Gumption: the ability to decide what is the best thing to do in a given situation, and to do it with energy and determination.
After a six-month break, I’ve started writing Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages again. I’ve struggled for a few days getting even two pages written, far less three, so, to make things a bit easier for myself, this morning I used a journalling prompt I found on Pinterest last night.
“What do you need more of in your life?”
The three pages came quick and fast – oh yes, I need a lot more self-discipline, a good dose of self-belief, and a little male company wouldn’t go wrong – but it wasn’t until about halfway down the last page that I finally figured it out. What I need – what I really need more of – in my life is ‘gumption’. Find that, and perhaps the rest will fall into place.
Do you remember that scene in the Xmas film The Holiday, where the old man tells the Kate Winslet character how women in films in the 40s had gumption, and Kate Winslet needs to find some of that for herself? Well, my mother was a young woman in the 40s, and looking back on her life, that’s exactly what she had. In spades. To me she was just ‘my mum’, a regular housewife who did ‘nothing’ except look after her family.
But… newly married with a young baby when World War Two broke out in 1939, she went through those war years being bombed, evacuated, living on rations, facing the possible loss of her baby to meningitis before antibiotics became available – and she did it all on her own while my dad served overseas. His life always seemed glamorous to me, but looking back now, it was Mum who had strength and gumption to get through what she did.
She was sixty-three when Dad died suddenly and initially she was cast adrift. She’d left school at fourteen with no qualifications. She’d never even written a cheque or used a credit card in her life. Hadn’t had a job since she was twenty-two.
But her gumption saw her through. She was lucky in that Dad had left her a good pension, but they’d recently moved from the city and she found herself in an isolated cottage on the West Coast of Scotland with no real friends. My siblings and I were all busy raising young families, and although she loved visiting us, she knew she had to make her own way.
She found herself a job as a receptionist in a doctor’s office. She took in a lodger. She applied for, and got, a job as a housekeeper in London when she was seventy-six – after lopping 10 years off her age at her interview.
Oh, Mum had gumption all right. One of my favourite memories of her comes from a trip we took to Hawaii. I can still see her, strolling down the beach towards me and my four-year-old son, carrying two pina coladas.
The morning she suffered a fatal heart attack at eight-five years of age, she was pulling on her boots and jacket to walk down the hill into the village to pick up her weekly newspaper and packets of ‘ciggies’.
Mum was on her own for twenty-five years. Those last few years in particular – after she had open heart surgery – must have been very lonely for her. By then, my siblings and myself were scattered around the country and the world, but Mum got on with it and made the best of her life. In some ways, I think she really came into her life in those last decades. She proved who she was. What she was really made of.
So if I need more on anything in my life, I need to be more like my Mum. I need her gumption.