“Tea’s ready, Mum!” April called from the kitchen as she finished arranging the big teapot, complete with tea cozy, milk jug, and two china mugs on the old wooden tray. April was in her mother’s kitchen which was so familiar to her. She grew up in this house and her best childhood family memories always included this old teapot with its padded red tea cozy. The kettle was always on in this house and the tea was always flowing.
April headed for the ‘morning room’, as her mum grandly called it, at the back of the house with a big window overlooking the garden. She settled the tray on the low table between two comfy chairs and waited for her mum to join her. She hadn’t told her mum in advance that she was coming. It was a spur-of-the-moment visit. There was something important to share that couldn’t wait another day. April jiggled the teapot from side to side moving the tea bags around in the hot water, feeling both excited and nervous.
Her mum shuffled into the room and gave her a warm smile. “Wonderful! Thank you, dear, for making the tea. I wasn’t quite ready when you came by. What a lovely surprise to see you this morning. I didn’t think you were coming until Thursday. Is everything alright?”
April’s mum, Ruth, was a kind and gracious lady. She became a widow when April’s dad passed away in the January of last year and was doing her best to make a life for herself now living alone as a single lady. April was pleased that her mum was doing as well as she was after her dad died. Her mum and dad had done everything together and she was afraid her mum might wilt without her husband of thirty-nine years. But Ruth had joined the crown green bowling club last summer and made some new friends as well as her church friends and scrabble club friends. April felt better about telling her mum the news knowing that she had a good support system around her.
“Everything’s fine, Mum,” April assured her as they settled into the ritual of tea drinking; pouring in the milk first, checking the color of the tea before filling the mugs to the top, stirring the liquid a few times, followed by blowing on the surface of the hot tea to cool it off. Polite slurping was an acceptable accompaniment to this tea-drinking ritual.
Mother and daughter chatted for a while, catching up on day-to-day news since they had last spoken two days prior to the unexpected visit.
April looked down at the tea mug cupped in her hands. It was time to share her big news. She didn’t know how her mum would take it but knew she had to follow her heart and go after her dream.
“Mum, there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for a couple of weeks now. I don’t know how to say it so I’m just going to have to get it out.”
Ruth’s eyes were fixed on her daughter. She took a deep breath and nodded for April to begin.
“I’ve been offered the job I was telling you about in Australia.” Her mother’s face didn’t change but her eyes widened slightly as she swallowed her tea with a gulp. She stayed silent allowing April to continue, not trusting herself to speak.
“I submitted my application. They said it was just a formality really because they want me for this new role over there. They said I am the perfect fit. I’ve known about it for a little while and didn’t want to say anything until I was sure that it’s what I want to do.”
April’s eyes began to fill with tears. “Mum, I really want to go but I know it means leaving you and it’s not a decision I am taking lightly. I know Daniel and Liz live close by and you have friends all around but still, I won’t get to see you every week like this, maybe only once or twice a year. But you can come and visit me and…”
Ruth couldn’t keep silent any longer and interrupted April’s effort to express the tension in her heart. She could see her daughter was struggling.
“April, April, my dear, it’s ok. Really it is. Please, don’t think any more about how I may or may not cope without having you around. This is your moment and you must take it with both hands! You have earned this opportunity and your work is important work. I know how much you love what you do and how much you have always wanted to travel. This is a wonderful opportunity for you, I am so proud of you. Congratulations, darling!”
April put the china mug down and got up to hug her mum, tears now flowing down her cheeks.
“They’re sending me to the Brisbane area on the east coast. The office will be close to the ocean in the suburb of Cleveland. It’s really beautiful. I’ve been looking into it online. Mum, you will love it! You love the seaside and when you visit we can do all the touristy things together.” April reached for a tissue and wiped her eyes. She was clearly excited, like a little child, and chatted on telling her mother all about the Queensland coast. April was relieved that her mum was taking it so well.
Ruth made a fresh pot of tea as the morning merged with the afternoon, and brought out some sandwiches and biscuits. This was unexpected news indeed. Her youngest, her baby, was going to the other side of the world to live. Somehow she had to accept this new reality and not show any sign of the sinking feeling in her heart as she did so.
It was close to 1 o’clock when April finally got up to leave. She hugged her mum for longer than usual as they said goodbye at the door.
“Thank you, Mum. You’ve always told me to have courage and follow my dreams. I really appreciate and value your support. You’re the best!” April kissed her mother on the cheek and hopped into her car.
Her mother waved from the front porch as her daughter drove away, window down, waving back with a big smile on her face.
Ruth walked slowly back into the morning room and sank into her chair by the window. She just sat and stared, not actually seeing anything, for several minutes. Then the tears came. The house suddenly seemed empty and lifeless, like all the oxygen had been sucked out of it and she began to shiver as her thoughts tumbled around in her mind.
She knew her daughter’s heart was set on this adventure, this new life in Australia. April had her whole wonderful life ahead of her and Ruth was determined she was not going to stand in April’s way. But she was also adjusting to the fact that she herself didn’t have long to live. The doctors reckoned about six to eight months considering the aggressive nature of the disease.
Ruth’s mind was racing. She closed her eyes and folded her hands and prayed a silent prayer, committing her daughter into the hands of God. Only He could bring them both the comfort they would need in the months ahead.
Suddenly, the telephone rang on the table beside her chair, jolting her out of the swirl of thoughts. It was April. She was phoning from work.
“Mum, I am so sorry but in all the excitement about my big news, I forgot to ask you how your visit to the doctor went yesterday. What did the blood tests show up? Anything?”
Ruth paused, taking a deep breath. She needed a few seconds to compose herself before giving her daughter an answer. Surprisingly, she felt quite calm.
“Oh, thank you for remembering, that’s sweet of you. Now, let me think. Dr. Kirkland just said I was tired all the time because of my age and suggested a sleep aid medication to help me get the rest I need. He wants to monitor me to keep an eye on things, you know. Nothing to worry about. I’ll see you on Thursday as planned?” Ruth swallowed hard to make sure her emotions stayed in check.
“That’s great news, Mum! I’m pleased for you that it was nothing serious. I’ll be round on Thursday for tea and sarnies as usual then. ‘Bye for now!”
Ruth rested the receiver back in its place. She sat in silence for a long time. Ruth realized she had an important decision to make about what the next few months of her life were going to look like. Then it came to her so clearly. Ruth decided that she was going to invest her remaining strength into helping April pack up her house and prepare for the big move to Australia. She would live out the rest of her life as if she had never received the doctor’s diagnosis yesterday. Only she and Dr. Kirkland would know about it.
Ruth smiled. She felt like a weight had been lifted and a comforting peace came over her like a warm blanket. She had not experienced anything like it for a long time. Suddenly she knew that everything was going to work out just the way it was supposed to.
Ruth got up, still smiling, and made her way to the kitchen to make herself a cup of tea.
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Wow I could relate to this story having been part of a diaspora under similar circumstances. The Englishness tone of the story resonated with me as well as the stoicism of an older generation. Thank you I enjoyed the read.
Oh my goodness! I really enjoyed this story. You had me from the first word! I could relate to the emotion of a child moving far away to start a new life. You are really torn between supporting them or letting them know that you are upset by the move. Ruth's illness and her willingness to keep it a secret so her daughter could do her thing was beautiful. You were truly able to capture the loving relationship between mother and daughter. I am really looking forward to reading more of your work!
Thank you so much Rebecca for your encouragement. I pictured my mum's house in the north of England as the setting for the story. It's fiction, of course, but my lovely mum died of cancer in 2012 so there's a thread of truth in it. She always said she would never hold me back in life too. And she never did. Blessings, Gillian
So sorry for your loss. But your mom sounds like she was a very special lady!