In honour of Mother's Day, this column is being dedicated to my mum, Margaret Burscough nee Harrison (RIP), who died five years ago, and her mother, my Welsh grandma May Harrison.
I know I have mentioned mum often in these pages, but it still amazes me to think of her and what she achieved in her 78 years — and what better day than this to sing her praises to you all?
One of the many remarkable facts about my mum was the size of her family. Nowadays we look on a family of four as being a houseful, but in the Harrison clan there were 14. Fourteen!
Nine girls: Brenda, Barbara, Ursula, Teresa, Monica, Veronica, Rosa, Margaret, Marie; and five boys: Jack, Jim, Frank, Ted and Bernard. And, incredibly, they all lived in a simple, two-up-two-down terraced house (not unlike Coronation Street proportions) in Lancashire until each one was old enough to leave home and start out on their own. However, such was the size of the family and the age difference between the eldest and the youngest, that none of them were ever in the same house at any one time. In fact, with a World War raging, many of them left home to join the army or the war effort and were gone for good. Two were prisoners of war for some time, one emigrated straight after WWII to America, another moved to Canada. The family spread its wings far and wide.
Although my grandma lived to a ripe old age, it wasn't until her funeral in the 1980s that the entire dynasty was re-assembled. And what a sight that was, with literally hundreds of family members, from across four generations, all there to celebrate her bounteous life, many of whom had never met before that day.
With a background such as that, it was likely that mum would follow in the family footsteps and want a large brood of her own when she got married. And that is precisely what she did, raising eight children — five girls and three boys — all born within 18 years of her wedding day.
Dad was a dentist with his own practice and, in order to provide for his unusually large family, he worked full-time every day, including Saturdays. This meant that mum had more than the lion's share of the domestic duties, which as you can imagine were a full-time job in themselves, so her career as a civil servant came to an end very early on.
Mum didn't even drive until she was in her forties, so maximum effort and limitless energy was expected and required at all times, from getting us all up and dressed in the mornings and all that entailed, to bedtime stories at night ... and everything in between.
When I think about that now, with just two kids of my own and all the hard work, stress, effort, energy thought and expense that it involves, I am simply lost in admiration for my mum and how she managed with so little help for so long. But it was only after the last child, my youngest sister Lucy, turned 18 and left home to go to university that mum finally began to fulfill her own interests and ambitions. Before that, everything had been kept on hold for the sake of her husband and kids, to devote her time to her duties as wife and mother.
Mum began to write at the age of 60, having never had any training or further education other than at the school of life. She discovered her true passion: to research, explore and write about local history and at 65 had her first historical biography published, the history of the Lancashire mill owner and leading light of the industrial revolution, Samuel Horrocks.
One of mum's — and our — proudest moments was when she was told that her debut book was the bestselling biography in Preston's branch of Waterstones, outselling the lives of so many rich and famous celebrities for its first couple of weeks and proving that it's never too late to realise your dreams.
So happy Mother’s Day to all the mum’s reading this, and to your mothers too. Each with her own tale to tell, each deserving recognition and praise today for being the best they could possibly be.
And to my mum, from me, John, Louise, Chris, James, Marie, Rachel and Lucy.