99, whose greatest wish is to reach 100.

  5. luckyzmom

    It amazes me when I come to realizations like that. And I wonder why I hadn’t realized sooner.

    When I’m late it is a crime. When he is late it is swept under the rug.

  6. Dave

    ‘I didn’t smoke and never have‘ so what did you do with the cigarettes you’d cadged? Stick them in your ear?

    I shan’t mention who is generally the last person to appear when we’re bricklaying.

  7. Z

    Ah yes, LZM. Both the Sage and I have been guilty of that in the past.

    I’m not sure, have I ever described the final party at that wedding, HDWK? Because I rather disgraced myself.

    Dave, darling, you are in hyper-critical mood this morning. Would you like a hug from someone?

  8. heybartender

    I love that remark about smoking, Z. And I’m with you. Not really a smoker, but sometimes there’s just nothing else to get up to.
    This is a great post. I am generally a very punctual person, but my dad is known to be on his own schedule. It was a running joke in our family for years that when going on vacation we were going to get up at sunrise to get on the road. I don’t believe we’ve ever left for anywhere before 10am.

  9. Z

    No end at all, Christopher.

    I don’t think I’ve had a cigarette since, Julie. But one or two a day, half-smoked (I couldn’t manage a full one) were surprisingly efficacious.


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