They say men marry women like their mothers. My husband did. Columba, his mother, was my soul-mate for thirty-five years. Not one word of criticism, not one word of advice, just appreciation and encouragement. I’ve tried to do it like that for my daughters-in-law. Though I have to say my tongue has lost several inches in the process.
Columba was a writer – short stories and plays, some broadcast, poems and fragments of autobiography. She never threw away a piece of paper in her life. Her husband left the family in Ireland, and after five years, in 1952, she bit the bullet and brought her three sons to New Zealand. A tough call!
Highly educated,) she worked at a variety of jobs – teaching, administration, store detective, managing a tearoom, editor, librarian, house-keeper. She also was an excellent grandmother to our lot, once they were mobile and articulate – she just didn’t get babies.
Her faith was profound and found expression in the Secular Franciscans. She was not so traditionally Irish Catholic that she couldn’t appreciate LGB people as friends, and the ordination of women in other denominations.
Once she’d finally retired, she lived quite close to us, and came each Tuesday afternoon to do my ironing, so I could have a few child-free hours for exciting things like dental appointments. She encouraged me as I started writing, notably to enter a UK-based religious journalism competition. I was flabbergasted when I was a prize-winner. She kindly said she wasn’t. It was a huge confidence boost for me.
She died in 1997, and is still close to the surface of my awareness. This has been heightened over the last few weeks as I’ve finally engaged with sorting out several boxes of her papers that have been in my cupboard for 25 years. I realise all over again how alike we were. We’d studied the same subjects for our degrees We both felt a call to religious life, but married instead. Both marriages were difficult. We both solo parented. We’ve both written extensively about our outer and inner lives, as well as other things - hers all hand-written or typed. We enjoyed the same books – she would buy two of any promising ones, one each. She learned to paint at 70 and had one work exhibited. I followed her example, and at 62 went to an art school that said ‘We can teach anyone’. And so they could.
I like to think that the weeks I’ve spent sorting her papers is our last gift to each other. Through reading a small proportion of them, I’ve come to understand her more clearly, particularly through her deep poems, and have discovered aspects of her life I’d either not known, or had only glimpsed.
Columba is why I’ve long had a soft spot for Naomi and Ruth.
I’m so looking forward to reading Christina’s book!