Tribute to Mrs Victoria Umukoro (1938 – 2016)
You were named Victoria after a great queen. And like her, you were a pioneer, a transformer, a change agent. Like her, you enjoyed a great love affair with your husband of 53 years. The world knew Victoria and Albert.
Our world – yours and mine- knew Vic and Gordon. It was by no means all-smooth sailing. There were life-threatening medical emergencies in the 70s. His a vehicular accident that almost paralysed him; yours a miscarriage of a five-month pregnancy that defied medical explanation and other challenges that no couple would like to face. But it was a God – ordained relationship and a fruitful one, producing eight children that gave you the big family you always said was your true life’s calling
I remember how you would do the school runs in Benin, dropping off Iroro at Brother Pius School, Aghogho at Ebenezer Primary School and Idia and I at Emotan Primary School every morning and somehow still making it to the office before 8am and then using your lunch break to make the rounds all over again by 1pm, driving your old faithful, your white ford escort. You never complained, never demanded (or received) gratitude, and never made an issue out of what clearly could not have been easy to do.
In fact, even though most of my classmates found their way to and from school, I thought it was the norm that a parent, more often than not, you would be waiting after school to take us home.
To people who didn’t know you well you were a bundle of contradictions. You were tough but under that tough exterior was an extremely tender heart. You were fierce and daring yet saw your timidity behind the wheels. You were a fashionista – always stylishly and elegantly dressed- yet you could cook up a storm at the drop of a hat.
In that last point, I was your polar opposite – I was a tomboy preferring trousers to gowns and never wanting to hang out on the kitchen as you insisted I do.
As a stubborn teenager when you would get me mad, my prayer would be “God, please don’t ever let me be like my mother.” But as I grew older and wiser, I began to see what Mark Twain meant when he said: “when I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant that I could hardly stand to have him around. When I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.” Today, my prayer is, “God, let me be like my mother.”
You had a heart for people. You were selfless, you were sacrificial, you wore your heart on a sleeve, you were generous, and you were kind. You were – a saint? By no means! You were as deeply flawed as the next person – quick-tempered (but never one to hold a grudge for long); a bit vain (one of your criteria for looking for a husband was that he had to be good-looking. Thank God Daddy passed the test!) but not superficial and certainly not materialistic; a bit proud and arrogant, but I never saw you disrespect your elders. (I confess that while I’m not sure I inherited any of your virtues, all your bad traits I possess in spades! C’est la vie.)
But your character traits – the good and not so great – made you human and easy to love, easy to get mad at, easy to forgive. Your traits made it easy to look up to you and easy to emulate.
You loved having your children and grandchildren around. Your favourite times were the long holidays –Easter and Christmas – when we all made the bi-annual pilgrimage to Benin to enjoy your great cooking and company. I still recall how you would stay in the balcony- standing at first then sitting when arthritis made your joints ache- and wave till the last car was out of sight.
I remember our first Christmas without you. Idia and I had returned from Ibadan, excited to be home for the holidays. It says a lot about the type of mother you were that we at first didn’t believe it when Aghogho and Iroro said you’d travelled. Mummy not at home at Christmas? It couldn’t be! It turned out that you had gone to Lagos to nurse your second grandchild who had arrived as an early Christmas present for you.
They don’t make mothers like they used to. But even in an era of great mothers, you stood out as one worth her weight in gold. You were the eternal optimist, always seeing the sunny side of life. You were fun loving. You were caring. You were always minding other people’s businesses, taking the weight of their problems, offering advice without being asked, providing help in any way you could. Always calling to know what was up in our lives, celebrating the good, praying for the better and giving advice on issues big and small. You were daring. You were bold. You were a strong woman. Indomitable. That’s truly what you were.
This past Christmas was similar to that one in 1990; there was no one to cook Oghwo and Usi and Banga soup. We didn’t hear your loud, cheery voice, we didn’t hear your beautiful laughter, and we didn’t see your lovely face. But even as we knew that Christmas years ago, that we would see you in a few days, we know that now with even greater certainty. For with the Lord a thousand years is like a day and we know that though you are absent from the body, you are present with the Lord. So we shall, truly and surely, see you in a few days.
So dear Mummy, this is me saying hello from the other side. And saying I will see you in a few days, however long those days may seem. I know that you are looking Heaven’s railings, rooting for each and every one of us as you did while you were present in the body. We had a good life, Mummy and you made it so.