Last night I undertook the pub quiz at the local with three of the four most important women in my life - my wife, my daughter and my niece Katie who was on a flying visit from western Ireland. Suffice it to say, we didn't win.
Today I drove Katie over to Beverley where the fourth member of the quartet resides - my mother Doreen - born in 1921. She has been in a residential home there for two years now but she is really starting to fade away. Once a robust and hyperactive lover of life, she is now skin and bone, drifting in and out of her slumbers, lying in her bed, unable to walk, barely able to raise her baby beaker to her mouth, showing only a very dull interest in the various items of news we brought from the outer world.
And the best news of all was that Katie is pregnant at the age of thirty. Hurrah! It will mean so much to her and Seamus and to her parents Gloria and my brother Paul who was sixty last week. The shared secret of a new life coming should have filled my mum's eyes with delight but instead there was dull, spaced out emptiness. I can already see that the new baby will never meet its great grandmother. The baton of life will be exchanged.
Mum in December 2005 at the residential home.
As I descended the stairs, my heart was heavy. Outside a thin rain continued to fall. That was my mum that was - at least it was the vessel in which the real mum used to live - the mum who stayed up till the early hours knitting and sewing and weaving baskets, fashioning leather gloves and lampshades, the mum who could run like the wind and sing like an opera star, the mum who ironed huge piles of clothes and made rice puddings with a nutmeg skin, the mum who read me stories on her knee and yelled at us when we'd been bad, the mum who taught me to read and write when I was three years old and the mum who blushed with embarrassment when I made my first innocent enquiries about the processes of human reproduction, the mum who learnt German at night school and led the WAAF band in Delhi during World War Two.
I can feel it in my bones, she's going just as Katie's unborn foetus is reaching for life.