Sunday, January 9, 2011


I'm quite the fan of Catherine Tate. She's a brilliant comedienne whose characters are absolutely true to life as well as hilarious.

In this sketch, Tate plays Nan, an older woman barely holding on from the grip of dementia. Nan is sarcastic, funny, cruel, sweet, and often impossible, and yet she is beloved both by those in the sketches with her and by the public. She behaves like many older British women who are holding on to their independence in a more and more difficult period of their lives.

She reminds me of my mother. And this sketch is very close to what a partial family get-together at Christmas might have been like 30 years ago or more. At that time, my mother was in her 70's late 60s, my sister in her late 50's 40s, her son in his 20's. My sister was married at the time to her third husband, but he was never entirely accepted by my mother as one of "us." He was an artist rather than an East Indian, but to my mother's eyes, he was just as exotic if not more so.

My mother looked a lot like Nan. She dressed the same way, had the same frizzy hair, sat with her legs apart as Nan does. She behaved erratically, cursed like a sailor, laughed like a banshee. She told tales about those who weren't around, and as Nan does in the sketch, she would attack her own daughter when she left the room, only to smile becomingly when she returned. Her daughter was happy to return the favor.

So, apart from the British accents, this sketch is a little scene out of what might have happened in my own life -- if I had been around for a Christmas get together 30 years ago, but I was not.

My mother was a very unique person, fiercely independent, bright, when she was younger quite beautiful, clever, cruel, deeply distrustful of people in general, an animal lover, and as she got older, quite addled.

I had never encountered anyone quite like her until I read D. H. Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers" and there was a scene in the midlands during which a proud middle-aged woman (character name I can't remember) who essentially has a raging fit. And I thought, well! Isn't that something. Yeah, I recognize that!

I learned later that my mother's grandmother had emigrated from Nottinghamshire in the 1880's. Her ancestors had been Irish and moved to England to escape the Potato Famine. My mother's grandmother had come to America alone. And she made her way in America on her own. Whether she was ever married, I don't know, but she had a daughter, my mother's mother, who instilled a sense of fierceness and independence in her daughter, my mother.

And so we get to Nan.

May the circle be unbroken.

Just as an aside: My mother was born in 1911 and would be 100 years old this year (she died when she was 74). My father was born in 1901 and would be 110 this year (he died when he was 69).

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