He always called her mummy
after they adopted the boys -
back in 1950 during the polio scare.
I still remember the whispered white faces
and stories of iron lungs
She used to polish their shoes -
every night before she went to bed
and lay them out neatly at the foot of their beds.
Her kitchen was a flurry of flour.
She measured the dough with a ruler
(So much easier to get them even)
Christmas cakes too,
wrapped in brown paper,
heavy with cherries and brandy.
Trained at the Alfred with mum
(She was a much better nurse than me)
mum said, though she didn’t mean it.
Worked with Benny Rank too,
in the plastics unit during the war.
Held many a young soldier’s hand
while Benny cut and sewed.
Hated talking about it afterwards.
When Rod died
she sort of shrank somehow
and her buck teeth stuck out even more.
Later her memory began to go
and the nursing home,
where she had reminded others
for so many years,
became her only reality.
The last time we saw her,
they were feeding her with a spoon.
We didn’t go again.
Peter rang earlier this year
to tell us she had died.
She was ninety six years old.