This past weekend, while others were dealing with the tragic memory of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, I was thinking about my mom’s death on Sept. 11, 2007…this will not be a sad post, but a celebration of my mom’s life while she was here with us…
Mom will be remembered for many things, but I most appreciate her teaching me independence. She left her home in Ohio to move 500 miles away to Southern Ontario, Canada…we had no family or friends in Canada at the time, but we moved anyway. This was a huge step for Mom, who dropped out of university after a year because she was homesick (the campus was less than 100 miles from her home). I think she often regretted doing that. We continued travelling back to Ohio twice a year for many years after moving to Canada, despite what must have been very stressful trips for her and my dad. “How much longer?” my brother and I would whine from the back seat. In addition to lots of food to eat on the trip, she always packed little wrapped gifts for Jeff and I to open every few hours…nothing expensive, but something that would take our minds off the boredom of being in a car for 12 hours (my dad was/is a slow driver). Many years later, I would move 2000 miles from home to St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Mom had dabbled with art before we moved (one of my favourite pieces is a pen and ink drawing of my great-grandmother), but she became a lot more serious about art after our arrival in Ontario. She began taking night school courses in photography and filmmaking at Loyalist College in Belleville, Ontario. She started using acrylic paints instead of oils, and experimented with abstract work. It wasn’t long before Mom began hosting art shows of her work, one of which included a multimedia live show which went awry one night (https://writerwoman61.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/pianos-projectors-pop-up-toasters-and-pigs/). She got a job as the graphic artist/photographer for the Hastings County Board of Education, which Mom enjoyed for ten years before being forced to give it up due to illness (I worked as her assistant for a couple of years part-time while I was in high school).
Music was always important to Mom. Her dad played the organ, and she had played clarinet and saxophone in her high school band. When she was in university, she was a music major. She was very proud of having “perfect pitch.” Mom played piano by ear (with two hands!), and she could sing. Her first love was classical music: Vivaldi, Debussy, etc. In the 70’s, she discovered Simon and Garfunkel, the Carpenters, and Roberta Flack. She loved Roberta’s voice: “Killing Me Softly” was one of her favourites. I used to think my mom’s music was too mellow, but folk is almost all I listen to now! Mom also loved to dance, and would often do so in our living room with the stereo playing.
My mom liked to bake chocolate chip cookies…I always admired her confidence in doing it without a recipe…she never measured anything, just eyeballed the ingredients. We wolfed them down three at a time! Cooking was not her favourite thing…she had a tendency to put the heat too high because she didn’t like to wait for things to cook! Mom wasn’t very adventurous with trying new recipes either…she’d stick to tried-and-true recipes.
We had a garden for the first few years we lived in Ontario…Mom would stay up late at night blanching vegetables to put into our big chest freezer. I remember bags and bags of green beans (kind of like my freezer now!).
Our house that we bought when we moved to Canada was old, and covered in something ugly called Insul-Brick. Later, wood siding was installed, which needed painting every few years. It was my mom who got out on a ladder and painted our two-storey house! She also did excellent carpentry work, undertaking home renovations and building a large set of bookshelves for the living room by herself. Mom had her own tools, and she wasn’t afraid to use them! If my dad took something apart, it was often Mom who put it back together.
Mom always loved small things…her favourite style of photography was anything that involved using a macro lens. I think that’s where I got my love of bugs! She had dollhouse furniture from her childhood, and her great-aunt’s bell collection (which she added to). In later years, she collected small wooden boxes and Sherman costume jewellery.
Mom lived very frugally for all the years she was married to my dad – she could squeeze a nickel until it bled (Dad was often unemployed, and it would fall on her shoulders to feed our family of four)! When we were small, Mom used to sew a lot of her own clothes, and ours (she never knew how to knit or crochet though). After I moved out of the house, she used the closet in my old bedroom to store things she bought on sale: shampoo, toilet paper, deoderant, paper plates, toothpaste, soap, etc. She never wanted to run out of anything, and it made her happy to get a bargain. To this day, I always buy at least two of anything on sale (she used to buy 4 or 5!).
We got a dog when I was in my early teens (we had an outdoor tomcat too). Even though Mom wasn’t really a dog person, she came to love our chihuahua mix, Pixie. The dog was pregnant when we got her, and gave birth to four pups soon afterward…mom helped pull each pup out…Pixie’s beau had been a much bigger dog than she was, and the pups were huge! Mom was adamant that all the puppies would be given away, and they were. One night, Pixie led my mom on a merry chase in her nightgown through the suburbs in Bellefontaine, Ohio on a visit to my grandparents’ house. Mom didn’t want to wake up the neighbours by yelling, so she just ran after the dog until she caught her! Many years later, Pixie had to be put down…Mom never got another dog.
One of the things we used to tease Mom about was her coordination (or lack of it!). Her many mishaps included: hitting a solitary apple tree in the middle of a field on a toboggan; falling out of bed and breaking her nose; and tripping and sliding into the grocery store on her stomach (she tripped over the wheelchair ramp). Mom regularly broke her toes jamming them into things around the house. My daughter, Anna, and I inherited Mom’s klutziness…
One thing I didn’t inherit was Mom’s self-consciousness when it came to aging. She always looked younger than she was, and was proud of that. She took great pains to always have her hair done and her “face” on, even after she got sick. Mom never liked people to see her without makeup.
Mom had an amazing memory. Before she died, she wrote the story of her growing-up years in a book, illustrated with family photos. It is truly incredible what she remembered, and a gift to have her story in printed form.
Mom always encouraged my brother and I in everything we tried (and we tried a lot of stuff!). She came to the shows we put on in our back yard, and didn’t try to talk us out of whatever crazy scheme we’d come up with! When I left home at 17, she let me go, and took me back after it didn’t work out! She talked me through relationship problems…I could tell her anything without embarrassment! Mom was never stingy with advice…she would give it to you (often unsolicited).
Mom loved her grandchildren too…she had four (all girls). I’ll always remember her teaching my kids the “Pat-A-Cake” rhyme when they were little. They called her “Gramma” (which is what my granddaughter calls me now). I wish she’d been able to meet her great-granddaughter…she would have loved Elise!
As much as I love and miss my mom, her passing was the best thing for her…Mom lived the last 23 years of her life in constant pain. Today, I picture her dancing pain-free in heaven, and watching over all of us…I imagine she’s happy that I’ve finally found Jim, who loves me and makes me feel truly special (I wish he could have met her too)! If it wasn’t for Mom, I wouldn’t be the confident woman I am today…thank you, Mom, for all you did for me! I love you, and will always remember you…