I once heard actor William Shatner interviewed on the radio. He was explaining how he had recently been described as a “has been.”
In retaliation, he said he was a “once was” and felt this was worth celebrating. I thought even this comment was disrespectful to Shatner’s achievements, but I’ll come back to that in a moment
I was reminded of this radio interview when I paid an Easter holiday visit to my parents’ place with the kids. My mother and I found ourselves alone at one point and she started going through old photo albums revealing images I had never seen.
They were pictures of my extended family going back decades. I know a fair bit about my mother’s background, but have I paid it enough attention?
My mum is my mum. She took me to school, fed me, tolerated my intolerable behaviour as a teenager, nursed me while recovering from surgery on more than one occasion. Along with my step-father she raised me.
When my kids were born, she took to being a grandmother with ease. While I notice her getting older, she is largely the same person at heart.
In those photo albums, however, was a life I knew little of. I knew she had been an air stewardess, but I hadn’t fully appreciated exactly where the job had taken her.
“Oh, there’s such and such in Bahrain…..that’s in Hong Kong and those people in the photo, well they were just over the Chinese border….that picture was taken in Melbourne and that one Darwin.”
She turned over a page. There were stickers and luggage labels from various hotels in Kenya, Canada, Singapore and so on. My mother often regales people with two or three of her favourite travelling tales but this was different. She really had been all over the world.
“That picture was taken in Tehran,” she remarked, casually.
“You went to Iran?” I replied, several octaves higher than I usually speak.
The pictures moved on to her post-airline world. They showed her as a secretary working in London and getting married to my father and various family holidays after that date.
This was the telling of a rich life, well-lived. Not bad for a country girl from a farming family.
So where does William Shatner come in to this? Calling yourself a “once was” in an incredibly clumsy thing to do. He is an achiever and he has achieved.
His achievements may have been surpassed by younger, fitter, more energetic individuals with different ideas but the man has achieved a lot. As has my mother.
Sure, she may not be an internationally recognised actor loved by generations of Star Trek fans, but in those photo albums I saw just how much she has done with her life. It seems I was only aware of a small amount of her past.
I’m not, by the way, suggesting she is a has been. I simply wish I had seen these photo albums years ago as I now see her in a completely different way.
Truth is, I also feel a little guilt. I should have paid more interest in her previous achievements. I shouldn’t have been satisfied with hearing her two or three favourite stories from her days working as cabin crew. I should have asked for more and learned all I possibly could about her previous life.
I will be going back home again in a month or so. When I do, it’ll be me that pulls out those photo albums and I will go through them again with my mum, the achiever.
PS: If you are interested if finding out more about my mother, see this guest post she wrote for the blog.