My mother lived such a Bohemian life – twelve children, five fathers involved, three marriages, and countless lovers – that she was socially shunned by the rest of the family in her day; or perhaps they didn’t quite know how to treat her. Quite frankly, no one did. She was charismatic, and could be utterly charming, but her mood swings were legendary; and, when she younger, she was prone to lash out physically and slap one across the face with considerable strength – normally without warning. I gather she did this less as she became older, but I was her first-born and she thought boys should be beaten. It was part of the culture of the time.
This made being around her a high risk proposition. For all that, she was a remarkable woman, in a dangerous way, and extremely attractive to the opposite sex. It wasn’t that she was extraordinarily beautiful: She wasn’t. It was more a matter of sexuality and sophistication. As handgun shooters would say, she understood “shot placement,” and could convey sexual interest at considerable range; and she was rarely resisted. A great deal had to do with her personality. She could draw people out, and – if in good form - she could be extremely entertaining. She was also different in a way that fascinated people. She was disconcertingly direct and would say the things that everyone was thinking; but few people had the courage to speak out loud. And she had a formidably strong personality. Few could, and did, stand up to her.
She was quite concerned as to whether I had “it” – by which she meant sex appeal; but finally expressed herself satisfied. I doubt I was more than fourteen at the time and wondered how she could tell. After all, she was my mother. I was also far from sure what to do with this insight. At the time, I was still at boarding school where the fair sex were scarcer that hen’s teeth. That made even the plainest school matron the object of lust; and there were not that many matrons. There were also supposed to be six Italian maids nursing one back to health in the sick bay, but since I never got sick that wasn’t much good to me. Also, I never quite believed the story; and seriously doubted, even if it was true, that they would be particularly obliging. Certainly, I assumed, one would have to be in the Sixth Form. I was also not quite sure sure exactly how I wanted to be be obliged. I knew the principles of course, but the finer points of detail still eluded me. I grew up in a house without TV in a simpler age. The Internet had not yet been invented. It was the late Fifties and I am reliably informed that the Irish – with the exception of my mother, who was Anglo-Irish - still had not discovered sex at that time. Irish babies were found under cabbages.
I am reminded of all this because half a century later, I seem to be discovering relatives I never knew existed (though none in the cabbage patch so far). So far, it is proving to be an extremely pleasant process. I feel like a detective unraveling a mystery; or, perhaps, a series of mysteries. Still, it is early days yet, and anything, or any person remotely connected with my mother, has to be associated with drama in some way or other.