Death by night

Death by night

Death can come at any time, as we have been emphatically reminded as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the world last March. On what would have been his Dad´s 104th birthday last month Paul Whitelock wrote about all the things his dad had missed out on since his early demise at the age of 68. This week his thoughts turned to his late mum, who would have been 103 last Wednesday.

My dad passed away on a Saturday morning in August 1985.

In my mum’s case I got a phone call in the early hours of a Sunday morning just before Christmas in 2013 to say that she had died. It was two days before I was due to fly to the UK to visit her for Christmas.

My Mum, Vera Valerie Whitelock (nee Lemon), was born in Barnstaple, North Devon in 1918, the same year as Nelson Mandela. She died in December 2013 two weeks after the first black president of South Africa passed. She was chuffed about outliving the great man.

Vera Valerie lost her father at a very young age and was raised along with two siblings by her widowed mother, Sarah, my gran.

Vera Valerie Lemon, aged about four, with sister Joan and brother “Sonny”. Vera is in the middle. What amazing hair!

Very bright, Vera Valerie won a scholarship to the local girls grammar school, but couldn´t take up the place because they couldn´t afford the uniform in those bleak and austere interwar years.

So she left school and trained as a clerk. She married quite young but was widowed within a year when her husband John died of tuberculosis.

She met my dad, also called John, who was lodging with his sister in the house next door to my mum’s, while he worked at RAF Chivenor. Dad was divorced with a young daughter, who was being looked after in South Wales by one of his brothers. (Dad’s wife had run off to the USA with an American GI, leaving Heather behind).

John Albert Whitelock and Vera Valerie Lemon get married at the Newport Road Methodist Church in Barnstaple in 1948

Vera Valerie and John Albert got married in 1948 and I came along two years later and my brother Simon three years after me in 1953.

At first we lived in a brand new council house before my mum and dad bought a two-up-two-down terraced house which they did up, sold for a profit and bought the house where my gran lived and where my mum grew up.

In 1964 we moved to Exeter, the capital, where I completed my education before going up north to Salford to university. My brother went away to uni in Bristol three years later.

After Simon got married and had a daughter, Nicki, our parents moved to be near them, to Yate near Bristol. They stayed there until Dad died in 1995. Mum stayed put and successfully built a new social life as a widow.

After my two kids, Amy and Tom, were born in 1983 and 1987 respectively, Vera Valerie surprised us all by moving to Thelwall near Warrington, where we were living, so that she could “enjoy my grandchildren growing up”.

After my marriage to Jeryl ended in divorce in 2005, I lived for a few months with my mum in her bungalow. It worked well. I paid the bills, did the shopping and cooked dinner every night. Mum continued with her healthy social life and, she said, enjoyed not living alone again.

Despite that I decided that living with my mum at the age of 58 was not a cool look, so I sold Casa Blanca, a house I owned in Ronda, and bought a Victorian pile in Latchford, Warrington. It was a project, a doer-upper.

Then I met the “Lovely Rita“ in Ronda and the rest is history. I moved to be with Rita in Montejaque at the end of 2008, we married in 2010, I sold Tunstall Villa and bought Villa Indiana, where we now live, in 2011.

Despite her advancing age and increasing frailty, mum was very active around this time. She attended the graduation ceremonies of Amy at Oxford and Tom at Liverpool and Sidcup, saw Tom perform on stage in his West End debut, attended mine and Rita’s wedding in Maulbronn Abbey in Germany and visited us in our new home, Villa Indiana in Ronda.

 

She had been a frequent visitor to Ronda over the years, and she managed it that one last time before she died. She was happy that I was married again and enjoyed her final visit to Spain, pottering around our garden, dead-heading the roses and plucking unwanted weeds out of the ground. She was in her element. I even think she made it into the pool!

Despite the early hardships as a child, early widowhood, the deprivations during and after the Second World War, being widowed a second time, she came through and made a good life for herself. She outlived her brother and sister – and Nelson Mandela, of course.

Then death came – in the night.

Paul Whitelock

About Paul Whitelock

Paul Whitelock is a retired former languages teacher, school inspector and translator, who emigrated to the Serranía de Ronda in 2008, where he lives with his second wife, Rita, and his dog, Berti. He spends his time between Montejaque and Ronda doing DIY, gardening and writing.