When I saw this week’s word, the first thing that came into my mind was my mum’s favourite joke:
A potato had three daughters, who were all in love.
The first daughter came to her father and said, ‘Dad, I’ve met the most wonderful person and he wants to marry me.’
‘Tell me about him,’ said her father.
‘’He’s lovely, Dad. He’s a King Edward.’
‘A King Edward? Royalty, that sounds impressive. Of course you can marry him.’
Then the second daughter came to speak to her father.
‘Oh Dad,’ she said, ‘I’ve met someone too and want to marry him.’
‘What’s he like?’ came the reply.
‘Oh Dad, he’s great. He’s a Jersey Royal.’
‘A Jersey Royal? He comes from very good stock then. Of course you can marry him.’
Finally the third daughter approached her father.
‘Dad, I’ve fallen in love with someone too who wants to marry me.’
‘Ok, tell me about him then.’
‘He’s fantastic, Dad, really amazing, just wonderful. He’s Des Lynam*.’
‘Oh no!’ replied her father. ‘You’re not marrying him. Absolutely not.’
‘But why, dad, why?’
‘Because he’s only a common tater.’ (commentator!)
I love that joke. And I love how my mum delighted in telling it, starting with one eyebrow wryly raised, eyes increasingly sparkling, and a smile as wide as the Brooklyn Bridge by the end. I loved that smile.
You could have described my mum as common, I suppose. She came from working class stock, daughter of a single mother, brought up in her grandparents’ house with uncles like brothers. Her mother worked long hours in a shop. Her grandfather was a gunmaker. The family took in lodgers for extra income.
She had to leave school at 14, partly because her grandfather didn’t believe in education for girls and partly because they couldn’t afford her not to be earning. She went on to work in various clerical jobs most of her life and started her married life in two rented rooms.
My mum was common, in that she was never middle, let alone upper, class. I remember feeling the difference between my family and my friends’ sometimes. Their parents had posher accents, owned their own businesses, or only their fathers needed to work; they went on foreign holidays, lived in ‘better’ parts of town, and drove newer cars.
But my mum was all the best things about ‘common’. She had a real gift for friendship because she identified with other people, cared for them, and loved them with such integrity. A 20 minute walk to the shops with her always took at least double because she was always stopping to talk along the way – sometimes to people she knew (and she knew a lot), sometimes to people who happened to catch her eye. She always found common ground. Over the years, she took under her wing young and old, homeless and ex-convicts, gay and straight, looking past society’s conventions to just see fellow human beings; everyone was her potential friend. She lived her life with home, arms, and heart always open.
I live a much more comfortable, affluent life than my mum did. But I pray that I practise her generous open heartedness, always looking for what I have in common with others.
(*If you don’t know who this is, try the joke with Chris Kamara, Eddie Waring or Vin Scully).