I wrote Mom Was Right in response to all of the January deaths, hers included, so I’ve been thinking about Mom a lot. Also, I’ve been talking to others about their mothers. One friend’s mother, gone six years now, just had a birthday. Another lost her mom in a tragic fire a year ago. Cuz called the other day, before going to visit his mother, now suffering from dementia. “You don’t like to see your mother this way,” he says. “confused, not knowing family members, saying cruel things she wouldn’t normally say.”
Dementia was a threat to my mom, as she’d suffered a bleeding stroke, but the next stroke, not quite two months later, was so severe it killed her. Suddenly, this constant in my life, my first and always safe place, was wiped out. It may sound crazy, because my mom’s been gone 12 years, but sometimes I’ll be working away at something and think, gee, I haven’t talked to Mom in so long. I should call her. The friend I mentioned this to said, “Yeah, or the kids will do something and you’ll think, I need to tell Mom about this.”
For most of us, from the day we first remember, we save up experiences to share with Mom. Because she, of all people, will care. Will understand. Or try to.
In my selfishness, growing up, I didn’t think about Mom being much other than mine. My mother, my gold piano, my Victoria dolly. Then, I became a teenager and wished she wasn’t mine. She tried to set unreasonable rules – a clean bedroom, home before midnight. And Mom worried constantly. Our interactions became so stressful. I mean, I knew where I was (skipping school from time to time, but still getting good grades) and what I was doing (having a lot of fun). So why worry?
Then, I became a mother and realized that’s all you do, from that day forward. Worry about your kids. So, yes, me and my older brother and my younger sister, we did that to Mom. Made her a worrier.
Lord knows, growing up in The Great Depression, The Dirty Thirties, Mom had tons to worry about before we came along. Yet she always described her childhood, growing up dirt poor in Sydney, Cape Breton, as idyllic. Is this a testament to the wonder of childhood? That she could just accept? A dead sibling, a drunk father, the hunger in her belly replaced by rotten apples? Or, perhaps, Mom’s account of her childhood demonstrates this: kids are happy with less material things and more “go-outside-and-play”.
Daddy opened the carved mahogany box, lined with white satin, and inside lay sleeping a doll, so I thought. But, it was my dead baby sister, Beryl. I was three-years-old and the year was 1932. Daddy said, “She’s going to heaven.” The snow was pile up outside the frosted windows and Moma sat at the table in the living room, looking out and looking sad. I often wonder what she was thinking.
On Saturday nights, the door would often fly open, and in would come Daddy from the steel plant, late again. He’d stagger across the linoleum floor, clutching the kitchen wall, and throw me a white bag filled with jelly beans. Moma would be bathing me and my brother in a galvanized tub in the kitchen.
Sunday was Sunday school, church, peace and quiet. A sacred day. I liked going and we would always wear our best clothes on Sunday. At home, Sunday dinner fumes were mouth-watering. At church, we performed in Christmas concerts on stage and sang in junior choir, then went to Young People’s and I became a Sunday school teacher in my teens. I remember when I was a teenager, we played cards one Sunday night. Daddy became very angry and threw the cards in the stove, so we went up to Peggy Murdock’s and played there.
We were very close to nature when we were small. In the summer, we would walk through abandoned farms filled with crab apple trees and fill up, ending up with summer complaint (diarrhea). My brother Howie and cousin Jackie would fish for small trout all the time, they were delicious.
When I was too young for school, on Monday mornings, where four of us slept in the one bedroom (Moma, Daddy, Howie and me), kids would be knocking on the window. “Come out to play!” Davenport Road – paved as it was a regular bus route – was a hub of activity: kids on trikes, skipping ropes, rolling hoops, playing hopscotch, etc. There were very few cars except for the odd Model T. The streets were our playground. The banana man, with his horse and wagon, would holler, “bananas, bananas” and all of us kids would run and grab some. The meat man, Mr. Fitzgerald, would try to get through with his meat wagon. The kids would ride on his running board. The milkman would come along, delivering milk and Krim Ko (a chocolate drink), which we loved.
Picture The Little Rascals. That was us. Mr. Mendelson delivered our groceries in his horse and wagon and then he would take me for a short drive to Prince Street. Mrs. Foy’s store was busy with kids buying penny candy and when you entered the store a bell clanged, warning her we were there. By her store we played all our games, where coal boxes filled the lane. People had chickens and they ran free. I was afraid of the roosters, who ran free too. In the winter, when the snow was piled high, we jumped off of the coal boxes, into the snow. It was so much fun. I imagine our parents detested these surroundings, but those were great times for us kids.