Mimi and Me

//Mimi and Me

Mimi and Me

My aunt Mimi, 89, the one with the family stories, the keys to the vault, has passed. Mildred. Mil.

SHE got a nickname. She was special.

My family of origin, sadly, was not one for nicknames. My late husband, Hugh, and I generously sprinkled nicknames all over our kids. Jetanne was Ta-baby, then Tan, Tanneo, now Jet. Randelle was Delly-Dew-Drop, Delly-Dum, Delle, Ran, Randy. Jay’s name was too short, so Jaybird.

It’s similar – and rhymes with – my older brother’s name. Ray. Three letters. So simple. I recall Dad checking him in to the hospital one time, probably after a fight in which his coke-bottle-thick glasses got split at the bridge again. He was a nerdy, but scrappy guy.

“So, Raymond?” the triage nurse said.

“No, George,” Dad said.

The message? Do not mess with my kid’s name. Not much you can do with Rita. Retard was a grade school favourite. And then when my sister – aka “the mistake” – came along almost a decade later, she was named Jana. Not much you can do there either, except maybe mishear it and call her Janet. 

Mimi. I remember coming into consciousness, hearing Ray say that name and thinking, Neat. I liked how easy it was to say. I liked the feel of it on my lips. Mimi.

I learned later it was Ray that gave it to her. The firstborn often does this right? Our mom, Jeanette, Mildred’s sister, had gotten off the island of Cape Breton first, travelled around eastern Canada, then ended up in Scarborough. Mildred followed a few years later. Ray was born soon after and Mildred snuck in to the hospital to see him under the description of “grandmother”, as aunts at the time had no visiting rights. “Youngest grandmother I’ve ever seen,” remarked one of the staff.

By the time Ray’s wee mouth, unable to pronounce those hard “d”s, came out with “Mimi”, Mimi was smitten.

So, no nicknames in my original famjam, and few formal manners. Jetanne’s kids – my grandkids – go around “Aunt” and “Uncle”-ing Randy and Jay all the live-long day. For us? Mimi was Mimi. 

She married a Jamaican-British man almost twenty years her senior, whom she met at a gathering of friends of my parents. Errol offered her a drink. “I’d love a ginger ale,” she said. It was hot day. He poured her a generous glass of the amber liquid from a ginger ale bottle in the fridge, not noticing that it didn’t fizz. She took a big swig from the sweaty glass, then promptly  spit it out, all over her lap. It was malt vinegar, disguised in the wrong bottle!

They had a son, David, then lived at 245 Confederation Drive – notice how that rhymes – in Scarborough for the longest time. This is where we got to see Mimi’s interior design style, another thing we sorely lacked, on display. French provincial furniture in the living room, funky orange chairs in the 60s kitchen, a formal dining room. I got a glimpse of Mimi’s fine china the other day and was startled to realize that, subliminally, I’d picked a similar floral pattern, of the same pastel colours, for my marriage to Hugh in ’79. 

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame Mom about the style thing. We were flat-busted broke. How could she afford such finery? Hahaha. Brainwashed is what we were. I found out years later Dad got a vet mortgage on our $24k side-split in Kilworth, west of London, and was paying like, what? Maybe $90/month! Even in the 70s, I’m pretty sure that was not a hefty mortgage payment.

Interior decorating wasn’t Mom’s thing. Hell, wasn’t really a thing for many back then, pre-social media. Mom often worked – she was a stenographer like Mimi – and kept the house spic-and-span clean. She loved to bake and we loved to eat it.

But visiting Mimi’s was epic. Her home had all the special touches we did not AND there was an in-ground pool and a colour TV, with cable! Every Saturday night – think Mad Men – the basement would fill up with neighbourhood couples, smoking, drinking, and dancing to LPs by guys with unusual names, like Engelbert Humperdinck and Harry Belafonte.

Dad was a bank manager with RBC – back then, no acronyms, you had to say the whole mouthful, the Royal Bank of Canada – and I think it was through connections of his that Mimi started working as a stenographer for RBC as well. She told us the story of the time they were robbed. The “gangster”, in his shiny suit, walked right by her typing station. Her first thought? By golly, that pistol he’s holding matches his suit jacket so well.

Do you still have an aunt? Ask her as many questions as you can think of, stat. Us kids knew Mom had an old flame, Syd. She’d swoon. Ah Syd. Syd this and Syd that. I’ve seen the black and white pictures, handsome guy. They were in Young People’s, a youth church group, together. (You’d not catch Dad, a devout atheist, in such a group.)

What ever happened to Syd? The parents aren’t likely to explain these things to you, but the aunt might.

So, Mimi told us. Syd from Sydney (Cape Breton) worked at the RBC in Sydney. Syd was transferred to Halifax – the bank was always moving people around, on-the-job training – making he and Mom suddenly long distance at a time when long distance wasn’t that feasible. And guess who took Syd’s job? Dad from New Brunswick.

Mom’s future sister-in-law, dating her brother, worked at the bank then too (seems like a trend in our family, huh?) and was so anxious for Mom to meet the handsome new employee. I’d feel bad for Syd, but then again, if not for RBC and its employee relocation program, I probably wouldn’t even be here to contemplate all of this.

And if not for Mimi and her great storytelling? I wouldn’t even know.

Mimi’s husband Errol died in the early aughts, then a couple of years later, her sister, my mom, died suddenly. They loved playing games together – Scrabble, cribbage, Bingo, slots – and Mimi was lost without her sister to share this passion with. She created a board game, the Berry Patch, to play with her grandson.

When my husband died later that same year, Mimi, like the rest of us, could not comprehend it. I do think, in some way, Hugh had kept the Mad Men era going for her. When she’d walk in the door, he’d say, “I know what you want.” He’d mix her a rum and Pepsi.

The years went on, people kept leaving. Her mom at the impressive age of 106! Her older brother, her younger brother, both still “down home”. She’s the last of the siblings; it’s the end of an era.

The last time I recall the four of them being together was here in Ontario in ’98 for Jana’s wedding. You never heard so much knee-slapping laughter! They were standard siblings, with all of their disagreements and differences, but they were in town for some fun and fun was had. They’d piled into a car to go from point A to point B, a side-of-the-road pit-stop was needed and afterward the four of them couldn’t even tell us what happened as they were laughing so hard, tears streaming down their faces, almost peeing their pants!

Where does it all go? The flesh and bones and love and laughter? Poof. A dream.

Mimi and I stayed in touch over the years, she in Orillia with her son, me in London. We needed phone calls at least an hour long to stay caught up. We always ended with, “I love you”. Then she’d add, “And may God bless you.”

I visited recently. She was in a home; she’d been having issues with her memory, issues falling. She was stick-thin. I didn’t know if she’d remember me, but I asked about Jeanette and she immediately pulled out the trinity necklace with the pearl that Mom had given her.

We sat outside in the sun, Mimi, her son, David, Ray, and his partner Hilary. We yakked away about the old times, for Mimi as much as ourselves. David pointed out how he always wanted to live our lifestyle. And Ray and I? Had always wanted his. The grass is always greener …

After an hour or so, it was dinnertime, we had to go. We wheeled Mimi in to her table. She looked at Ray, said, “Hey you. Come back.” She didn’t want us to go.

After Ray said good-bye again, I hugged her frail form. Said, “I love you.” 

“I love you too,” she said. She looked right into my eyes, hers a sincere blue and so serious. “And I know you. And may God bless you.”

2024-04-29T16:26:50-04:00

15 Comments

  1. Heather April 29, 2024 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    I so love this Rita. Thank you

    • Rita Hartley April 29, 2024 at 4:48 pm - Reply

      And thank you so much Heather! For reading & commenting 💚🙏

  2. Jan Sawicki April 29, 2024 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    Such a beautiful story-had me in tears, but in a good way! Thank you for sharing.

    • Rita Hartley April 29, 2024 at 5:01 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much Jan. She had a good long life, yes, but in the grand scheme of things? Even 89 years seems not long enough 😢

      • Jan Sawicki April 29, 2024 at 7:40 pm - Reply

        I agree and I am thinking of you during this difficult time💕.

  3. HILARY+D+SLATER April 29, 2024 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    Beautiful tribute. I’m so glad we got time with her when she was still able to share stories. She lived a great life. xxx

    • Rita Hartley April 29, 2024 at 5:05 pm - Reply

      Thx Hilary! I’m glad you had the chance to get to know her!! A wonderful matriarch in our lives 💗🙏

  4. Cathy Popovic April 29, 2024 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    I don’t know why, but this made me cry a little

    • Rita Hartley April 29, 2024 at 6:27 pm - Reply

      Sorry to make you cry – Mimi was a sweetie 😢💔

  5. Maureen Perkovic April 29, 2024 at 7:35 pm - Reply

    So beautiful Rita. Thank you for sharing your aunt with us.

  6. Brad April 30, 2024 at 6:02 pm - Reply

    So great you had that connection with Mimi and siblings! I’m very glad I sat with my mom, now 88 and discussed the days gone by way back…. Ha, and the many years since way back before my eventual consciousness…. She told me about her being bourn in a farm house, stories of her education in a one room school house, where she worked as a teen, and how she met dad. We looked at pictures of when my aunts and uncles had beach parties, got dressed up and all went shopping on pay-day, and they also went bowling together until thier families all got busy, or took jobs and moved away. All stories none of us kids knew! Mom even told us at her wedding reception she was not allowed by grandma to drive through the city honking car horns with the rest of the wedding party ( popular back then ) because she had to help with the dishes!
    Now many in that generation for us have gone, but glad have the memories! Thank for this Rita!

    • Rita Hartley April 30, 2024 at 6:13 pm - Reply

      Thx so much Brad – for reading & commenting 💚🙏. I can’t believe your poor mom had to wash dishes on her wedding day!! Hopefully she didn’t get stains/dishwater on her dress! That is so awesome that you sat with her, asked the questions, got the stories. Our family histories are all so unique and help us understand where we came from. Here’s to the memories!

  7. Sandy May 2, 2024 at 4:45 pm - Reply

    How lovely. 💕

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