In her new weekly column for the Yorkshire Post, broadcaster and writer Christa Ackroyd pays tribute to her mother and all the other strong women who quietly lead the way.
It’s been a while.
Some of you, remembering me as that opinionated woman who appeared on the TV in the corner of the room every teatime, may think you know me. Only perhaps you don’t. You don’t really know what makes me laugh or cry, what shocks me or what makes my blood boil.
So I thought I would start by telling you why I became a journalist. It was because of my mum. Every morning she and my dad had this very newspaper delivered. Regular as clockwork it popped through the letterbox of our neat semi in Bradford just as Mum was packing dad’s sandwiches in his Tupperware box and if it was winter, warming our clothes in front of the open fire.
Except on a Thursday when our organised little world came crashing down it seemed to us. Thursday was the day we fended for ourselves. We got our own breakfast. We found our own shoes and struggled with oversized school coats bought to grow into. Mum was otherwise engaged. That was the day another Yorkshire female journalist Jean Rook wrote her column in another newspaper and mum devoured every word.
And I wanted to be that woman who made my mum stop for just a few minutes in her busy family orientated world. Fast forward 20 years and for a decade I wrote that very column and mum was so proud.
That’s when the newspaper cuttings really took over her world. Every one of my columns was dated and stored in order, often in old cucumber or tomato boxes. You see, ‘waste not want not’ was very much Mum’s motto.
Long before we were charged for our carrier bags my mum, probably like yours, kept hers folded in a drawer along with pieces of string, rubber bands, freezer bags, pretty wrapping paper too nice to not be used again and anything else that just might come in handy.
Shopping lists were made on the back of old envelopes, socks were darned, spare buttons saved in a tin. There were best clothes and work clothes and when they were past their best to wear they were turned into pump bags or pinnies, or cut down for dusters. We walked to school, caught the bus to town, no carbon footprint for us.
We didn’t appreciate that these were the first generation of eco warriors, though they would never have described themselves as such. No, we thought we were so clever with all our opportunities and education and universities and they were out of touch and old fashioned. But these women were as clever and determined as we, without the opportunities we took for granted.
My mum worked part time as a bookkeeper in Busbys and Brown Muffs, always in the back office. It was years later before I realised she could have been running the show. My mum could add up a never ending list of pounds, shillings and pence in her head by running her fingers down the column and never make a mistake.
So why am I telling you this? Because this week, aged 91, she died. But not before she fought her last long battle against the evil that is Alzheimer’s. As I held her hand and she squeezed mine, she gently slipped away to her favourite music in a room filled with love and for those few precious hours she was my mum and I was the child again.
I have sometimes wondered what she would have become had she been born in a different age, but what I do know is that she became our role model. So now I will try and remember to turn off the big light. When I’m feeling a bit chilly instead of turning up the fire I will go and put another jumper on. I won’t spoil my tea with anything other than a plain biscuit and above all I will always remember there is no such word as ‘can’t’.
Instead mum, I will try to live by the words you wrote in the front of your diary when you received that awful diagnosis .... ‘I can and I will’.
Since her death I have also have taken down the boxes filled with treasures from a life well lived. I read the letter she wrote to me paper-clipped to her will about the joy she’d had from her family and friends, the list of songs and hymns she wanted playing at her funeral and the gifts and trinkets she wanted distributing to those she had loved along the way. No drama just little notes to make sure everything was done properly.
As I read every line I laughed and I cried. And then the phone rang. Would I like to write a column for The Yorkshire Post? So here it is. For you mum, another first for the cucumber box.