“All things considered, you all turned out OK in spite of me, didn’t you?”
Thus Joey Maynard to her eldest daughter one day as they relaxed in the garden of Joey’s home in Armishire.
“What do you mean, mother: ‘in spite of me’?” enquired Helena.
“Well, I was rather demanding of you all, wasn’t I? I suppose, on reflection, eleven children was rather too many for one couple to handle, not to mention all the additions! That’s why we stayed so close to the School, you know, for the free tuition. We couldn’t have afforded to send all six of you to any other decent place, and it was hard enough to find the boys’ school fees some years. We could have dayschooled you if we’d stayed on at Plas Gwyn, I suppose, but that would have been another struggle in itself.”
“So which of us would you have done without?” asked Helena drily.
“Oh, I’d have let your father choose!” laughed Jo. “The poor man should probably have put his foot down when we met the Richardsons, but I overwhelmed him, I think. By then I was used to having a large family, although it was a challenge at first. I think that’s why I was so unfair on you.”
She paused and looked at Helena.
“What do you mean?” asked her daughter.
“Well, only that I placed so much responsibility on you when you were a child. That was very unfair of me, to put everything onto you simply because you arrived half an hour before Connie..” She reached out and took the younger woman’s hand.
“I’ve never said it before, my dear, but I am truly sorry for that. When I think back on what it must have been like for you, I shudder at my own blockheadedness. How you’ve found it in you to forgive me, I’ll never know, but you’re a better person than I could have been in the same situation.”
Helena shook her head and laughed, as she squeezed her mother’s hand.
“Oh mother, you idiot! That’s long in the past, and it all turned out all right in the end, didn’t it? A few minor squalls between us at the end of my first year at Oxford, but they blew over eventually.”
Joey would not be persuaded: she was, if she were honest, in something of a maudlin mood, and was determined to clear the air on more than just her failings towards her eldest child. She relied a great deal on Helena’s judgement – indeed, she relied on most of her older children in one way or another, but it was to Helena that she turned the most (much to the chagrin of her youngest daughter, Phil, who lived nearer than Helena but who would never be seen by her mother as anything other than the baby of the family).
“Oh Len!” she sighed, reverting to the other’s childhood nickname. “I did let you down, my darling, all three of you. Margot almost literally got away with murder, because we’d indulged her so much! I lost Connie for two years over the whole Roger Richardson fiasco. The boys just went to their father for everything. . .” Her voice tailed off.
“At least you were easier on the younger ones,” said Helena, reassuringly.
“Yes, thanks to Cicely!” said her mother, who, mercurial as ever, had run the gamut of self-pity and was now cheering up.
Helena looked a question at her.
“Oh yes!” laughed Joey. “Madam Cecil told me a few home truths, during one of her I-hate-everyone-and-everything moods. I’d been going on at her about something and she just snapped that it was bad enough having to do what I told her at home but was the living edge to have me coming over to the school to boss her around as well!”
“Yes, Cicely always did march to a different drum to the rest of us, didn’t she?” laughed Helena.
“Comes of being the only single girl in the family, I suppose,” said her mother. “She was right though. Think about it, Len! We lived on the school’s very doorstep, with a shortcut through the hedge, for God’s sake! No wonder the poor girl felt so put upon, if her mother was forever dashing over and back. It was all very well in the early days, when you three were Juniors there. The school still felt like an extended family, and that was its ethos, but every family has its nuisance relative, whom no-one wants to invite to things, and I’m afraid I was that relative for some years.
“No, I’m very glad Cicely said what she did, even though I was livid at the time. Do you know, I wanted Jack to thrash her?”
Helena stared at this. The girls in the family had rarely been spanked, although the boys occasionally had to endure the punishment. Helena had often wondered if just being spanked and the whole episode being put aside might have been preferable to the “pi-jaw” the girls always got from their mother when they’d misbehaved. The boys had assured them that, hard though the slipper or cane might be, at least they didn’t have to feel like they’d let God down as well as their parents!
“Anyway,” Jo continued, “it got me thinking, but” because she had learned over the years to be honest with herself, “only after I’d spoken to Hilda Annersley about it.”