Goodbye Mum: Christina Mitchell, 1926-2021
I have been absent from the blogging world for the last two months – this post explains why. On 22nd October, I lost my lovely Mum and life has changed utterly. Above are some of my favourite recent(ish) photos of me with Mum. Below is the tribute I made at her funeral which I am posting here in her memory.
In 2014 I spotted on social media a call from a Glasgow University research project for wedding photographs from the first half of the 20th century. I knew that Mum had several pictures of family weddings in her collection, so we scanned them and sent them off. As a result, the researcher visited Mum for an oral history interview. When I read the transcript I was fascinated. There were plenty of stories that I knew, but some that I didn’t. I also felt that it was compelling social history so I persuaded Mum to set up a blog with me, and over the next 6 years we told the story of her life, entitled It was always sunny – over 100 posts in all. It was an exercise I’m very glad we did – it brought us closer together, and it also means that the family will have fewer of those “I wish I’d asked” moments than we might have done otherwise. Today I will share a few highlights with you.
Christina Sinclair Stroud was born on 21st October 1926 in Greenock, before moving with her family to Kilmacolm while still a toddler. Her maternal grandparents lived in Bridgend Toll House, and many of Mum’s happy childhood memories centred around the Toll. For several years, Wee Chrissie was the youngest grandchild on both sides, handed round like a parcel because there was so much competition amongst doting aunts, uncles, and cousins to have her on their knees.
Then in August 1933, something life changing happened which Mum described in a post called Wonderful Day. Her Dad took her to the Toll to spend time with her grandparents – nothing unusual in that – but when he brought her home later she was surprised to find her Mum wasn’t in the kitchen, but in the bedroom. Not only that, she was holding a baby wrapped in a white shawl. Wee Chrissie was entranced. “Is it ours?” she asked, and on being assured that Baby Annabel was indeed theirs she burst into tears of joy. Thus began the longest relationship of Mum’s life. She was a devoted big sister, and I know the feelings were reciprocated. It’s entirely appropriate that Mum’s last visitors on the day before her final collapse were Annabel and her daughter Tracy, and I’m so glad that they were able to have an early celebration of the birthday Mum never got to see.
Fast forward a few years, and Mum credited Annabel with changing her life in another way. The family had moved back to Greenock and Mum was attending the Episcopal Church. However, Annabel joined the Youth Club at Ardgowan Methodist Church where she volunteered her big sister to come in to help the girls in the sewing class. So Mum became a Methodist and soon settled into the youth club herself. Often, their meetings ended in a kissing game, and one evening in late 1949 she kissed a young man with curly red hair. In her blog, she described being left dazed and confused, and she told her friends that if she couldn’t marry John Mitchell, she wouldn’t marry anyone.
Well, we all know how that turned out: they were together for the next 66 years, but it wasn’t straight-forward at first. Dad was about to enter the ministry and spent 3 years in theological college in Leeds followed by 3 years as a probationer in Findochty and Cullen. At that time ministers were not allowed to marry until after ordination, so a 6-year, long-distance engagement followed. Eventually, in August 1956, they celebrated their wedding – in fact, a double wedding with Annabel and my late uncle, Jim McInnes, marrying in the same ceremony. After a honeymoon in Ireland, Mum and Dad departed for his first circuit, Haltwhistle in Northumberland.
There followed 38 years in the North East of England, with subsequent ministries in Sunderland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Consett, and then back to Newcastle in 1980 where Dad was Chairman of the District for 14 years. They were happy in all these places, though I suspect harboured a particular soft spot for Haltwhistle because it was the first, and because it was where my sister Elspeth and I were born. Family was important to both of them, and in later years they were welcoming parents-in-law to John and Winston and delighted and proud grandparents to Elspeth and Winston’s daughters, Harriet and Cassie.
Alongside family ran Dad’s ministry, and he acknowledged that without Mum he could never have made it what it was: it was a true partnership in home and church, and the churches always got two for the price of one. When Dad retired in 1994 they decided to move back to the West of Scotland, largely for family reasons – John and I were well established in Glasgow by then, and Annabel and Jim were still in Greenock – but the main criterion for deciding on the exact place was the strength of the local Methodist Church. And so they came to Paisley where they embraced the church and the church embraced them back.
It’s been very touching to receive tributes to Mum from folk from many of the churches mentioned. Some of the words written include:
- Friendship, love and kindness
- Spiritual guidance and deep faith
- Laughter, smiles and quiet sense of fun
- Wise counsel
- Encouragement, example and support
- Interest and helpfulness
- Special – that one came up several times
One comment in particular made me smile, from a minister and his wife who had two small children. “Your Mum would often ring us to say we had to have a day off and she would look after the children so that we could go out and have a day to ourselves. It was no use saying No! Chris had made her mind up and it was pointless to argue!” That characteristic never changed, though I have to say in this case there was probably an ulterior motive in that Mum loved looking after small children, and in the last couple of years she enjoyed, when restrictions allowed, being able to cuddle members of the newest generation in the shape of her great-great nephews, Tommy and Lenny.
Life changed again when Dad died in 2015 – Mum missed him every day, of course, but there were still plenty of happy times. This year, however, Mum’s health was more problematic, and in August she went to hospital in Paisley for 6 weeks before being discharged into Four Hills Nursing Home near us in Glasgow. She had only been there for 3 weeks before she collapsed with a brain haemorrhage on 20th October and was taken to hospital again, this time Glasgow Royal. Because it was Mum’s 95th birthday the next day, my sister Elspeth was staying with us and I’ll always be grateful that this was something we were able to face together. We didn’t think Mum would make it to 95, but she did, holding on till the 22nd in body if not in spirit.
I don’t remember this, my final story, but it’s in Mum’s blog so it must be true. When we left Haltwhistle I was 5. Apparently someone asked me if I was looking forward to living in my new home, to which I replied that I didn’t have a new home. “But aren’t you going away to live at the seaside?” he said. “Oh yes”, was the scornful retort, “we’re going to live in a different house – but we’re taking home with us!” How true that was. Our home was what and where Mum made it, and home remained very important to her. In her time in hospital and Four Hills, she often said that the people were lovely and very kind (and I agree – I know I saw the very best of humanity in those 9 weeks) but that she just wanted to go home, to have her own things around her, and to be where Dad was. In a different sense, she has got her wish. They are now home together and I give thanks for both their lives. Thank you for joining me in remembering Mum.