Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~You can do it

The article was about the artist Tracey Emin and the cancer that has invaded various parts of her body. I felt so angry on her behalf. Cancer can be a fearsome illness. Yet regarding it as an enemy is not helpful. In my experience, it’s something that has to be accepted, not welcomed but in some way understood even as it is striven against.

The fact that Tracey Emin is an artist somehow makes it feel more cruel. She is an artist. She is creative, productive, she has worked hard. How dare illness threaten such a person? Of course my own strong feeling is completely illogical. Cancer is no respecter of persons or achievement. Indeed, an artist’s creativity may be his or her own best weapon in the campaign to deal with it.

I have strong personal feelings about all this because my mother was a wonderful painter who died of cancer. It was an extensive cancer in the pelvic area – not easy to talk about, certainly not easy to deal with. The operation she was given to try and remove or reduce the cancer was hard and extensive. It took a long time to get over and was ultimately not successful.

But that’s how it is. Or was. My mother’s operation did not stop the cancer, only delay it. But I know that in the latter years of her life, before and after the cancer hit, she derived a good deal of satisfaction from her painting. I feel so glad about that. I know she never felt like a proper painter. She’d not been to art school. She minded that she’d not been properly trained. Yet her work was liked and admired by the many people who saw it in the local art exhibitions where she hung it. Watercolours were what she made. Many of her paintings were studies of flowers and foliage, many others of local landscapes. And she sold a lot.

My mother was called Dorothy. Her maiden name was Higgins. She grew up in Haverfordwest and she had many friends who remained her friends all through her life. Her father was a journalist from Oban in Scotland. Her mother played and taught the mandolin. Like many women of her time, perhaps like many women now, my mother undervalued herself and her skills. She not only had great skill in painting. She was also a superb dress-maker, over the years making dozens of gorgeous dresses for me and my sister. She was also a fantastic cake-maker. On the table at a birthday party there’d always be at least a dozen different sorts of cake, small and big, all finely produced and finished. And that’s not all. She made cards, lampshades, cushions, all kinds of stuff.

But my mother was so modest that, as I realise now, I don’t speak about her enough. My father was more in the public eye. He published a lot of articles on local history as well as a couple of books. He’d be welcomed as a speaker. Now I must restore the balance and, in my own mind at least, proclaim my mother’s achievements. Perhaps not surprisingly, she often became depressed. But she also had terrific spirit, an infectious laugh and great abilities. Besides, it has to be said that she was also very encouraging as a mother. If I listen, I can hear her voice even now. ‘Come on girl, you can do it.’

PS: Top photo is a photographer’s portrait of my mother at around the time she got married. The bottom one is of her as a little girl with her parents and her brother.

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