"My mother used to say, 'Billy, life is short, so hug it long!' Mum knew that hugging was the most humane and holistic of all medicines. She also knew that life was meant to be lived and not just endured, whatever our circumstances.
Mum was a woman, whom despite having had it hard like many people of her generation who'd been born between two world wars, still embraced life to the full. My father was the more serious parent; the stricter one, whose prime concern was earning sufficient to feed and clothe his growing family of seven children, whereas my mother was more care free and lived for the moment.
Mum died aged 64 and dad aged 75 years, but mum packed more into her lifetime than my dad ever did. With the exception of a few years around the time of my birth (when dad played soccer for his country), from the age of 12/13 years old, when he first started work, up until the day he retired, he worked hard and whenever possible, he worked overtime and during most holiday periods, so that his wife and children could have one. My mother never allowed the economic circumstances she faced daily to define her mood. She chose to be happy, whatever hardship she endured and she never let go of her dream to one day live in a cottage with red roses around the front porch. Mum never got her dream, but her eldest child did. Despite mum having been on this earth for eleven fewer years than my dad, whereas dad existed, often under the severest of circumstances, my mother lived her life to the maximum, and extracted from it every bit of pleasure it could give her.
She was one of those people to whom working early morning until past midnight cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing, darning etc, without a break, became routine. I can never recall having ever seen her sitting down, unless it was outside our home. Neither can I remember her face without a smile across it or ever hearing her sing one of her favourite songs that wasn't out of tune. Like the late Les Dawson, she sang all the notes, but in the wrong order!
She was the most generous person to come out of Ireland that I ever knew; the type, whom if she'd won a large amount on the football pools one week, she'd be broke within the month! This wasn't because she was a spendthrift, but because she would have given away every penny of her winnings to someone she considered more deserving or whoever could give her the most convincing hard luck story! I lie; before she gave away every penny of her winnings, she would have first made sure (being a chain smoker), that she'd retained enough for a packet of fags.
I once recall walking through Manchester Railway Station with mum when I was aged around 8 years. We were on our way to visit an aunt when a beggar approached mum with his sorry look and an outstretched palm asking for the price of a cuppa. Without a second thought, she went to her purse and gave the beggar one shilling from the two shillings she possessed. He smiled broadly, thanked mum profusely and danced out of the railway station. I immediately called mum a fool if she thought he'd be spending any part of her shilling on a cup of tea, and indicated that the beggar would be in the first pub he passed. She replied,'You're probably right, Billy, but I did it for me as much as for him. You see, if I didn't give every beggar who asked me for money something, just because he might spend it on beer instead of tea, then one day, I might refuse a beggar who genuinely needs a cup of tea.'
Apart from being a wise woman, my mother was the best of story tellers. Never a day or a night went by without her spinning one of her yarns about her years in Portlaw, County Waterford; and she never allowed to forget that I'd been born there too, along with my sisters, Mary and Eileen. I know now that the reason I kept Portlaw a special place in my mind throughout my life, is because she made it special for me. After I'd written and had published around fifty books, I gave up writing until I met my wife, Sheila. It was she who persuaded me to take up my writing once more in 2011. Since then, I have had another fourteen books published, two 'strictly for adults' novels and a dozen romantic books under the umbrella title, 'Tales from Portlaw.' In these 'Tales from Portlaw', I have taken the germ of truth in my mother's tales as the central thread of my story. I naturally extended all of these stories by use of fiction and writer's imagination. In memory of my mother's generosity, apart from selling these books and giving all book sale profits to charity, I also wanted to cater for those people who have insufficient money to buy books. So every one of my dozen romantic stories in my 'Tales from Portlaw' series of books can be freely read on my website by simply accessing:
http://www.fordefables.co.uk/tales-from-portlaw.html whenever you want.
These stories are also available in e-book format from www,smashwords.com or in paper copy from www.lulu.com or www.amazon.com with all sale profits going to charity in perpetuity, along with the £200,000 given to charitable causes from my book sales since 1990.
My mother was a natural leveller. If ever I got too big for my boots, she knew how to take me down a peg or two. Each Christmas when I worked at Harrison Gardener's Dye Works, the firm would provide 'a proper sit down meal,' as it was then described, for its 200 plus staff. In many ways, it was the social highlight of our year and all the young men and women would dress up in their Sunday Best with the intention of attracting a member of the opposite sex they fancied. It was the only occasion when mill workers, would for one evening, drop their thick Yorkshire dialects and try not to swear, or drop their 'h's' in every sentence they spoke.
I discovered the week before the firm's dance and sit down meal that it was being held at a restaurant in Cleckheaton where my mother served table as a waitress three nights a week to earn some extra money for herself. As I was attending the dance and meal with a young woman whom I wanted to impress, I didn't want to feel embarrassed by my mum serving table, so I asked mum to have the night off. I even offered to pay her for her loss of earnings out of my future wages, but she wouldn't budge. Looking at me with an eye of understanding behind my request, yet in a tone of moral disapproval she said, 'I'm not ashamed of my job, Billy Forde (the only time she used my surname, I knew she was cross with me), so if you are, tough luck, because I'm going in to work as usual!' While less than happy with her refusal to throw a sickie on the night of the firm's do, I contented myself that with there being forty or more tables in the restaurant and a dozen waitresses to serve them, that the chances of mum serving my table would be less than Joe Brown's donkey winning the Grand National!
When the evening came around, all seemed to be going well between me and the young woman by my side who I was out to impress. To my relief, a nice waitress served the soup starter at my table and mum was serving tables at the other end of the room. When it was time for the main meal, who should arrive to serve our table; nobody but mum, grinning widely like a baboon about to pounce on a table of unsuspecting picnickers.
These were the days, whenever dining in posh restaurants, each person would be served with two small potatoes on their plate, and under no circumstances did one ask for more or take your own from the serving dish!
As mum served each person on my table with two potatoes each, my heart was in my mouth, fearing that she would deliberately do something to embarrass me. When she came to my plate, instead of placing two small potatoes on it, she smilingly said, 'Good evening everyone. I'm Billy's mum. I hope you don't mind, but he's always loved his spuds. He can't seem to get enough of them!' Then, as cool as a cucumber, she placed six potatoes on my plate and three times the usual amount of meat and vegetables which she'd given everyone else, until it was piled so high that it was almost impossible to see the table member opposite me laughing his head off!
That was my mum. If I ever forgot who I was or where I came from, I could always rely on her to be there to remind me, thank God. Mum embraced life to the full and that included all the eccentricities of her eldest child, Billy Forde. Not once did I ever go to bed without receiving a hug and a goodnight kiss between my birth and the day I married at 26 years of age,
along with a reminder (as if I didn't know it), that she loved me. God bless you Mum." William Forde: September 30th, 2016.