Today my Mum would be 81. She died in 1994, two days after her 64th birthday. I was 3 months pregnant with our first daughter, though I didn’t realize it at the time. Have you ever noticed how often birth and death coincide?
My Mum would have been a fabulous grandmother, and she had been looking forward to it “someday” – she would have been no nonsense, but a ton of fun. She could read all the characters in a book and sound like they were different voices, without really changing her own. She was a great listener, made awesome pancakes, was definitely not huggy/kissy, was hospitable no matter what state the house was in. She always started up camp songs when we were driving long distances, sung lustily and tunelessly. She loved taking a pack of kids to the beach, jug of juice for them, thermos of coffee for her. She always had a coffee on the go, usually cold. I never understood why, till I became a mother myself. She had been a debutante in her teens and had the kind of manners that could be used in the Queen’s company, but tended to be dressed in the most odd combinations of clothes in her daily life. She had a great sense of humour and loved a practical joke – she once sewed a thread through the legs of her cousins pyjamas on April 1st, so they wouldn’t be able to get them on. She could be pretty gullible too – on their honeyoon trip, camping their way across Canada to Halifax, my Dad told her to cover her watch going under power lines because of the magnetic effect – she did it faithfully for a month, before riding with someone else in Halifax and learning that not everybody did that.
Born here on Vancouver Island, she was second generation Canadian, but spoke with a definite English accent. She never left the Island until she was married (the day after her 21st birthday – Happy Anniversary, too!), and then, since my Dad was a naval officer, moved 12 times in 18 years. She loved the adventure in those early years, but eventually yearned to put down roots. When they bought this farm, she thought they’d never move again, but my Dad’s career changed after several years of farming, and though they kept the farm, they actually lived two other places between 1976 and 1987 before finally retiring to the farm for good. Upon retirement, she set to digging up the old chicken run to become a perennial garden a la Penelope Hobhouse, with heritage varieties. The roses are still there. When the weather drove her indoors, she got to grips with computers so she could delve into genealogy, eventually compiling complete records for both of her parents families back to the 1400’s and for my father’s family before that.
She was a smoker. She had been raised very strictly, and though she loved her parents all her life, I always felt she probably started smoking to bug them. By the time I was old enough to understand, in the 1970s, she was trying to quit, but was never successful. The habit was expensive, so for years she rolled her own; she had this tabletop gizmo that you loaded the tobacco into, stuck a pre-formed cylinder onto the end and pushed a handle to force the tobacco into the tube. The year my Dad was in and out of hospital – a slipped disc, a ruptured ulcer that required surgery, a gall bladder that got removed – the hippies from next door (another story) used to help out with animal care so she could get time to go visit him in hospital, and she paid them in cigarettes. It was probably due to smoking that she developed an inoperable brain tumour.
I have missed my Mum many times over the years, especially when I went into motherhood, without her there beside me, as I had fully expected that she would be. I’m not sad anymore, though that took a while. I’m blessed to live in the house she made into a home, and while I strive to make it a home for my family, there remains so much evidence of my mother all around me. A trellis full of heritage climbing roses, all in honour of me and my wedding, by virtue of their names (one was Wedding Day). A transplanted row of hawthorns that were waist height in her time and now tower over me. Clearly labelled boxes of sewing material, special china etc. A box of photo albums. Knicknacks. Silverware. A wall of drywall she did when my Dad was away. The piano. Best of all, I am left with memories, happy and otherwise. Life stuff. Some of my best parenting comes from those memories – the need to follow through on what I say to the kids. The need to listen actively. The ability to be sympathetic and still not give in. To know when to give in. To push when they want to give up. To have fun. To read a lot. Would I have wanted to lean on her more had she been here with me in those early years of parenting? Possibly. This way, I was forced to rely on God, myself, and my husband to figure things out and get stuff done. My Dad, shy and awkward with babies, got way more time with our girls as babies than he might have had there been other arms to hold them. I’m glad he got that chance.
Mum wasn’t one to waste time. She was a doer. I drove her crazy with my tendency to procrastinate and overthink things. She was thrilled with my choice of husband, not least because he is so enthusiastic about everything and a doer himself. I don’t believe she had much to regret about the way she lived her life. But I do. When we learned about her cancer, a cousin came over to talk to us; her adult daughter had died the year before of the same thing, and she took me to one side and told me that my Mum would soon be not able to understand what I said, nor would she be able to say what she wanted to me. So it was important for both of us to say whatever we really needed to say as soon as possible, while we both could.
I meant to. I was going to. The right moment didn’t come up immediately. Then there were no more right moments, and she was gone. I’ve said it to her many times since then in my heart and in my prayers, and I know she knew I felt this way, but…
Mum, I love you. You have been the best Mum I could ever have. Happy Birthday.