Stick brown canes in clods of earth lined up in buckets take refuge in my hall, the ground outside still frozen and closed for business.
I dug them up before Christmas. Hurriedly, passionately, with vigour and intent, quite desperate and determined to retain a small fraction of the raspberry tradition of No.28, my childhood family home in Derbyshire. It would soon be gone from us; it felt important to possess something of these actual plants.
I had last properly been in the garden there in June and July last year. With Mum I’d weeded and planted and pruned, and built a raised bed close to the house for easy access. Then, with my daughter, we three Lawty generations revelling in a sun soaked afternoon had filled it with flowers and herbs.
On the evening before Mum died I left her bedside to be alone for a moment near the bottom of the garden, contemplating the lines of raspberry bushes giving way to the Silver Birch grown crooked and tall. On its top most bough a single song thrush, silhouetted against the sky began its beautiful undulating song clear and strong in the still air; a solo performance defiant in the last of the day’s rays. A private concert.
If we think of the work we do, our creative endeavours; or those of the thousands of people past held in our art and museum collections; what part do parents play in all this?
I can remember myself as a young girl, with Mum at the dining room table surrounded by cloth and pins and sewing machine. She was completing a major body of work for her final submission for City and Guilds Advanced Certificate of Achievement in Tailoring. The clock was ticking, the deadline looming, the beautifully crafted garments were almost complete but a less than perfect detail was spotted. Absolutely determined to get it right, Mum unpicked and reconfigured the offending detail, not once willing to submit anything that wasn’t up to her exacting standards. I remember waking in the morning, astonished to find that she had worked right through the night to achieve this. And, as the final hand stitched lapel was gently folded into soft tissue paper, boxed and off to the post, maybe something of this tenacity, perseverance, quality control and let’s face it, up to the wire nerve must have rubbed off on an impressionable daughter.
Mum was my strongest, most loyal supporter, unconditionally encouraging my work and projects, taking pride in my achievements and soothing the setbacks down the years. She was sensible, practical and calm. Now, when I pick up her tools to use in the studio, I feel connected and fortified. I still want to show her what I’m doing. I know I will always have questions to ask.
In his excellent 2009 article for The Spectator, ‘I don’t want to “get over” my father’s death’, Matthew Parris wrote: ‘The gap Dad left is not a vacuum, a void, a soft area of low pressure to be filled. The gap is hard-edged, chiselled by him into my life, measured by his worth, and ineradicable.’ The moving, forceful writing in his whole piece exactly hits the mark.
My formative years were happily full to the brim of nature and nurture… and the most exquisite raspberry jam. As soon as the true spring decides to grace the Pennines, I aim to do my best to continue that tradition.
Cornwall, May 2012.
Mum: Elizabeth Lawty April 1923 – July 2012. I love you. Thank you.