Money

Maggie Gee's memoir My Animal Life and her latest novel My Driver are published by Telegram.

telegrambooks.com

To love, to have, to spend, to give away your roots

My mother was a woman who loved money.

Mum did love money. My mother was a hoarder: she had a secret trove that I came upon after her death. My mother the money-lover. Yes: Mummy and money.

I expect you can see her already, in black and white: thin ledger-line for a mouth, tight purse-string frown, sharp eyes with a glint of metal.

My mother liked to snatch money from holes in the wall. She liked new notes. She loved the solidity first, the thick heft of the bundle sliding towards her out of the dark and into the sunlight, then the slight snap as she slid and crinkled the top note with her index finger, then the same to the others, slithering one over another till the money was alive, a slippery sheaf of dry susurrations hissing false promises: one day you will be free.

Because my mother, a very bright woman full of jokes and puns and ideas and knacks for doing things swiftly, a woman of effortless efficiency who could have run a company, did not earn money.

Because she had married my father, a teacher and old-fashioned male who didn't want his wife to work. Instead she had three children and managed the house, the finances, the plumber, the garden, the boredom, the vanished expectations, the loss of the quick bright life she began as the youngest of seven in a row of terraced houses in the country left free to wander in the woods and fields beyond the long thin garden and the chicken shed. My grandpa and grandma were tired of bringing up children by then. Like only one other of the seven children, my mother passed the eleven plus and went to the grammar school, where she was clever and an athlete, Victrix Ludorum on sports day, but her parents never came to watch her, so Aileen triumphed alone.

She was a scholarship girl. They queued separately for school dinners, which they did not pay for. In her fifties this memory still shamed my mother: being without money, being known to have no money, for in her childhood there never was any money and never anything new, of her own. Everything she wore had already been stretched or stained or snagged by the other two sisters before her who owned them first, a hurt and a gap that even a little money could have addressed. But there was none. For the milk was watered and the fried eggs cut in two and the shoes were too tight and the socks were holed and everything fell through the holes, which could never be mended.

My mother loved money with a passion that only those who know what it is to have no money at all can understand. My mother loved money and always praised my father for earning it. "Dad's a good provider," she frequently reminded us sulky and critical kids. "Thanks to him, we don't have to worry about money."

Then he died, leaving her with less than £10,000 and no pension. She offered us money to help us fix up our first house: we accepted, and then she had even less. Eight months later she was dead.

And here is a picture of my mother alive and in colour. Olive skin, dark red cheeks: wavy thick hair to her shoulders; slim waist but curved out like a guitar above and below; and her lips still plump and young in her seventies when she died leaving behind a Barrett-built 1970s bungalow and her secret hoard – she was a hoarder, my mother, my dear, my dearest mother – boxes of unused birthday cards and postcards, booklets of stamps like butterflies waiting to fly, just waiting to wing their way to us, her children, all for us, everything for us, nothing less than all that she had for us, always, and nothing else.

My mother was a woman who loved money. My mother was a woman who loved to give money away.

My mother gave everything away.

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